Convenience Consumption, Part 2

Just a few days after finishing my entry on convenience consumption I read in The Atlantic a great article by Virginia Postrel on what she termed “inconspicuous consumption.” She explores the works of several economists who show that spending on visible consumption goes up as neighborhood income goes down. In other words, people in poor neighborhoods are more likely to buy flashy cars and watches than people in wealthy neighborhoods.

Postrel notes that when Veblen was writing in 1899, America was a much poorer country than it is now, so the wealthy wanted to show off. But now, the wealthy have already established themselves, so it’s the better off among the poor who engage in the most conspicuous consumption. She quotes Euromonitor:

“Bling rules in emerging economies still eager to travel the status-through-product consumption road….[but] bling isn’t enough for growing numbers of consumers in developed economies.”

This plays right into my thesis of convenience consumption. The upper class no longer needs to display its wealth, so it displays its importance, as measured by convenience. Gaudy bling has been left to the hoi polloi while the upper class focuses on Fiji water and packaged meals from Whole Foods.

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2 responses to “Convenience Consumption, Part 2

  1. Alternate hypothesis: “Convenience consumption” is not for purposes of showing off, but a symptom of a shift in expectations from self-sufficiency to someone else taking care of our needs.

    Why buy ingredients, spend an hour cooking and risk screwing it up when for only 10% more you get to watch TV, blog, nap, have a “perfect” meal thanks to Whole Foods with no pots and pans to clean up when you are done?

    Why keep a non-disposable water bottle, clean and re-fill it, and figue out how to keep it at the right temperature as you travel when you can just buy a cold bottle of water on your way and dump it when you are done? (Similar logic for Starbuck’s).

    I am not suggesting that this is “progress,” good for the environment, the best use of people’s wealth, or anything else deep and meaningful. But it IS convenience in action.

  2. That could be, and certainly the economics of prepared meals at Whole Foods (let alone Safeway!) make it almost crazy to cook for yourself. But it seems like the party taking care of your needs isn’t taking care of society’s needs. 7-11 may supply you with water, but what are they doing about the oil used in making, shipping and disposing of the bottle?

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