Changing the Way We Shop

Question: What will the new consumer look like?

\r\nJuliet Schor:
\r\nI the book I have some pretty astounding new numbers on what I call the \r\n"fast fashion cycle"—the way which consumers have increased the rate at \r\nwhich they acquire new goods and then discard them.  And that, of \r\ncourse, was a predictable result of an economy of lots of cheap imports,\r\n artificially cheap energy, again. And that’s something which, that’s a \r\nlifestyle that in some ways... that’s a lifestyle that really has been \r\nstopped dead in its tracks since the recession.  And many people have \r\nsort of permanently changed the way they think about consuming as a \r\nresult of having gone bankrupt, or racked up large credit card debts \r\nthat they now are not sure that they are going to be able to pay, lost \r\ntheir homes, had the trauma of unemployment, all of those things have \r\nhad a profound impact on a big swath of American public who are not much\r\n more interested in saving then they spending for the first time and \r\nhave really made changes in their consumer patterns that look like \r\nthey’re going to stick at least for a while. 

If we think about \r\nhow you can have a satisfying consumer life in this new world, there are\r\n two things that really stand out.  One is: if you’re going to buy \r\nsomething, buy for durability both because it’s ecologically much \r\nbetter, but also because in the long run it will probably cost you less \r\nif you can buy something and keep it for a long time. 

The \r\nsecond is that we’re going to see a switch from such a heavy emphasis on\r\n buying new to much more of a balance between buying things new and \r\nbuying them used.  This is a trend that actually started, of course, \r\nbefore the recession, in part because people were buying so many things,\r\n there’s so much used stuff around, whether we’re talking about clothes,\r\n or furniture or electronics or pretty much you name it in the consumer \r\ngoods area.  There are growing inventories of used goods which the \r\noriginal purchasers don’t want, and now we have lots of ways of \r\nexchanging amongst ourselves, whether it’s eBay or Craig’s List or Free \r\nCycle or swap meets or Share This Stuff, a whole range of specialized \r\nWeb sites that allow people to get rid of things they don’t want and \r\nother people to acquire them.  And then all the face-to-face places in \r\nwhich we do this too. 

\r\nSo, the sort of economies of reuse and exchange are growing rapidly and I\r\n think will become a more permanent feature of our consumer \r\nenvironment.  And that means, if you love to shop, you can do it \r\nwithout, you know, putting too much pressure on your pocketbook, or on \r\nthe planet.  If you love to buy stuff and get rid of it, you can do it \r\nand then the key thing really from a financial and ecological point of \r\nview is how much new – how many new consumer goods do you buy?  If we \r\nshift the balance there, because of course, the used stuff is so much \r\nless expensive, we can, I think accommodate both the, you know, \r\nshopaholics as well as the planet and our pocketbooks.

Recorded\r\n on June 2, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman

The economies of reuse and exchange will become a more permanent feature of our consumer environment.