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Consumer Corner: The post-materialist consumer demands quality, durability

By MARCELLA S. KREITER, United Press International   |   March 21, 2010 at 7:15 AM
Planned obsolescence, the manufacturing world's modus operandi for getting consumers to buy new sooner rather than later, may be heading for the scrap pile itself, a poll of consumers done for the International Housewares Association indicates.

Tom Mirabile, IHA consultant and Lifetime Brands senior vice president of global trend and design, says the days of U.S. consumers seeking style over durability are numbered.

"The definition of value has really changed," Mirabile said in a telephone interview. "The equation used to be pretty simple -- price plus quality. That equation has become a lot more nuanced."

Mirabile said the economy has consumers using coupons again and rediscovering things they had swept aside in the go-go '90s economy like board games, bargain-hunting and preparing homemade meals.

"People are looking for solutions; suppliers want to become suppliers of experience," Mirabile said.

The result, Mirabile said, is greater expectations for the manufacturer.

"Consumers are making clear that when they buy a (vegetable) peeler, they want it to last longer. They don't want to have to buy it again in a year or two. There's also a convergence of factors such as environmental responsibility. They don't want to have to send that peeler to a landfill in two years," he said.

"The result is renewed expectations and renewed demand for durability."

The survey found 82 percent of consumers queried said warrantees and guarantees are important to them while 60 percent said price was of the utmost importance and 58 percent cited reliability.

"In the '90s people wanted style and were willing to compromise durability for style. That's not the case any more," Mirabile said. "We're seeing a different kind of consumer, the post-materialist consumer."

Mirabile said the change in attitude is not entirely a result of the economy, although new-found frugality has been a characteristic of previous, protracted recessions.

"People have stopped buying objects to own objects," Mirabile said. "Now consumers are demanding more of a genuine understanding of the way they live with an object. They're not going to change the way they prepare a meal for good-looking cookware."

With people more conscious of the environment and their impact on it, the days of the "disposable society" may be at an end, he said.

"I don't see it as turning the clock back," Mirabile said. "I think people are expecting … longer-lasting things. We've seen this growing over the past few years. Planned obsolescence used to be grounded in technology. I think that is one of the reasons we've been OK with it. Now, we're demanding realiability. … We demand companies be responsible."

© 2010 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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