“The Claustrophobia of Abundance”
I have always felt that this phrase, shared by J Walker Smith (the former president of research firm, Yankelovich Partners) at a conference in 2004, had special resonance. He went on to say that consumers may prefer fewer options from which to make choices. It seems that there is a point where choice and abundance traumatizes us more than it liberates us. We are drowning in stuff.
Fast forward to today’s sharing economy mindset of Rent-The-Runway, Uber, AirBnB and even NetJets at the high end, and there is a significant shift to consumption based on a “just-in-time,” fractional-use mindset. Why own when I can use what I want and need when I want and need it?
Looking at today’s headlines, you see the impact of this on businesses. “Big Brands Feel Pain as Consumers Pull Back” (Wall Street Journal, 4/27/17). Retailers are closing their doors, Malls are redefining themselves, and all of us are looking for more experiences in our lives verses more stuff.
This is happening with many of the Boomers I know who are reducing their footprint, reducing what they have and buying less. Millennials are finding their way through the early phases of consumption and establishing new patterns of behavior. Mass production, mass marketing and mass consumption habits are changing.
So what? What does this have to do with you? There are three things, I think:
- Whatever industry, business, non-profit or organization you work for, your consumers have too many choices. Choice architecture describes the different ways in which choices can be presented to consumers and the impact of that presentation on consumer decision-making. How are you presenting the choices of what you offer to minimize confusion and claustrophobia?
- Are you selling goods, services, training, education and membership, or are you creating experiences for your members, customers and employees that have meaning and relevance? Any product is susceptible to a lower price offer, a more convenient delivery option or someone who creates a better mousetrap that pushes you aside.
- Think about your own life. How much stuff do you have, and how much do you want? Look around: How many glasses, towels, knick-knacks, shoes, cars and other stuff do you own that you need or want? Is the next thing you buy really going to make you happier?
Don’t get me wrong, we all should enjoy our stuff, but more stuff is not where the world is headed: a smaller footprint, less carbon output, less stuff. Sharing is here to stay; it’s now accepted as a way of doing, owning and being. The question is, how will we adapt and adopt new ways of building, designing, selling and owning?
I’ve come to believe that it’s possible to achieve a Lightness of Being, that it is the opposite of claustrophobia. It’s a work in progress but worthy of pursuit.