Consumerism originates from the huge sums of money manufacturers spend on advertising to create demands. This is has become necessary because the markets have moved from being a sellers market to buyers market where consumer choice is influenced by his level of awareness. Consumerism is, therefore, the key driver of economic growth.
With developing nations fast catching up on consumerism, today there are approximately 1.7 billion people worldwide who belong to the "consumer class”. This class is motivated by highly processed food diets, desire for bigger houses, more and bigger cars, higher levels of debt, and lifestyles devoted to the accumulation of non-essential goods.
Consumerism Spurred by Globalization
With globalization, goods and services which were earlier out of reach in developing countries are now easily available. China provides a classic example of the changing scenario. Over the last 25 years, millions of cars are moving what was primarily a cycle using population. In most major cities of the world there are more cars than licensed drivers, leading to pollution and more use of fossil fuels.
Consumerism can be Counter-productive
With rise in consumption, people are incurring debt and working longer hours to pay for the high-consumption lifestyle. As a result they have less time to spend with their families and friends.
Obesity problems have increased worldwide due to diets of highly processed food and heavy reliance on automobiles. It is estimated that in the US, 65 percent of adults are overweight or obese, and the country has the highest rate of obesity among teenagers in the world. There are also increasing cases of heart disease and diabetes, rise in health care costs, and a lower quality of day-to-day life. See Europe Educates its Consumers  - a three-year transnational project developed by the Consumer Citizen Network (CCN) on how to become responsible consumers
Consumerism and Environmental Problems
Today, most environmental problems are linked to consumption. The unprecedented growth in consumerism is undermining the natural systems we all depend on. Increase in disposable goods, such as “throw-away” cameras, plastic garbage bags, and other cheaply made goods with built in product-obsolescence has added to the problem.
A Social Movement to Protect Consumers
Consumerism is where the consumer has the power and not the manufacturer. Consumer is the focal point of any business and consumerism means nothing more than people's search for getting better value for their money.
Consumerism is now a universal phenomenon and a social movement with the aim of protecting consumers from all organizations with which they have exchanged relationship. This process helps the consumers seek redressal, restitution and remedy for their dissatisfaction and frustration with the help of their efforts and activities which may be organized or unorganized.
It is, in-fact a social movement seeking to protect the rights of consumers in relation to the producers of goods and providers of services. Consumers' satisfaction will benefit not only business but government and society as well. It is a collective movement on the part of consumers, business, government and civil society to enhance consumers' satisfaction and social welfare which will in turn benefit all of them and finally make the society a better place to live in.
Components of Consumerism
Consumers must be aware of their rights, raise voice against exploitation and seek redressal of their grievances. Consumers' consciousness determines the effectiveness of consumerism. It is the duty of the consumer to identify his rights and to protect them.
Safeguarding Consumer Interest
Voluntary Consumer Organizations engaged in organizing consumers and encouraging them to safeguard their interests is another important element of the consumer movement. The success of consumerism lies in the realization by the business that there is no substitute for voluntary self-regulations. Little attention from the business will not only serve consumers' interest but will also benefit them. Several businesses, even in developing countries, have come together to adopt a code of conduct for regulating their own activities.
Regulation of business through legislation is one of the important means of protecting the consumers. Consumerism has over time developed into a sound force designed to aid and protect the consumer by exerting, legal, moral and economic pressure on producers and providers in some of the developed countries.
Today’s consumerism has created a consumer-driven society. With the power of technology, one consumer voice is capable of influencing many and can make or break a company. This is the reason why companies actively seek consumer opinion, suggestion, ideas and thoughts which are an acknowledgement of consumer might. This manifests in the endless number of new products and new ways to spend, each matching consumer expectations. This ultimately leads to powerful spending and a powerful global economy.
Consumerism and Internet
In terms of consumerism, the Internet is an aid to consumer empowerment during pre-purchase, purchase, and post-purchase.
The Pre-Purchase Stage
Guides consumers to useful sources of product and service information, with possible evaluation of that information in terms of its degree of usefulness and independence. The Internet gives consumers unprecedented access to detailed information about products and services.
The Purchase Stage
Helps locate and evaluate networks of buyer groups, so that consumers can effectively bargain for improved terms of sale.
The Post-Purchase Phase
The emphasis is on guiding consumers to sites that can help them gain redress for unsatisfactory purchase, and possibly instructing consumers how to use such sites. Based on this post-purchase (or post-consumption) evaluation, consumers have the option to voice their complaints or exit
Green consumerism creates a balance between the expectations of consumer behavior and businesses' profit motives. Points to be noted:
- Businesses must respond to the consumer demands and respond fast because the markets don't wait for slow movers.
- In the entire process and at various levels involving administration, manufacture and use, everyone has a role to play.
- A consumer has to realize that when he/she buys 'a' product she does not buy just that but a whole experience.
- All products have an environmental impact to some extent or the other. Efforts are needed to reduce it to the minimum
There is also a parallel movement against increasing consumerism, mainly from religious groups and social activists. They feel that consumerism diminishes the quality of life and diverts us from our needed values and virtues and advocate simpler lives. Refer to Overcoming Consumerism for more details
Did You Know?
- Annual expenditures for cosmetics total U.S. $18 billion.
- Annual expenditures required to eliminate hunger and malnutrition is $19 billion.
- Expenditures on pet food in the United States and Europe total $17 billion a year.
- The estimated cost of immunizing every child, providing clean drinking water for all, and achieving universal literacy is $16.3 billion.
- There are approximately 1.7 billion people worldwide who belong to the "consumer class”.
- As Consumerism Spreads, Earth Suffers, Study Says
- Understanding the Green Consumer
- Consumerism: Conceptual Consideration
- The Pros and Cons of Consumerism
- E-Consumerism as a Tool for Empowerment