Critical Reflection of Consumption

Consumption of products and services is something that is incorporated into the daily life of most people and as a result most people have some understanding of what consumption is. However, for most people it is not a topic they study in depth or delve into the understandings of why people consume the way they do. Previously, I had a very basic view of what consumption in a very basic view. I saw it a person’s ability ingest food and drink as a basic need for survival or to buy goods and services in which are needed to live comfortably in the home and provide us with entertainment value. Through limited travelling experience, I saw the differences in consumption between those living in Australian cities and those living in the country. Travelling overseas, showed me how different cultures consume but it was also not analysed academically.

Prior understanding of consumption was challenged through Twitchell’s (1999) analysis of Steve Martin in the 1979 movie The Jerk. Steve Martins character, Navin R. Johnson, ‘open up one of the central myths of a consumerist culture’ (Twitchell, 1999) that is protesting independence is only loud ‘were things are paramount’ (Twitchell, 1999). Twitchell shows through his analysis that Western societies, particularly America spends more ‘times declaring that things do not matter while saying just charge it’ (Twitchell, 1999). This idea has been interpreted within modern societies as an indication of instability. However, people have become dispirited with the idea of materialism, not because they are unable to attain their desired, but because they have accumulated to many things (Twitchell, 1999)

In Richins (2005) article ‘What Consumers Desire’; it discussed the idea that motivations behind consumption are ‘messy, disorganised affairs of the heart and mind’ (Richins, 2005). She discusses the idea that academics try to analyse consumer-purchasing habits through consumer goals as an attempt to analyse how people consume. Richins comes to the conclusion through her own research that ‘people seek to achieve gains and avoid losses’ (Richins, 2005) when choosing what and how they consume. There is emphasis on researchers not addressing the specifics of consumer desire and the goals they wish to pursue regarding consumption.

Through reading Richins (2005) article, I was able to see some patterns in how people consume products or services. There are goals formulated by researchers that allows for glimpses of the desires and goals of consumers. These include

  • ‘Staying Alive’ (Richins, 2005) – the idea that consumers attempt to postpone their mortality. In this goal people consume certain products or services as an ‘attempt to manage their fears’ (Richins, 2005);
  • ‘Fitting In’ (Richins, 2005) – ‘people have the desire to be apart of a group’ (Richins 2005). As a result, the desire to fit in can be a motivating force in what people may consume;
  • ‘Being Me’ (Richins, 2005) – consumers compliment fitting in with the need to be themselves. There is a considerable effort made by consumers to walking the line of conformity and individualisation (Richins, 2005). As such, the creation of individual identity can be powerful for companies as it can generate brand loyalty;
  • ‘Hoping and Dreaming’ (Richins, 2005) – this goal allows for consumers to set goals for products or services they wish to have in the future. It is ‘designed to elicit fantasies and fosters dreaming’ (Richins, 2005) allowing the consumer to be hopeful of the potential to consume; and
  • ‘Controlling’ (Richins, 2005) – consumers attempt to control the decisions they make and the ways which they ‘achieve goals, avoid losses and manage risk’ (Richins, 2005)

While these goals may be implemented on different cultures and societies, the outcomes of such goals may vary slightly. It has ‘become a global perspective’ (Firat, Kutucuoglu, Saltik and Tuncel, 2013). As consumers within different cultures, have cultural needs and wants that may vary, it will provide different answers to each of the goals. Therefore, to be able to see the ‘implicit interrelationship between these concepts of consumption, consumer culture and consumer society’ (Firat, Kutucuoglu, Saltik and Tuncel, 2013) there is a need for further investigation to see the similarities and differences.

 

‘Advertising plays an important role in stimulating the consumption of tourism, sport, leisure’ (McGibbon, 2006) and shopping in many countries. In western societies, the capitalist social system is largely based on consumption and leisure time (Firat, Kutucuoglu, Saltik and Tuncel, 2013). Images of tourist destinations, sports, leisurely activities and objects are generated at a local, regional, national and international level (McGibbon, 2006). In the current media driven climate, advertising actively creates images and helps turn everything into a product made for consumption (McGibbon, 2006). Specifically ‘the consumption of tourism and leisure is used not only to shape individual personas, but also mark people’ (McGibbon, 2006) into particular social groups. The struggles between each social group are ‘mediated by different strategies of consumption’ (McGibbon, 2006).

Cultural practices also contribute to the desires of consumers. Consumption differs between humans and other species as ‘our needs and environment are not programmed or confined to our physical survival’ (Slater, 1997). When humans eat, it is not ‘simply to reproduce ourselves physically’ (Slater, 1997). Instead we ‘combine and prepare foods in specific ways’ (Slater, 1997) depending on where you live or your heritage. The idea that consumption is cultural signifies that everything that is consumed has meaning and is specific to the surrounding environment; whether the environment is in the home, regionally or nationally. By knowing the cultural consumption practices within Perth and my own family, I am able to ‘demonstrate a membership to a particular social order’ (Slater, 1997). My identity is reflective of how I consume and will change based on how whether I accept or reject other cultures.

Through the evolution of the construct of culture and identifying the core of any specific culture is increasingly challenging (Firat, Kutucuoglu, Saltik and Tuncel, 2013). With the rise of easier access to communication practices, ‘the boundaries between cultures are blurring’ (Firat, Kutucuoglu, Saltik and Tuncel, 2013). People are becoming exposed to a ‘variety of different cultures through how human mobility and mass media’ (Firat, Kutucuoglu, Saltik and Tuncel, 2013). While there is a rise in a global culture, individual consumers may not ‘share the same tastes and values’ (Firat, Kutucuoglu, Saltik and Tuncel, 2013). Instead, ‘different nations participate in shared conversations and symbols’ (Firat, Kutucuoglu, Saltik and Tuncel, 2013) which allow for exposure into different consumption practices.

eBay provides the perfect example of a once unconventional engage consumers in consuming products on a global scale. eBay created the perception of being a community, where they consumers of the site would ‘take over the support work usually done by employees to reduce the efforts and costs of eBay’s owner’ (Jarrett, 2006). This was not a planned move, however as ‘consumers plunged into consuming electronics, cars and industrial gear eBay followed’ (Black, 2007). The online shopping site provides the ideal of a perfect community where people make real connections with one another. The websites success has depended on this construction of community and the norms within the community allow activities and transactions to be policed effectively (Jarrett, 2006). It has also changed consumer-purchasing habits and is showing that an online retail business model can be successful. Consumers are finding the ‘value in utilising eBay as it is inexpensive and convenient’ (Black, 2007). eBay also uses sellers and buyers to ask questions about the website and all its policies to allow for improvements to be made (Black, 2007).

Another example of consumption is the rise of movie streaming services and the creation of binge watching of movies and television series. We have seen consumers, particularly those within younger audiences, ‘move away from traditional broadcast channels towards online video consumption’ (Panda and Pandey, 2017). Traditional broadcasters set the times which people could watch certain programs, however with the streaming services, it has allowed the viewer more control of when and where they can watch movies and television programs. This has allowed for a recent phenomenon of television viewers becoming binge watchers (Panda and Pandey, 2017). It has also expanded the definition of binge watching where viewers watch television series in quick succession. However, there is debate as to how many episodes dictates binge watching and as such gives a range of between 2 and 6 episodes a day of the same program (Panda and Pandey, 2017).

In conclusion, through the studying consumption I have been able to expand and challenge my views of what consumption is and how consumption can differ in societies dissimilar from my own. It has allowed me to look at how culture, tourism, leisure activities and technology play a part in what people will consume, where they will consume, how long they consumer products or services and how societal changes influence consumption practices. It has expanded my views on how different societies consume through academic text and how this relates it to my own experiences. Through analysing consumption, I have been able to see how consumption evolves and influences within different societies with the expansion of a global society.

References

Black, G. S. (2007). A comparison of the characteristics of eBay consumers and eBay nonconsumers. Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice, 9(1), 16. doi:http://dx.doi.org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.1057/palgrave.dddmp.4350066

Firat, A., Kutucuoglu, K. Y., Saltik, I. A., & Tunçel, Ö. (2013). CONSUMPTION, CONSUMER CULTURE AND CONSUMER SOCIETY. Journal of Community Positive Practices, 13(1), 182-203. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/docview/1369719259?accountid=10382

Jarrett, K. (2006) ‘The Perfect Community: Disciplining the eBay User’, in Hillis, Petit and Epley (eds) Everyday eBay, London: Arnold, pp.107-21.

McGibbon, J. (2006). Teppich-Swingers and Skibums: Differential Experiences of Ski Tourism in the Tirolean Alps, in Meethan, Anderson and Miles (eds) Tourism, Consumption & Representation, Wallingford: CABI, p. 140-57.

Panda, S., & Pandey, S. C. (2017). Binge watching and college students: Motivations and outcomes. Young Consumers, 18(4), 425-438. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/docview/1966858792?accountid=10382

Richins, M. (2005) ‘What Consumers Desire: Goals and Motives in the Consumption Environment’, in Ratneshwar and Mick (eds) Inside Consumption: Consumer Motives, Goals, and Desires, London & New York: Routledge, pp.340-7.

Slater, D. (1997) ‘The Meaning of Things’, in Consumer Culture & Modernity, Cambridge: Polity, pp.131-7.

Twitchell, J. (1999) ‘Introduction’, in Lead Us into Temptation: The Triumph of American Materialism, New York: Columbia University Press, pp.1-15.

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