Blog entry for 27.3.2013

 

Customer costs is very basic for marketing – how to market and sell a product with minimum costs for the customer? Costs in this context does not mean only the price but also the time – used for searching for information, going to the shop and buying the item – and money – used for the petrol in the car and the parking fee to reach the store. From a holistic perspective on sustainability the customer costs are part of the broader Life Cycle Assessment. Besides production and transportation of the goods, the way in which the consumer uses and maintains the product also adds on the environmental burden of the product.

 

I came to think of two questions. Firstly, how can the customer help to reduce to total social and environmental impact of a product?  For instance, when talking about technological devices, everyone with a sustainability minded heart knows that it is worth trying to repair a broken product before buying something new. Or that proper maintenance extends the life of a product. Companies also have a responsibility in designing, manufacturing and selling strong products that do not break easily, and if it happens they are easy to repair. Sometimes communicating clearly the correct way to use a product is also necessary.

 

Secondly, why are companies not doing enough about this? Often it is in the company’s own interest to make products that do not last very long, because that way the customer is forced to buy new items frequently. Companies make profit by selling goods and grow by selling more and more goods, so there is a contradiction. Innovation and improving existing good are in line with sustainability, because newer products tend to be more environmentally friendly but at the same time it is encouraging to more consumption. However, from the marketing view point building sustainable products helps in creating long-term relationships with the consumer.

 

Also the customers – all of us – have the power to demand durable or non-durable products. It is obvious that more durable products tend to be more expensive. Therefore the tendency is to buy cheaper non-durable products – and that is what companies then create to satisfy our demands.  

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1 comment
  1. Elina said:

    It’s been said that every single product, and even the early sketch of a product, is a burden to the globe. When something is produced – a sketch, a mock-up, a prototype, or the final product- resources, such as water and energy, are used. And when it comes to commercial products, water and energy are just the very basic ingredients. Among them in most of the cases, all kinds of environmentally harmful chemicals and toxins are also used in the manufacturing process. However, the burden is not just an environmental one, but it can be social as well. Growing and harvesting raw materials in the areas were people live, can destroy not just the ecosystems, but whole communities, not to mention all the other social issues related on the working conditions. The burden however, can unfortunately be easily forgotten when the shiny and new products are displayed on the store shelf alluring someone to buy them. Whatever have happened in the life cycle of the product before ending up to the retail, is wiped away from the sight of consumer.

    To the question “how can the customer help to reduce to total social and environmental impact of a product?” is not very easy to answer. We all know that the best solution would simply be not to buy anything. Or if something must be bought, then make the purchases thoughtfully and quality-wise. However, this so called “best solution” does not really apply to the reality. Most of us buy more than we really need, and being thoughtful every time when buying something, is just wishful thinking. However, when we are talking about extending the life cycle of products, the situation is perhaps bit more brighter.

    When it comes to technology, quite often the technological development is so fast that the devices also end up becoming obsolete in a short time. The changes on this area should happen among the technology providers, who should be less keen on coming up with new technological innovations, because after all, the fast technological development is the main force for consumer to update their devices way too often. The obsolescence of non-software based can be, on the other hand, can be the result of either purely trend-based design or bad quality. With no doubt, in many cases the brand owners can be blamed for manufacturing bad quality products that break easily in use. However, perhaps they should not be solely blamed. The consumers also should be more thoughtful with their purchases. Buying cheap and bad quality products is in the very end a personal choice. In the world of products, the equation where cheap = good, does not exist. It is nearly an impossibility. And because of this, if you buy cheap, you should also accept the fact with no complaints, that the product most probably will not last for long.

    In my opinion, the quality issues, however, are not the only problem related on purchases. The other problem is the boredom that consumers start easily feeling towards the products they buy. Everything becomes obsolete someday sooner or later. If it is not the technology that becomes old, then it is the colors or shapes of the product that go out of fashion. The durability of the product is not purely based on its functionality in the long run. Most good quality products can last a long time, but surely something in their appearance will become obsolete, and this is a problem that is much harder to solve in the design phase. We, consumers, should find ways to cope with that fact and not be so sensitive to changes in trends. We should find ways to appreciate products even if they are “totally out of fashion”, if they still work, because after all even the newest and trendiest purchase will be obsolete one day.

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