Retail in the Post-Consumer Age

Posted June 4, 2013

Companies like Amazon are allowing customers to be producers, rewarding them in the process
Companies like Amazon are allowing customers to be producers, rewarding them in the process

Relationships go two ways. There has to be give and take. Back and forth. The old idea of a “consumer” is a one-way idea – consumers ingest products and services. Consumers merely transact. We should do away with the word “consumer” when referring to customers.

Customers relate to the businesses they interact with, and successful businesses have a real relationship with their customers. “Businesses must think of their customers as human beings to be served, not consumers to be sold to,” say John Mackey and Raj Sisodia in their excellent book, Conscious Capitalism. “In fact, the very word ‘consumer’ objectifies people, suggesting that their only role is to consume.”

Retail is evolving to include customers as active participants in the stakeholder ecosystem. Pro-sumers (another questionable Frankenstein of a term, but a helpful one) participate in the retail ecosystem by purchasing goods and services. They also offer complementary goods and services in a virtuous cycle of mutual benefit.

The announcement last week that Amazon is offering a platform for fan fiction is an excellent example of this evolution. Amazon’s “Kindle Worlds” will legitimize the practice of fans publishing new content about their favorite franchises. Plus Amazon will share revenues with these rogue authors, while compensating the original copyright holder as well.

On eBay, there are buyers and sellers of new and used goods. Increasingly, however, there are more buyer/sellers who see the line blurred between what they possess, what they could possess and what they could sell. These hard goods pass through these buyer/sellers for a time. They are caught and released rather than consumed.

Transactions will always be the atomic unit of retail, and some goods, like Velveeta, are simply meant to be consumed. However, every retailer seeking to form lasting relationships with its customers has to engage them in interactions where the benefits go both ways. Customers will feel that they are being addressed as humans, and not objectified as consumers. They will then offer their reward for this recognition by becoming active stakeholders in the retailer’s ecosystem.

ESI Design

NBBJ’s New York experience design studio, ESI Design, transforms places into experiences that seamlessly weave the physical and digital worlds together.

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