AFTER PROACTIVE CONSUMERS, WHO ARE DRIVEN BY THE QUEST FOR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES THAT THEY CAN PERSONALISE, AND CONSUMAUTHORS, WHO WANT TO WORK WITH BRANDS TO CO-DESIGN WHAT THEY WILL EVENTUALLY BUY, WE ARE ENTERING THE ERA OF THE ACTIVIST CONSUMER, THE ULTIMATE FLAG-BEARER FOR POST-MODERN CONSUMPTION.
Activist consumers are activists first and foremost.
They want to take action and consumption is their weapon. This means taking action on their own behalf, but also on that of others, the environment and the planet, which we must all share. Needless to say that activist consumers are determined. Determined to change the rules of the game rather than wait for someone else to fulfil the promises of a new world.
Determined, equally, to show that their generation is the first to become conscious of the limits and dangers of a continuous race to accumulate.
Activist consumers are consumers who are engaged and who want their concerns to be heard and acknowledged.
Because taking action today is about being seen to act.
But this does not mean fighting consumption or condemning it as was the case fifty years ago, when the logic of unlimited growth was first confronted with an economic crisis. the idea this time is to establish the conditions needed for the emergence of a new form of consumption. Consumption that is more responsible, that caters for people’s true aspirations rather than being a continuous quest for novelty, and which is guided by the principle of circulating goods so that everyone can enjoy them, rather than accumulating them purely for one’s own personal enjoyment.
Activist consumers are not turning their backs on consumption. That is where their originality lies.
Faced with the loss of purchasing power, unlike others in the past they have chosen not to be resigned, by consuming less or forsaking some of their pleasures, but to consume differently. Individual consumption is now tinged with a collective spirit.
the philosophy has switched from being “I consume, therefore I am” to “I consume, therefore we are”.
Forever criticized for its excesses and its tendency to stimulate urges that would not otherwise have existed, consumption now lies at the heart of change.
Consumption will be reinvented through consumption. It is only through consumption that is more focused on solidarity, more responsible and more mindful of the energy and environmental challenges we face that we will have a chance of preserving the planet. Who would have thought?
Thus, new consumption models are emerging, born out of the desire to consume differently.
Consuming to protect the environment and do one’s duty as a citizen. Refusing to give up consuming despite the fragility of one’s purchasing power.
Not to mention consuming without spending, the most paradoxical of models, but also proof of the level of innovation present in today’s consumer world.
Below are a few of the illustrations that L’OEil by L’Observatoire Cetelem has spotted over the past few months.
Consuming to protect the environment
Consuming better is about being aware of the implications of one’s consumption choices.
Preserving a sector, a profession, a skill, or even a region’s businesses provides new reasons for people to make purchases.
• With outlets in Rouen, Caen, Le Havre and Paris (19th arrondissement), Le Local sells farm produce directly to consumers and at a fair price.
• In Colmar, on the road to Neuf-Brisach, six farmers have acquired a former Lidl supermarket, rechristened Coeur Paysan, to sell their own produce, all of which is grown in Alsace. Thirty producers, who can be spotted thanks to their green aprons, are involved in the project as company shareholders and must spend at least two half-days in the store per month.
Allowing city dwellers to experience the joys of buying farm produce directly is as much an economic initiative as it is a symbolic act that bears testimony to the current desire to create new models.
By offering fair prices rather than low prices, so as to protect local producers and traditions, these retailers are encouraging their customers to think beyond the price parameter alone and to focus on the true value of products, while also fostering awareness of their origins. By portraying themselves as communities of producers, they are also demonstrating that goods can be traded based on an alternative approach, with members contributing equally to supplying, running and managing the store, in addition to disseminating agricultural knowledge.
Launched late last year, La Carte Française is the first gift card intended exclusively for French-made products. This prepaid card allows holders to purchase products from more than eighty French brands, either online or in stores. Every French manufacturing sector is represented and the card can be used both with established brands and those seeking to make a name for themselves.
Low prices, promotions and exclusive offers are not the only ways of restoring people’s urge to consume… La Carte Française perfectly illustrates how firms need to present their offers today if they are to attract consumers who have adopted a wait-and-see attitude: through offerings that are both themed and in some way engaged in a particular issue.
the thematic approach allows brands to stand apart and draw attention. Engagement allows them to meet the expectations of consumers who are ever keener to express their citizenship through their purchases.
This combination of themes and engagement could help to breathe new life into traditional sales periods that now struggle to attract customers. Indeed, this year Black Friday once again broke records despite a somewhat hostile climate and it is already perceived as the best time to buy electronic equipment.
We also witnessed the first appearance of the Green Friday concept. When can we expect to see a citizen-led Black Friday?
And why not also have sales devoted solely to products made in France?
Around a year ago in Hamburg, H&M unveiled its latest pilot concept store, dubbed Take Care, the first step in its plan to use only recycled or sustainable materials by 2030.
What it offers is not just another range of clothes, but cleaning products (the brand’s first line of detergents, which are “Good Environmental Choice” certified and made in Sweden), sewing workshops (led by influencers) and advice, both online and on tablets, to help customers keep fashion items for longer (removing lipstick stains, sewing a button back on, darning, etc.). Customers can also have their clothes mended at the store by a professional, regardless of the brand.
The successful retailers of tomorrow will not be those that convince people to make the most purchases, but those that are best able to foster responsibility in their customers. the intention here is to encourage customers to take care of the items they buy by helping them to extend their lifetimes.
First we had retailers that sold products, then we had those that offered services to help customers make the most of the products purchased. Today is the era of retailers that encourage their customers to reduce the frequency with which they make purchases…
Consuming better is also about learning to consume according to one’s needs. Why own something that won’t get used every day? Why keep what is no longer needed? Why always buy new items?
• The cofounders of Chinese giant Alibaba have invested $20 million in US clothing rental website Rent the Runway. in France, the Kering group is quietly trialling its own “subscription” model (which it favours over the word “rental”). It has even recruited the former managing director of eBay to head the project.
• It is now possible to rent furniture from Ligne Roset with an option to purchase after five years. the rental service includes a free clean and a visit from an interior designer to help choose the right furniture.
• In Stockholm, H&M allows customers to rent clothes from its eco-friendly “Conscious Exclusive” collection. For a fee of 350 Swedish Krona (€32) per garment, members of the programme can borrow up to three items for one week.
Having already conquered the mobile phone and automotive markets, subscription services are now popping up everywhere. Renting is a way of accessing the latest models or those that are too costly. Renting allows you to try a product before buying it. Renting is perfect for specific events. Renting shifts the consumer’s status from “buyer” to “subscriber”.
Why should loyalty always be associated with ownership?
• Shoe retailer Bocage (Eram group) is currently trialling a unique shoe rental system, christened Atelier Bocage, in six pilot stores and with 50 of its cardholding customers. in exchange for a €39 monthly fee, customers can book an appointment with an in-store stylist via the e-shop, allowing them to try on three pairs of new shoes identified online based on their answers to a series of questions. After trying them on, the subscriber can select a pair to keep for two months before returning them to the store. If they wish to keep the shoes for more than two months, they can purchase them at a 60% discount.
At a time when the environmental credentials of fashion companies are being increasingly scrutinized, Bocage’s initiative could be viewed as an example for others to follow, one characterized by circulation rather than accumulation. It contributes both to stimulating people’s urge to purchase and to reinventing the relationship between customers and retailers. Here, the digital and “physical” channels are not separate, but complementary: customers find shoes on the website and select a pair in the store, before returning them to the retailer to be sold online, a cycle that is as virtuous as it is unprecedented.
• Shoe manufacturer Weston recently announced that it would be opening a new department, dubbed Weston Vintage, which will offer discontinued models that have been restored by the brand. in concrete terms, the scheme will enable customers to drop off their old pairs of shoes (any one of nine emblematic models) to have them assessed. They will then receive a gift voucher. Only three stores offer these models. According to a survey by the Boston Consulting Group, 57% of buyers of second-hand luxury items have subsequently opted for new products or would consider doing so.
After accessible luxury, here comes the era of luxury that can be accessed in new ways. Not least via the burgeoning vintage market,which is now coveted from all quarters given that it offers numerous advantages.
It boosts the attractiveness of older models (often the most emblematic) and draws attention to the brand. This might attract younger customers (although not exclusively) who are tempted by luxury products but put off by the prices, or those who see this kind of proposition as being more responsible.
the vintage market is also an opportunity for brands to enhance their legacy, particularly through the notion of handing something down to a new generation, which is much more authentic and effective than overly polished advertising campaigns and storytelling approaches.
CONSUMING WITHOUT SPENDING
Consuming better can also mean viewing consumption as an unlikely source of income.
Consumption is gradually becoming less synonymous with wastage…
• in the United States, General Motors is running a pilot programme similar to the Airbnb model, which enables owners of its vehicles to rent them out when they are not using them. Individuals can contact each other via the manufacturer’s digital platform, which lists all the vehicles that are available, together with their location.
Once they have reached an agreement, they need not necessarily even meet, because the latest vehicles can be unlocked and started with a smartphone.
Like all car brands, General Motors is attempting to transition from being a manufacturer to a “mobility provider”, so as to demonstrate its commitment to environmental responsibility and attract new customers. Making one’s vehicle available to others is also a way of covering part of its cost. Not to mention that it gives the brand running the scheme the chance to reach new customers and enter people’s conversations in a way that is far more effective than advertising in traditional media. the era of the peer-to-peer brand is upon us.
• in France, Ucar2Share offers anyone who wants to change cars the opportunity to have their new vehicle financed in exchange for a few days’ rental per month. in short, they simply need to make their new car available via the Ucar2Share platform to earn a fee for each day it is rented out. the nearest Ucar branch takes care of the process, as well as cleaning, insurance, breakdown recovery and repairs. Motorists can manage the days on which they wish to make their car available via the Ucar2Share app.
Ucar’s service is drawing the contours of tomorrow’s consumption.
A form of consumption that reinvents itself by blurring boundaries and embracing paradoxes: making money as you spend and renting so as to be able to buy something better, both for yourself and for others.
The success of future models will depend on their ability to reinvent consumption without diminishing it or associating it with feelings of guilt: consumption as an individual act that also serves others.