Consumer Society – Concept, causes, consequence and examples

We explain what the consumer society is and its main characteristics. Also, some examples, causes and consequences.

Consumer society
The consumer society acquires goods that have been mass-produced.

What is the consumer society?

Consumer society” is a concept that began to be used after the end of the Second World War (1939-945) to refer to the way of life oriented to the own consumption of the western societies.

Societies throughout their history have always consumed in one way or another. When speaking of the consumer society, allusion is made to how to acquire goods that have been mass-produced (that is: in large quantities and at low cost). Thus, for companies, their focus is no longer on manufacturing, but on how to sell the products they have manufactured.

This forces firms to resort to a series of tools (such as marketing and advertising) to place these goods on the market. Thus, it begins to promote the acquisition of necessary goods and others that are not.

Within these societies, it is impossible not to speak of “consumerism.” This is: the excessive and unnecessary consumption of goods and services.

Characteristics of the consumer society

Consumer society
Companies manage to create needs artificially.

In consumer societies there is a huge variety of goods and services that not only are they produced to a greater extent than what is demanded (due to the low costs represented by mass production) but, at the same time, they are goods that are not always necessary for people’s lives.

In this way, companies manage, through marketing and advertising, to create needs artificially, which then, through their products, they offer to satisfy.

These companies are characterized by a huge amount of goods – and more and more services, especially with the emergence of the Internet – and a large number of brands that produce them. Thus, they must manage to highlight what their differentials are, even if they are practically nil. This is where, once again, advertising and marketing play a role.

Planned obsolescence is a determining concept in consumer societies. What does it consist of? In the manufacture of products that deliberately have a shelf life: they are manufactured in advance with a certain durability so that their owner is forced to discard it and buy a new one.

Obviously, the companies that manufacture their products under this slogan manage so that the consumer considers that the relationship between price and quality is convenient, in order to choose that brand again and not turn to that of the competition.

Planned obsolescence is a way to keep the consumer society on its feet. Without it, the manufacturers of a certain product (such as a cell phone) are likely to have many sales as soon as they launch it. But, as time passes, those sales will fall to zero, complicating the existence of the company.

So what does that cell phone company do? In advance, it manufactures a device knowing that, in a short time, its user will find it old or outdated because it does not have certain functions, does not allow downloading certain applications, or whatever. At the same time, the user will buy another “updated” model. or override, despite the fact that the previous one did not break but continues to work. It was simply “old”.

Also, it may turn out that the purchased good is broken or damaged and its owner will find it more expensive to repair it than to acquire a new one. So, throw away the product you have and buy a new one.

Planned obsolescence can also be due to “fads”. The person does not buy a new pants because the one they had broke or no longer fits, but simply because it became out of fashion and the market launched new models that no longer resemble the one from the previous season.

Examples of consumer companies

Within consumer societies, certain practices can be observed that differentiate them from other types of societies. Some examples that allow them to be identified are:

  • People consume goods and services in order to satisfy superfluous or artificially created needs.
  • Companies make low-quality products, so they are quickly discarded and replaced.
  • Economic success is at the top of the value scale.
  • Consumers use different forms of financing, such as paying in installments with a credit card, to spend above their income.
  • Consumers are predisposed to constantly use and throw away products.
  • People’s identity is built based on what they consume.
  • The brand becomes an indicator of the social status to which its consumer belongs or aspires to belong.

Causes and consequences of the consumer society

Consumer society
The fact that there are different ways of getting goods encourages consumption.

Some of the causes that induce people to buy and thus sustain this type of company are:

  • Fashion. The tastes shared at a time and place by a group of people, push consumers to get goods that suit them, regardless of whether the person really needs that good.
  • Advertising. The strategies promoted by companies to create superfluous needs are often a major driver of consumption.
  • Financing. The fact that there are different ways of getting goods, without having money at the time, encourages consumption.

Some of the consequences that can be generated by societies that make sense from consumption are the following:

  • Pollution. Consuming, discarding and buying again, even as the product continues to serve, generates huge volumes of waste. But also industries, which manufacture constantly and in large quantities, can generate waste and gases that endanger the environment. The sheer amount of raw materials used to sustain manufacturing volumes and the speed with which those materials are used also have a significant environmental impact.
  • Obesity. Advertising also invites you to consume food. Many of them are of low quality, very inexpensive, and unhealthy.