- Allen Czermak
Do you care whether you buy Charmin or Scott toilet paper? What about your paper towel preference? Viva or Bounty towels? If you answered no to the above question, you are in the minority in the United States today. In some ways the COVID-19 pandemic narrowed down choices for a few months and consumers were satisfied with any brand of paper towels or toilet paper that could be purchased online. On the other hand, the pandemic introduced internet shopping to those who were mall strollers and supermarket junkies.
Needs Vs. Wants
As children some of us were taught to differentiate between our needs and our wants. A teenage girl asked her parents for a pair of Prada sneakers. They did not say no outright but explained to her that when her feet stopped growing, they would consider it. By the time this girl’s feet were grown she had become more spiritual and less materialistic. This brings us to one of the main issues of consumerism, immediate gratification. In the 1970’s there was an experiment done with little children. It went something like this. The psychologist offered each child a choice, have one candy now or wait a bit and get two. The children who were able to wait became much more successful later in life than the ones who had to have the candy immediately.
Amazon & Credit Cards
With the introduction of Amazon shopping, we have become used to having our “candy” right away. Sunday used to be the day of no banking, no mail and particularly no deliveries. That is not the case for this generation. Even if you don’t have an Amazon distribution center close to home, often your package will be delivered the next day. If the package takes a few more days to arrive chances are good that you will not even remember what you ordered. If that’s the case, it probably wasn’t an emergency.
Credit card shopping is very scary. With the press of a button the consumer can purchase hundreds of dollars’ worth of merchandise in minutes. Your credit or Amazon card information is in the store’s computer already and by pressing purchase the deal is done sometimes with only one half an hour to cancel. Some companies have no cost return policies which encourage the consumer to buy with no penalty for returns. However, what happens to the credit card? It gets charged and it can take weeks for the credit for the return item to come through. Do all consumers check their credit card bill thoroughly to see if they were credited for a return? Not only does consumerism led to over-purchasing but also to a loss of money when the product is not kept and lost in transit.
Shopping has become a fun hobby. Now that we can go back to the mall we can again be entertained and lured by the windows and stores we frequent. By doing this hobby shopping as opposed to buying only things we need we are becoming guilty of over consumption. For the moment a likable purchase seems to make us happy in the short run. Manufacturers and designers are finding that making lower quality goods pays because many people would rather buy more often for less money. This includes all aspects of consuming be it clothes, electronics, or toys. What can be more disappointing for a child to receive a gift that is so exciting only for it to break immediately? This does not happen only with off brands. Major toy companies known for their long-lasting qualifications have lowered their standards because the consumer doesn’t care. Instead of buying items that we could enjoy and last for years, we purchase products that fall apart or go out of style.
Pop up ads on the computer are hard to avoid. No matter what type of software is installed these companies are smarter and more creative. The first time a popup appears on your computer you can avoid the purchase. Even the second time it pops up you might be able to disregard it. However, the third time it happens, and it is exactly the shoe you wanted and the right size, there is a good chance it will be purchased. This is called consumer targeting. From your searches and purchases the search engine will repeat many popups items you were considering but did not yet purchase.
Another effective way that companies increase consumption is called, “planned obsolescence”. This happens when a company purposely manufactures an expensive but needed product in a way that a consumer will want or need to buy an updated version every few years. Such an example is the cell phone. The person who wants to have the most updated phone with the newest displays and operating system could be called an over-consumer. However, what happens when a screen cracks or buttons no longer work, and the battery is not lasting for long and dies very fast? (And you have even tried keeping it in rice for several days with no improvement.) This item becomes a need not a desire and the purchaser must fork over hundreds of dollars for a new phone. Or the consumer would like to add certain apps that cannot be synchronized on their present cell phone. Every year new handset models are cranked out and advertised as the best yet. In this day and age this would be called pragmatic spending, since this is something that is needed.
Keep The Containers Moving
How are the companies dealing with the increased demands for products? Surprisingly there are enough products being manufactured in China and other countries such as Turkey and India. Although there are shortages in certain products because of the curtailment of the manufacturing of certain items during the pandemic, there are still plenty of products waiting to be enjoyed by over-active consumers. But the supply chain needs fixing in a different realm. That is the massive intermodal transport problem. When a ship docks at a shipping port such as Los Angeles there should be a truck waiting for the dock workers to unload the containers. If Scott toilet paper is inside a container, then the next step is for it to be transported to its arrival destination in a fast and reliable way.
Containers are now being massively stored one on top of the other in ports all over the United States. The holiday season is fast approaching, and stores and online companies are in a panic over the supplies they paid for but do not have in stock yet. Let’s assume the manufacturer kept his end of the bargain. His workers worked hard to get the factories producing at optimum speed and shipping containers filled with goods to the correct ports. Right now, that is the end of the line. The manufacturer has done his job of the long haul of shipping the goods to the United States, but we are failing to continue the supply chain. With product demand skyrocketing and no end in sight for massive delays, efficient supply chain prices will rise, and product availability will fall. A business owner must make sure that their intermodal transportation company is reliable. Not only that it is fast and efficient. They must find out how many truckers they have who are presently working full time? Is vaccination denial an issue?
How Can We Avoid Overconsumption?
1) The same way we go to a supermarket with a shopping list so too should we do all our other spending. When a product lures you just because you like it, remember that the interest of the company is not yours but their own. Moderation is the key. Although we believe we are happy when we buy something for ourselves, if it is an impulsive buy, we would be much happier to leave the mall store or the online store before clicking purchase.
2) Make connections with family and friends rather than with material possessions. We surely learned one thing from being isolated during the pandemic; it is no fun to be locked up alone with your possessions. True, this could be carried out to an extreme nonmaterialistic existence. For example, certain individuals have gained weight and stopped dyeing their hair and just plain letting go of their appearances. No one is asking anyone to do that. However, just taking the time to review the need of a certain purchase could reduce spending by high percentages.
3) Have a separate junk email address and give out your confidential email sparingly. Yes, eventually the advertisers will get to you but at least you are trying to lessen the emails. Or when purchasing online use a distinct email as well so that the online stores where you shopped will only send emails with new sales and merchandise to your shopping email address.
The tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden was too alluring for Eve to resist. At least she was looking for knowledge not materialism. With that sin came materialism as Adam and Eve were forced to clothe. This is the same curse we are living with to this day. We are so lucky that we have most items we need at our fingertips. This is so important especially for senior citizens or health risk individuals. With a click of the computer Amazon and other websites will deliver the needed items quickly. It’s the desire that we must curtail to become a more meaningful society.