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7 December 2011
Christmas, the time of much spending, shopping and consuming is just around the corner but a small and growing group of 'inscrutable shoppers' is actively swimming against the (Yule) tide, a new book by Deakin and Monash University researchers argues.
"Inscrutable shoppers are anti-shopping, anti-consumption and part of a larger resistance movement, they are not just a passing fad, rather they are fast becoming an entrenched part of consumer culture," said Dr Stella Minahan from Deakin University's Graduate School of Business.
"The question our book asks is: are contemporary retailers able to accommodate them?"
In their book – the Inscrutable Shopper Consumer Resistance in Retail - Dr Minahan, with Dr Sean Sands and Carla Ferraro from Monash University argue consumer resistance movements, assisted by technology, have moved from the fringe to the mainstream.
"Inscrutable shoppers are bored, cynical and overwhelmed by too much choice," Dr Minahan said.
"Their state of mind has been influenced by continual change in society, economic uncertainty and the prevalence of technology.
"Like many of us they look back to the good old days and retreat to their home and communities.
"But what sets them apart is that they actively avoid or rebel against consuming.
"If they have to buy something, they minimize and buy as little as possible."
Dr Minahan said globally, inscrutable shoppers were collectively gathering and taking on corporations in a variety of ways.
"Some of these groups avoid certain brands, practice DIY, and buy second hand.
"Not new you might say, but smart labels have turned it into a fashion statement.
"In London, fashion labels such as Junky Styling uses recycled clothes to make new ones, no two items are the same.
"Other inscrutable shoppers look to finding a more simple and sustainable lifestyle in response to the capitalist economy, so they downshift or tree change or live more simply.
"Some just choose slow living.
"This movement, which emerged in Italy, is developing its own sub culture, apart from slow cities which include Yea Murrindindi, Goolwa (SA) and the Blue Mountains (NSW) there are slow schools, slow travel, slow shopping, slow art, slow gardening, slow parenting, slow travel and slow art to name a few.
"Consumer boycotts and consumer cooperatives provide another more active outlet for the inscrutable shopper."
Dr Sands said inscrutable shoppers were also participating in other fringe activities.
"These activities tend to be political and social movements rebelling against corporate dominance and can involve anti-advertising where culture jammers subvert logos and other advertising messages, anti-waste – where they actively go into waste bins and forage for waste food and retrieving items that are still useful and can be recycled.
"Other groups include anti-globalisation, anti-sweatshop, anti-chain store and anti-technology movements."
The authors argued these movements were not all doom and gloom for retailers but an opportunity.
"What is important with this increasingly proactive, demanding, sceptical and cynical inscrutable shopper is that there is a genuine need to be transparent.
"And transparency like charity starts in the home.
"Retailers need to work on internal processes and procedures right down the supply chain and look beyond the sale of their products into how its consumed and disposed of – in other words the whole chain.
"The inscrutable shopper is looking at it and so should you.
"Generally inscrutable shoppers are looking for ethical, green or activist lifestyles, they are a savvy, educated individuals who demand of their retailers flexibility, innovation, differentiation and transparency."
"Retailers who are responsive to this complex customer will maintain a profitable business."
For Stella Minahan
Deakin Media Relations
03 9246 8221/0422 005 485
For Dr Sean Sands or Dr Carla Ferraro Glynis Smalley
Monash Media & Communications
03 9903 4843/ 0408 027 848.