We invited the incredibly interesting and informed Joe MacLeod to share his clever insight on the consumer lifecycle and its inherent bias to on-boarding, versus the significant neglect in evaluating the experience once it’s come to an end. Joe’s theory compliments Nile’s integration of foresight in our ideation as it highlights the need for deeper understanding and reflection to make more informed decisions for the future.

We do hope you enjoy his words.

After it’s all over do we reflect? In most cases yes but in one area of human activity we fail to do so, as a consumer, and it’s killing us.

As a consumer, we give little attention to the end of a product or service so we lose the opportunity to emotionally reflect on the experience we have had and the benefits it has bought.

The consumer lifecycle shows emotional bias. At on-boarding, the beginning of the consumer lifecycle, we have lots of emotional attention from providers through advertising and marketing, informing us of the product or service’s benefits. Our emotions are being stimulated that encourages us to become a customer.

In contrast, the off-boarding or end of the consumer experience is emotionally barren, it provides the consumer with little time to reflect.

Why is this bad?

Reflection is import in evaluating what happened. The ending of a narrative holds important triggers through adding meaning and education. In other narrative structures in books, films and games, for example, endings are vital and honoured. Elizabeth MacArthur, a film critique says:

“Closure in narratives attempts to preserve the moral and social order which would be threatened by endlessly erring narratives.”

 

A prediction that seems hauntingly accurate regarding the ills of consumption and it’s ‘endlessly erring narratives’.

Consumption’s lack of conclusion?

This repulsion to endings isn’t the result of hard-nosed business logic; it’s a deep societal issue and its essence has been hundreds of years in the making. Over centuries each generation has been provided with quicker, more emotive experiences at the start of the consumer lifecycle. While at the same time, our relationship with the end of that consumer experience has been distanced; an acceleration of consumption and a distancing of waste.

Acceleration

Acceleration has emerged in two developments; firstly in access to consumer experience with industrial improvements and better access to goods. Then secondly through methods of sales, like department stores and marketing. More recently through new mediums of purchase like the world wide web and 1 click shopping.

These experiences have been increasingly tethered to our identity. Initially through systems like banking and credit scoring but more recently through personal emotional endorsements – ‘Likes’ on Facebook, where we align our personality with the item.

Distancing

The second development has been through distancing of our relationship to actionable waste. As advances in technology create more capable products, the consumer’s role in a product’s end – mending, dismantling or disposing of has been distanced.

This has developed alongside discoveries in science like germs, radio-activity, climate change and industrial pollution where the consumer or the layperson has little actionable knowledge about these complex waste issues. Therefore the specialist becomes the responsible party and the consumer is relinquished of their role in the problem.

Exhausted routes

Our established logic takes some well-trodden paths to grapple with the ills of consumption. One route is through government and legislation or taxation. Another route is relying on improvements in technology to replace consumption’s damaging impact. And yet another is to stop consuming in a guilt-induced protest. These routes have been exhausted in the past and no-doubt they will be attempted again in the future.

Amongst all of this, the consumer points blame and continues to consume and develops a psychosis around consumption for the consumer. Where they have become skilled at criticising consumption and being active within it; there is no opportunity  for reflection as part of consumption. Our consumer self is never confronted with questions from our civil self.

Society, governments, companies and consumers all have roles. Governments don’t tend to question the consumer behaviour directly, only apply breaks through legislation on businesses. Businesses tend to be neutralised in their questioning of the consumer, as in part, they are to blame. Consumers can complain through many means but fail to reflect on their own role in the issue. Consumers are sacred consumption cows; they are herded towards starting more consumer experiences, without an opportunity to reflect at the end.

We have to move on from this endless circle and create better off-boarding for the consumer to acknowledge their role in the ills of consumption and in turn reflect on the benefits consumption has brought.

Emotional ending étiqueté.

In the consumer driven world we are encouraged to say hello at the beginning of our service and product relationships. Marie Kondo has taken that further and asks her clients to say meaningful and emotional goodbyes.

Marie Kondo is a de-clutter guru from Japan; she goes into people’s houses and helps them remove the burden of their unwanted purchases. She asks her clients to take all their shoes, coats, books, clothes and place them in category piles. Kondo then asks them to pick up each one and evaluate it – emotionally measure the item – does it bring them joy? If it doesn’t bring them joy, they are asked to put it in a disposed of pile.

After this process of emotional assessment, the person is invited to return to the pile of things to be disposed of and say goodbye to each item. Kondo asks the person to reflect on what that item has bought them? What can they take from the experience of owning it? What have they learned? Kondo argues, that even the dress you bought and never wore can teach you something about what does not suit you. After reflecting on the product’s benefits Kondo asks the person to thank the item. They are only then allowed to place it in the appropriate recycling process.

This might seem quite baffling and a little unorthodox but saying goodbye and emotionally reflecting on benefits is something we need to do more of if we are to grapple with the ills of consumption.

Balancing the bias in the consumer lifecycle with better off-boarding experiences would provide the consumer with actionable and emotional involvement at the end of their consumption. Providing a space to reflect. Meaning to take hold.

And a good end.

Ends Joe MacLeod

About the author

Joe MacLeod

Joe Macleod has decades of product development experience across digital, physical and service sectors. Previously Head of Design at the award-winning studio Ustwo, now researches endings on the Closure Experiences project and talks, consults and writes regularly on the topic. Most recently Joe has published the book Ends; it captures the historical and societal context that has led to the problems we have with consumer endings and lays down a common philosophy for improving the ills of consumption.