Is Consumer Satisfaction Getting out of Reach? /Dissertation/ Chapter One – History of Hedonistic Shopping and Overconsumption

Is Consumer Satisfaction Getting out of Reach? /Dissertation/ Chapter One – History of Hedonistic Shopping and Overconsumption

Abstract

 

Taking a central place in the development of industries and in most of millennials’ occupations, consumption is worth analysing, in order to establish the main determinants, and most of all, the results of purchases for the customer and for economy. This essay is therefore exploring the factors forming a sense of satisfaction amongst consumers and its current relation to consumer goods. It draws on customer observations and contemporary examples of industry practices, as well as references to past experiences, in order to establish the principal methods in reducing mass consumption in order to retain the satisfaction from product acquisition.

Firstly, the essay traces the origins of hedonistic shopping and explores the way it changes the notion of purchasing goods. For that purpose, the research refers mainly to the work of Edward Bernays and provides contemporary examples of the practices he established. It is additionally analysing industrialization and capitalism as important historical factors in the development of overconsumption.

Further research is then focusing on establishing the determinants of making a purchase and, respectively, of effectuating consumer satisfaction. Investigating examples, based on customer feedback, the essay draws a parallel between shopping in the past and present days, with a focus on retail relationships and retail spaces as main factors in the shopping experience.

Finally, the essay explores possible solutions in retaining consumer satisfaction, looking into suggestions by retailers and, alternatively, by the non-profit online project ‘The Great American Apparel Diet’. Based predominantly on customer feedback, this chapter defines industries as unable to provide a profitable solution and is therefore suggesting a number of practices related to garment consumption that could be applied in the satisfactory consumption of other products.

 

Yana Dobreva

Is Consumer Satisfaction Getting out of Reach?

BA (Hons) Performance Sportswear Design

Falmouth University

HT310

2018 – 2019

 

Contents

 

List of Figures……………………………………………..…………………………………………………………………………page 6

Introduction………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….page 9

Chapter One

History of Hedonistic Shopping and Overconsumption……………………………………..….………..…..…..page 11

Chapter Two

Determinants of Consumer Satisfaction……………..………….………………………………………………………page 21

Chapter Three

Retail Solutions for Consumer Dissatisfaction and ‘The Great American Apparel Diet’……………………………………………………………………………………………………..……………………………..page 31

Conclusion………………………………………………………………………….…………….…………………………………page 41

Bibliography………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..page 42

 

 

List of Figures

 

 

 

Figure 1. ELLE MAGAZINE UK. (2015). Cover of the April 2015 Edition of Elle Magazine by Kerry Hallihan, Model: Michelle Williams. Available:

https://www.elle.com/uk/fashion/news/a25079/michelle-williams-covers-elle-uk-april-2015-issue/

[accessed 19/10/2018]

 

Figure 2. BRITISH VOGUE. (2017). Cover of the April 2017 Edition of British Vogue by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, Model: Kate Moss. Available:

https://www.vogue.co.uk/magazine/april-2017

[accessed 01/12/2018]

 

Figure 3. LUCKY STRIKE. (1948). Lucky Strike – First Again with Tobacco Men. Advertising campaign ‘Let’s Smoke, Girls’. Available:

http://www.libertyforjoe.com/2014/11/propaganda-shapes-more-than-you-know.html

[accessed 14/10/18]

 

Figure 4. ASOS. (2018). ASOS Sale, ASOS Online Store. Available:

https://www.asos.com/women/

[accessed 01/12/18]

 

Figure 5. SELFRIDGE’S. (early 20th century). Confectionery Section at Selfridge’s, London. Mary Evans, Grenville Collins Postcard Collection. Available:

https://www.mediastorehouse.com/mary-evans-prints-online/selfridges-london-confectionery-section-4435345.html

[accessed: 15/11/2018]

 

Figure 6. HEGARTY, Bartle Bogle. (2000). Robbie Coltrane in a Barclays Online Banking Commercial. Available:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCnBKledu7w

[accessed 29/10/2018]

Figure 7. BJORNSEN, Sally. (2010). Dieters’ Profiles. Reasons for Participation in ‘The Great American Apparel Diet’. Available:

http://www.thegreatamericanappareldiet.com/

[accessed 01/12/2018]

 

Figure 8. BJORNSEN, Sally. (2010). Dieters’ Profiles. Reasons for Participation in ‘The Great American Apparel Diet’. Available:

http://www.thegreatamericanappareldiet.com/

[accessed 12/11/2018]

 

Figure 9. BJORNSEN, Sally. (2010). Dieters’ Profiles. Reasons for Participation in ‘The Great American Apparel Diet’. Available:

http://www.thegreatamericanappareldiet.com/

[accessed 01/12/2018]

 

Figure 10. BJORNSEN, Sally. (2010). Sally’s New Shopping Rules. Available:

http://www.thegreatamericanappareldiet.com/

[accessed 15/11/2018]

 

 

Introduction

 

 

 

Being on both ends of the production line as a designer and consumer, I naturally take interest in the effects of object acquisition on one’s overall satisfaction. As a creative in the field of sportswear design, I believe that a product should most of all bear an emotional meaning, rather than solely present a material value. In order to be sustainable, it should succeed in delivering a sensory, as well as sentimental experience, and an opportunity for personalization, and serve as a future legacy. In that sense, I would like to think of myself as a responsible designer, as well as a responsible consumer, and explore methods of presenting objects with meaning and empathy. I also consider it important for customers to be fully informed about the significance of their purchases, which I believe to be essential in the development of sustainability awareness and responsibility towards one’s environment, as well as towards financial and emotional investments.

In the first chapter I am exploring the capital driven shift from utilitarian to hedonistic shopping and capitalizing consumer desires as a primary factor in the process. I am therefore analysing Sigmund Freud’s theory Psychoanalysis and the ideologically related approach of Edward Bernays of mass democracy. In the context of this particular period, I am also evaluating the role of industrialization in the development of hedonistic shopping and the rise of overconsumption.

A further exploration of satisfaction determinants is provided in the second chapter, based on analogy between shopping experience at present and formerly. Aspects I am thoroughly observing and comparing are retail spaces as centre points of shopping activity, the rise of online shopping, and, additionally, the relationships with merchandisers and objects as an exhibition of one’s identity. Exploring these fundamental factors as purchase determinants, I aim to establish their role in forming a sense of satisfaction with consumer goods and experiences.

Chapter three is analysing contemporary solutions of retailers to sustain a reasonable level of satisfaction among consumers and, respectively, the efficiency of these solutions. As a case study I am investigating the online project ‘The Great American Apparel Diet’ and evaluating the motives for its foundation, as well as its outcomes and practical relevance to other fields of consumption.

With this work I am hoping to establish the most efficient approaches to responsibly participating in contemporary consumer culture, while maintaining one’s ethical and sustainable values.

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

History of Hedonistic Shopping and Overconsumption

 

 

 

In this chapter I am going to focus on the history of consumerism and the transition of purchasing behaviour from utilitarian into hedonistic. I am therefore investigating the work and ideas of Edward Bernays, believed to have given rise to modern consumerism, in respect to whose work I am also exploring the ideas of Jonathon Porritt in his book Capitalism As If the World Matters (2007).Additionally, in relation to Walter Lippmann’s ideas on creation of consent and its primary importance, examples of contemporary propaganda and product placement are further provided. Two other factors, subjects to thorough analysis, are the industrialization and mass democracy and their role in the development of dissatisfaction in order to nurture economy.

For the first time consumerism starts to take off in the 1920s, promoted by Edward Bernays’ idea of controlling masses through their desires. This approach is based on Freud’s theory Psychoanalysis, claiming that in their decisions people are largely led by inner desires and unconscious aggressive and sexual forces. Relying on Walter Lippmann’s statement that the revolution he wants to achieve lies in the creation of consent, rather than purely in industries or politics (Bernays 1923:38), Bernays begins to approach mass democracy differently in order to exploit collective desires into the formation of public consent. In his book ‘Propaganda’, he pushes forward the idea of society as a whole organism, where each individual is a member of the whole mass, and one’s wants come to be ‘a sensitive spot’ (Bernays 2005:55), a means to acquiring the desired reaction. In this way, he becomes the first person to question and eventually change the notion of consumption.

In order to capitalize public desires, Bernays looks into propaganda as a means just as effective in peace as it has proved itself to be in war. What was before used for military purposes, has, the potential to assist in encouraging masses to adopt a rather materialistic consumer behaviour, which process Bernays calls ‘the engineering of consent’. War propaganda is adopted by all contemporary advertisers, one of the most obvious examples being fashion magazines, who employ ‘fashion’s potency as both a personal and social satisfier’, making it ‘a magnet for manipulation.’ (Fletcher and Grose 2012: 133). Relatively recent examples include the covers of two of the most influential fashion and lifestyle magazines. As presented in Figure 1., the cover of the April 2015 print edition of the British Elle reads: ‘Buy Fringing Suede, Military Jackets (yes, you can)’, whereas the fashion dictator, Vogue’s April 2017 cover addresses customers’ desire for self-expression: ‘New labels to match your style personality’ (Figure 2.). These two contemporary cases illustrate Bernays’ approach of capitalizing public opinions in order to gain finances, which performs as an essential template for the marketing industry today.

Figure 1. ELLE Magazine UK 2015. The Cover of the April 2015 Edition of Elle Magazine by Kerry Hallihan, Model: Michelle Williams.

Figure 2. British Vogue 2017. The Cover of the April 2017 Edition of British Vogue by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, Model: Kate Moss.

Another method Bernays introduces throughout his career is the establishment of products as bearers of identities in order to create consumerist communities. The most successful means of persuasion he uses is the symbolic message of objects, or rather the relation of objects to paradigms, forming the identity of masses. One of his most remarkable and well-known campaigns is for the American tobacco company Lucky Strike, which is aiming to involve female consumers (see Figure 3.). Famously stated by Bernays himself: ‘A thing may be desired not for its intrinsic worth or usefulness, but because [the consumer] has unconsciously come to see in it a symbol of something else…’ (Bernays 2005:75). This particular statement informs the approach to women smokers that relies on their desire for equality and the opportunity to express this power alongside men with their own ‘torches of freedom’, as cigarettes were then presented. Bernays’ approach of bounding objects to a certain symbolic meaning or to influential figures is used today more than ever – in music videos, blockbusters, or sponsored events. A good example is the iconic scene in 2004’s ‘I, Robot’, where Will Smith’s Converse All Star shoes appear on three occasions in the movie, making the customer relate the object to both a favourite movie, and an iconic figure. Just as influential is the product placement in 1980’s ‘Superman 2’, where in a single fight scene between Superman and General Zod, the audience is objected to the placement of two big brands – the truck into which Superman crashes carrying a huge Marlboro sign, and the giant Coca Cola logo into which General Zod is thrown. These are both examples of the persistent placement society is currently subjected to, where one sees objects possessed by the influential minority but also (and consequently) by one’s preferred social groups, friends and colleagues. With this ‘intelligent manipulation’, as Bernays

Figure 3. Lucky Strike 1948. First Again with Tobacco Men – Advertising campaign ‘Let’s Smoke, Girls’.

 

calls it, he gives consumer goods a meaningful message and therefore integrates them into society’s value system, transforming them into objects of desire.

This dramatic switch in the 1920s from utilitarian shopping to the new purchasing strategy of obtaining desired goods, has led to modifications of the notion of the term citizen, turning society merely into a consumer force, where one’s primary role is to shop. Clive Hamilton describes this process as a path to progress in which ‘all human desire and aspiration can be rendered in terms of the products and services that they can choose to consume.’ (Hamilton in Gore 2006:60). Once given the enormous selection of brands and products, masses obediently exercise their freedom of choice conforming to the state of new mass democracy, where former citizens are transformed into ‘happiness machines’. Playing on people’s desire for novelty and change, Bernays is incorporating amongst them the belief that they are ‘not quite as happy as they could be – and would be if they bought x or y’ (Porritt 2007:64), enhancing the craving for consumer goods. This approach is to see in the 2016 Feelunique campaign ‘I can’t live without’ (Feelunique 2016), where actors are asked to name objects they can’t live without, addressing various products that could be found on the Feelunique website. That example is a representation for visibly switching the focus from previous essential concepts of wellbeing and family-focused life, and moving on to object-based values. This transformation proves the statement of Bernays that democracy really can be and currently is found in capitalism.

Both as a determinant and as a reason for the development of consumerist behaviour at this particular period appears industrialization. It is a factor helping to deliver to consumers a material minimum, ‘with as little delay as possible in securing it and at the lowest possible cost’ (Porritt 2007:101). What appeals to the customer is the possibility of obtaining an item quickly, cheaply and easily – all aspects of industrialization which are even currently fundamental to so many well-known brands such as Boohoo, Misguided, ASOS (Figure 4.), or the retail giant Tesco. The process becomes irreversible as larger groups of customers have to be approached ‘if modern industry and commerce are to be financed.’ (Bernays 2005:97). This creates a sort of a vicious circle of consumption in which capitalism is nurturing industrialization and vice versa.

A result of industrialization, another signifier of conspicuous consumption is the phenomenon of temporary satisfaction. In the new state of mass consumption where ‘wants’ become ‘needs’, the main criteria for social approval and personal happiness becomes material satisfaction. Yet, the fulfilment of consumer needs has to be maintained in the same way as this initial desire provoking a purchase. Advertisers therefore the employ this discontentment of customers in order to sustain economic growth through constant dissatisfaction (Hamilton in Gore 2006:64-65). Porritt suggests that once all the basic needs of consumers are being met, financial capitals and possessions beyond that point do not change the overall state of the observed community (Porritt 2007:61). There is, yet, another factor that affects modern consumption from its very base – this is the so called ‘affluenza’ virus that Oliver James is observing in his 2007 book and describes as a set of principles, which ‘increase our vulnerability to emotional distress, and which entail placing a high value on acquiring money and possessions, looking good in the eyes of others, and wanting to be famous’ (James 2007:56).

Figure 4. ASOS 2018. ASOS Sale, ASOS Online Store

 

The adoption of capital-driven consumerist behaviour therefore brings about this modern phenomenon of temporary satisfaction that industries nurture in order to sustain.



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