Changing the Way We Shop

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


Question: What will the new consumer look like?

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

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

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

So, the sort of economies of reuse and exchange are growing rapidly and I think will become a more permanent feature of our consumer environment.  And that means, if you love to shop, you can do it without, you know, putting too much pressure on your pocketbook, or on the planet.  If you love to buy stuff and get rid of it, you can do it and then the key thing really from a financial and ecological point of view is how much new – how many new consumer goods do you buy?  If we shift the balance there, because of course, the used stuff is so much less expensive, we can, I think accommodate both the, you know, shopaholics as well as the planet and our pocketbooks.

Recorded on June 2, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman