Dec 24, 2008

Value and values: one of the ten trends for 2009

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: consumerism| values

“Value” and “values.” Everyone will be using these words in the months and years ahead. And the words themselves can invoke many different meanings; so let’s focus for a moment on what we mean.

“Value” is what people want and are willing to pay for, and price is how much they are asked to pay for it. Over the boom years, until the economic crisis, value increasingly came to mean lots more for the price—bigger, faster, brighter, more powerful, more features, more convenience, more choice, more prestige. It was a time of supersize expectations—although ironically, consumer satisfaction didn’t rise at the same rate. The more consumers got, the more demanding they became.

“Values” are the feelings that motivate people to act, and the criteria by which they judge actions. Values are what people feel is important in life. Until the economic crisis, having more, doing more and being more were dominant values, not just in the United States and other developed economies, but also in emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and China.

In just a few months, the economic crisis has challenged the boom notions of value and values. As demand contracts and prices fall (in gasoline and real estate, for example), the previous links between value and price have been broken. How can the same gallon of fuel cost $4 one day and $2 a week later? As the crisis unfolds further, watch out for individuals, communities and whole countries to reevaluate the way they think about value.

In business, the emerging commercial reality is that cautious consumers seek a new kind of value when they spend. Value no longer means “as much as possible” or “all you can eat.” Now, as consumers watch their spending much more closely, they’re acutely aware of how much satisfaction (value) they derived from their cravings, whims and impulse buys in the boom years.

The greedy rise of “more” has hit a ceiling. And now a fearful downward run of “less” threatens to plunge to “none at all.” In this anxious, uncertain environment, real value means “just enough to satisfy.” It means meeting needs and having a sense of money well spent, not wasted. Listen out for more vocal consumers: “I’m not paying for all those extra features, I just need the basics.” It all came together, symbolically, a couple of weeks before the U.S. elections when Michelle Obama appeared on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” wearing a modestly priced J. Crew outfit she bought online.

When it comes to bigger issue of values, the crisis has already prompted most of us to ask: “How did we get into this mess?” Accusing fingers are pointed at bankers who chased massive profits, and at feckless homebuyers who borrowed more than they could afford. But they weren’t the only ones who allowed the pursuit of more to dominate their other values. In 2009 and beyond, watch for consensus building around values that suddenly feel so much more important: Stability, Sustainability, Cooperation and Peace of Mind.

  • Gary Bates
    Dear Ms. Salzman,

    I appreciate your article, and agree with your statements about the "baby Boomers", in general. Yet I find you may be missing the fact there are many of the boomer generation that do not at all fit the description.

    I am 63 years old, born December 6,1945, am a Vietnam combat veteran, was a registered republican for 40 years (now independent), and am applled at the greed which is so invasive of America today. What's even more concerning is the obvious and open greed of the finanical system and the open support by the Bush administration, with no apparent coming retribution for the criminal theft of savings, retirements, and property.

    This country is in dire need of a national "Boston tea party", with real consequences for the creators of this disaster. These people are leaving this country and our children unfit for the coming years. What's even more obcene, is that most of these people were not even willing to serve in the military in support of our declaration of indepenance, constitution, or bill of rights. All they have been willing to do is twist, prevert, and expoit. Their God is Money and all of the evil associated with it. They are the "Domestic enemy" and must be delt with severly.

    I hope that Mr. Oboma and his folks will avoid the lack of human dignity , and integrity displayed so clearly by the neo cons and their compadres - anf the far left is absolutley no better.

    You're right - CHANGE is exactly what we MUST HAVE- and those who desire to keep on doing what has been going on must be effectively eliminated.
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