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INSPIRATION

RETHINKING CONSUMERISM

What do customers want without even knowing it themselves? This is the kind of question that preoccupies CARLA BUZASI, CEO of leading trend research agency Worth Global Style Network based in London. In eight short statements, Buzasi sheds some light on the future of consumerism.
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1. BRANDS ARE SELLING AN ENTIRE LIFESTYLE, NOT JUST A PRODUCT

We are seeing a seismic shift in the lifestyle segment at the moment. Before everything went digital, there were limited sources of aesthetic inspiration, such as glossy magazines and coffee table books. The style of the time was shaped through lavish and elaborate photography. But social media has changed everything. Consumers are constantly confronted with high-quality, aesthetic imagery across all channels. Sociologists say that we are increasingly “curating” our lives and making the aesthetic choices that sit right with us. This may unlock new creative freedoms and be great fun, but it’s hard work too. And this is where brands come into play, particularly from the luxury segment. I believe that luxury brands will become increasingly important as “tastemakers.” Consumers are no longer simply buying a product, they are buying an entire lifestyle: an aesthetic, a feeling, a set of values and convictions. A brand such as Porsche Design helps its customers curate their own lives. This also means that the emotional bonds between consumer and brand become stronger. Consumers want brands they can trust. Companies with an authentic presence, clear values, and an unmistakable aesthetic can forge much stronger links with their customers than has ever been possible before. 
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2. DESIGN IS THE CLINCHING FACTOR

Lifestyle curation is linked to another major trend of our time: the increasing importance of design. Some brands, especially in the luxury segment, have taken the easy option in the past by simply placing a large logo on the product in the belief that this will satisfy consumers’ appetite for exclusivity. However, aesthetic standards have risen enormously over the past few years across the entire market. Nowadays, even a brand of toothpaste can succeed or fail on the strength of its packaging. The coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated this trend. Suddenly, consumers were locked down at home and demand for items such as aesthetically pleasing, high-quality furnishings went through the roof. This has created a number of problems for luxury brands. They must now stand out from the mass market through even better, even more refined, and even more elegant design. 
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3. WORKMANSHIP AND CRAFT ARE BECOMING INCREASINGLY VITAL

The desire for quality workmanship is inextricably linked to design. Appealing design that stands out from run-of-themill products is undoubtedly important, but so is product quality. There should be no compromises, and nothing should be out of place. This ties in with renewed interest in the manufacturing process. Customers want to know where and how things are manufactured; after all, watching a master of their craft at work is amazingly satisfying. This trend is huge: today, even beer and coffee sales can be increased through credible, authentic claims of artisanal production.

4. RECYCLING AND CIRCULAR ECONOMIES ARE BECOMING THE NEW STANDARD

“Buy less—but buy better” is the slogan you often here right now. There’s a great deal of truth in it, too: rampant consumerism, and the fact that so many products are used for a short time and then thrown away, is attracting more and more public scorn. The luxury segment has always stood out from the mass market in this respect, as items have always been and continue to be produced and consumed in limited numbers. But the trend towards conscious consumerism also holds relevance in the luxury market, too, as consumers switch their focus to product lifespans. There is another side to this trend, too: products are now perceived as being of higher quality if they are repairable, recyclable, or resellable There’s no doubt that this trend is impacting the automotive industry: a well-maintained classic car is more desirable than a mediocre new one. These considerations will start playing a more important role in the design process. How do products need to be designed and manufactured so that they last as long as possible? 
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5. TIME IS THE TRUE LUXURY

Luxury is always defined by scarcity. But what is the most limited resource we have? Time, of course. We live in an increasingly connected world that requires us to make decisions all the time. This all comes at a cost—our time and our patience. More and more people yearn for peace and quiet, for more time to themselves. Brands that appreciate and cherish the time their customers invest in them put themselves at a clear advantage. It all starts with the ambience in-store. How can companies create an atmosphere that feels welcoming to customers, where shopping is perceived as a moment of calm away from the stress of everyday life? The same standards can be applied to the usability of online stores, too. We are increasingly wary about what is happening with our data, while we also expect brands and their stores to remember who we are, learn from our decisions, and keep the hassle of shopping to a minimum. in which case we gladly hand over our data. 
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"WE LIVE IN A INCREASINGLY CONNECTED WORLD. THIS ALL COMES AT A COST— OUR TIME AND OUR PATIENCE"

6. MOBILITY BETWEEN URBAN CENTERS AND RURAL AREAS IS RISING

Personal space is almost as important to us as free time, as the pandemic painfully demonstrated. Suddenly we were all locked down in our own homes, many without access to a garden. But urban to rural migration has always been there. The difference now is that not only are young families moving out to the country, many other traditional city-dwellers such as young creatives are also turning their back on an urban lifestyle. However, I don’t see this as a major trend. I actually think that mobility from cities to rural areas, and vice-versa, is increasing in a general sense. We will start to see more hybrid models: people who commute between different homes and living models or those who would like to take a break from city life in the countryside without losing touch with their social contacts. Gardening, walking, holidays in RVs, or even leading a completely “nomadic” lifestyle are becoming more and more popular. Spending lunchtimes strolling through the forest and the evenings in the city is the dream of an increasing number of people—and they are finding ways of making the lifestyle they desire a reality. 
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7. CONSUMERS WANT DIVERSITY

Diversity is one of the hot button issues of our time. We are seeing the emergence of a new generation of customers who want products to be accessible to all types of consumers. Fashion provides arguably the most visible manifestation of this trend. Not only are brands being called on to produce their clothing for all different shapes and sizes, consumers want this level of diversity to be reflected in advertising, too. This imperative is spreading to other areas as well, including the luxury and design segments. Of course, it’s never going to be possible to satisfy every single customer. What’s much more important is that a brand carefully considers the standards and wishes of its customer base. Take the automotive market as an example: Do companies ever consider that some customers are older than the models they feature in their advertising campaigns? Do automakers ever think about how easy cars are to get in and out of, where the controls are positioned, or whether easily distinguishable colors are used? Customers will be watching closely to make sure that brands are actually taking action rather than simply paying lip service—without compromising on design standards, of course. 
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8. SUSTAINABILITY IS BECOMING THE NEW STANDARD

A subject that carries equal weight is of course sustainability. It’s often claimed today that a clear conscience is a luxury in consumerism. That’s quite an accurate statement really, even though I believe that sustainable products should not be a luxury—they should be available to all consumers as a matter of course. But there is a paradox here: According to surveys, customers want products to be more sustainable, but their purchases are still primarily driven by price. All this makes the role to be played by the luxury segment all the more vital. Although price is still a relevant factor here, but it is not the most important part of a consumer’s decision to buy. In other words, market constraints cannot be used as an excuse for a lack of sustainability. Brands in this segment are responsible for keeping a close eye on manufacturing conditions and carbon footprints—and will be rewarded by consumers if they do. I have chosen to switch to electric mobility and purchased a Porsche Taycan together with my husband. Then, the U.K. started running out of gas and long lines formed at the filling stations. It was the best advertisement for electric mobility I can possibly imagine.