Experience economy gives rise to a new consumer, who does not only acquire a product but, as a part of shopping experience, adds a personal touch to the latter, taking a leading role in the trend-setting process and removing the borders between luxury and fast fashion. Such scenario creates a contradictory relationship between consumption and sustainability.
In September 2016 Business of Fashion published an article “The 10 Commandments of New Consumerism”, where Limei Hoang discusses new values in the consumers’ shopping attitude, which created a new term, coined by the research firm Euromonitor, “new consumerism”. The term is intended to describe “conscious consumption replacing the conspicuous consumption of yesteryear”. Daphne Kasriel-Alexander at Euromonitor has published a report “Top 10 Global Consumer Trends for 2017”, which brings up a tendency of increasing personalization of “mass-produced” items. The process is caused by demand for “experiential luxury”, where a shift from “having to being” are taking place. Thus, the focus in fashion industry today does not seem to lie on the product acquired but rather on the experience connected to the purchasing. That phenomenon is usually described as “Experience Economy”.
In 1998, when the term “Experience Economy” was for the first time used by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore in their article “Welcome to the Experience Economy” in Harvard Business Review, the scientists presented the consumer experience consisting of two dimensions: 1) customer participation and 2) connection between the customer participation and the purchased “event or performance”. At that time experience economy did not really emphasize fashion as a possible area for consumer experience.
However, the phenomenon of “experiential luxury” has today been placed in the context of the post-modern society. It means that luxury as we used to identify it – for example expensive rarity – has become a certain commodity due to the popularity of street style and is not a clear class marker anymore. Luxury today is not just a macroeconomic sector but a form of cultural production created by the customer. This is where the concept of experience economy comes into the limelight.
Since some time ago the consumer, especially millennials, have been engaged in the co-branding by participating in the campaigns of different brands. At one hand, H&M has #HM Gallery, where you can buy looks you like from social media and find their customers style in order to get inspired. At the other hand, such luxury brands as Gucci and Prada have become involved in blogger-brand partnerships.
The consumer does not clearly belong to either luxury or fast fashion sector anymore, erasing the social distinction between those two segments as a consequence. However, personal craving for individuality in fashion, once identified by German sociologist Georg Simmel, consists, forcing the consumer to make her/his own personalized choices by playing with style as a new tool for personal divergence. Thus, the consumer of today is looking for a personalized “Colette-shopping experience”, where in the light of digital era art meets style and flirts with fashion, giving the maximum of an experience for the time and money spent. The consumer becomes thereupon the main cross-border dictator of the fashion rules with personal intellectual approach within both luxury and fast fashion segments. Big brands do not have the privilege anymore to cover a wide range of products and aesthetics, while fast fashion brands create their own personal “niche”, where consumer can extinguish the style thirst. Furthermore, it creates a certain competition between the segments, turning those into two practically equal counterparts.
What to expect?
The future of fashion consumption might be bright as the new trend called style (read creativity) is taking over instead of certain seasonal colours, cuts and lengths. At the same time there are fashion conglomerates with their huge profit expectations and single brands struggling to survive. All that should also be seeing in the light of sustainability – the issue which is both carrot and stick.
At one side, sustainability is a vitally important and progressive topic in fashion, where technology place the key role in making it happen. At the other side, it becomes a marketing tool in many cases, where, for example, big fast fashion conglomerates create sustainable collections in order to hit sales numbers. While being in the decisive position, the consumer is also lead by the managerial methods, encouraging him/her to purchase more of “style”.
What we might expect is that the level of consumption will persist but the objects of consumption will slowly become more sustainable. It is, undoubtedly, a rather positive scenario, which however hardly impacts the behavior of the post-modern consumer. In other words, sustainability and style become modern trends, upholding the consumerist society.
What to do?
In order to reach the sustainable style as a style of life, there is a need for a knowledge platform, which would establish understanding of the causation between consumption as such and sustainability. Such platform must be integrated into the fashion system through different channels available, such as education at design and economic schools and in the interaction course with the consumer through both physical contact in retail stores and on social media. One of eligible ways might be to integrate the issue of sustainable consumption into marketing strategies on theoretical level, what can be achieved by raising governmental funds for scientific research in the area. Who knows, we could be dealing with a new science called “Sustainability Marketing” in 10 years time.