Shoppers' shifting values will lead to more green, fair, quality purchases

Spending with conscience


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The sharing trend that became popular with Zipcar is likely to expand to other industries such as tools and baby gear as consumers readjust their spending patterns to focus less on conspicuous consumption and more on making thoughtful choices with their money, says one leading social forecaster.

In the improving but not yet booming economy of 2013, Patricia Aburdene, author of the New York Times bestseller "Megatrends 2000" and most recently "Conscious Money" (Atria Publishing; $16 paperback), predicts priorities and values will play a bigger role in shaping spending decisions.

"Key concepts like practical, quality, meaningful, simplicity, chemical-free, local and sustainable will be what encourages consumers to open their wallets," said Ms. Aburdene, who lives in Boulder, Colo.

For the most part, people are still feeling some financial stress brought on by the Great Recession that started in December 2007, which she says is fueling the popularity of sharing trends such as Zipcar, which allows members of its sharing network to reserve cars for personal use by the hour or the day.

The car-sharing niche created by Zipcar in January 2000 is already starting to see more competitors. Hertz, Enterprise and UHaul have come up with their own versions of short-term car rentals. Regional competitors such as City CarShare in San Francisco, Mint in New York and Boston; and I-GO in Chicago also are becoming bigger players.

"Car sharing is taking off because people are realizing how darn much it costs to own a car," Ms. Aburdene said, adding that car sharing is more of an urban phenomenon.

Other new societal demands and behavior that she expects will gain more traction are transparency, fair trade and third-party verification of products.

Just as the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" helped consumers in past decades put their trust in a product, Ms. Aburdene says more shoppers will be drawn to seals of approval from groups like Greenpeace and the Rain Forest Alliance. "Those product seals will let consumers know the company is socially responsible and the consumer is making a difference in the world when they buy the product," she said.

Fair trade is another growing global movement that will affect spending, according to Ms. Aburdene. Fair trade products -- ranging from coffee to chocolate to wine -- sometimes cost more so that farmers are paid fairly for their efforts.

Gerald Celente, publisher of The Trends Journal in Kingston, N.Y., said he agrees with Ms. Aburdene's analysis of 2013 trends in general. But he says the majority of Americans are on a downward economic path and may not have the luxury of making socially conscious spending choices, especially when there are cheaper alternatives.

"While they can have the best intentions, it's a stomach issue and a pocketbook issue. People are falling out of the middle class in huge numbers," said Mr. Celente, who forecast the popularity of gourmet coffee years before Starbucks became a household name and bottled water decades before Coke and Pepsi got into the business.

Mr. Celente, author of "Trend Tracking" and "Trends 2000" (Warner Books), said Ms. Aburdene's trend predictions for the new year refer mainly to a small segment of people in an affluent society, but do not apply to the masses of Americans struggling to make ends meet.

However, Ms. Aburdene has a pretty good track record of past predictions.

In "Megatrends 2000," which was published in 1990, when many economists warned of tough economic times ahead, she and co-author John Naisbitt instead predicted a booming global economy during the 1990s. The book also predicted the Pacific Rim would come to prominence in the 1990s, and it certainly did, with China and the economies of the Four Tigers (Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan) expanding at explosive rates.

"When you look at the trends for 2013, the social trends have a very strong economic flavor to them," Ms. Aburdene said. "The way consumers can begin being conscious about money is to start by reflecting on their values and priorities so they spend money in ways that feel right to them."

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Tim Grant: tgrant@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1591


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