Consumer roles and obligations in the (post)-digital media society


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Presentation held at the conference "Teaching consumer competences - implementing strategies for consumer education". Conference convenor: Norwegian Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, Feb. 16-17, 2010

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Consumer roles and obligations in the (post)-digital media society

  1. 1. ”Consumer roles and obligations in the (post)-digital media society” Norw. Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion February 16 – 17, 2010 Dag Slettemeås SIFO, Conference: Teaching consumer competences - implementing strategies for consumer education Dag Slettemeås
  2. 2. A consumer perspective • Seeing markets and market relations from the consumer perspective • Products and services (should be) accommodating consumer wants and needs • Consumers (should be) acting as rational and reflected citizens • Relevant market information (should be) available and visible to the consumer • However; often asymmetrical information access. Businesses have the upper hand:  experts on their own product portfolio  manipulate through marketing  hide information relevant for market competition • In later years: • Consumer role has become more orientated towards:  sustainability, ethics, moral choices  awareness of production processes  effects that consumption has on society Dag Slettemeås
  3. 3. New context for practicing consumption • Digitalisation and the information society: • Increasing digitalisation of commercial activity; content (products), communication (marketing), distribution platforms (multi-channel), feed-back-mechanisms (interactive), information access (global reservoir). • Structural changes: • Not only new technology and more information introduced to society… • Information and technology are facilitators for deep changes in the societal structure • Implies new logics  ownership/rights, business models, roles, power relations, time- space compression, etc, etc. • Increasing technology dependence • Potential for “the digital” becoming an exclusion mechanism • Technological inclusion: • Information society  can be viewed as ”technology deterministic/optimistic” • Everyone should participate  therefore; support digital access for all • Access and use in “absolute” terms  increases for (almost) all groups… • But increasing ”relative” differences. • Key challenges: • Commanding and controlling the digital technologies at hand (not being commanded) • Harnessing and navigating information (information abundance) • Providing access to these opportunities for all (on several levels) • Equipping consumers with the necessary tools and knowledge to practice the consumer role (skills / competence / literacy / motivation) Dag Slettemeås
  4. 4. Information – a core challenge • Information abundance: • Information abundance  information overload • Too much choice – actual freedom increasing while feeling of freedom may be reduced • Less time to evaluate every product / consumption activity / information piece before deciding • More information, more choice  greater risk of apathy among consumers. • Hence; less informed and rational consumption choices. • Information about same phenomenon/product stems from various resources. Who to trust? • Harder to evaluate information quality • Information relevance: • When everything ”goes digital”  only the digital becomes relevant. • Digital information is manageable in terms of systematisation and navigation  analogue information is less so. • Hence, in practice, analogue information is out-defined  does not “exist” when choices are made. Dag Slettemeås
  5. 5. • Information management • Skills to handle information abundance and securing relevance • Consumer guidance  third parties, consumer agencies, consumers • Technological navigation tools  for simplification, search, comparison: » Search engines » Infomediaries – agents providing advice » Shopbots – price comparison tools » Amateur testing sites » Power-buy amalgamations – negotiating prices/volume » Test sites by consumer organisations » Blogs » Petition sites – consumer-relevant utterances » User forums » Social media Dag Slettemeås
  6. 6. • Information market: • Information  increasing value in the market through digitalisation • Information is collected, sorted, systematised, altered, stored, analysed and distributed in a range of ways • Commercial actors see a potential for new business models and value creation based on general data, public data and consumer data • Building and controlling profiles of consumers + permission to use = valuable – Can tailor products – Target marketing – Secure loyalty • Attention economy: • Abundance of information and commercial messages available • Background for ”the attention economy” – Basic premise: information wealth gives attention poverty – Attention becomes a scarce resource that need to be priced. • Consumers must be aware of these advantage, capitalize on their own attention as a resource. • Personal information management: • Secure consumers’ own data (i.e. identity and privacy management) • Extract benefits from possessing such information • Establish consumer as an ”information product” with value in the market (must be voluntary and informed). Dag Slettemeås
  7. 7. • Information power: • Digitalisation and information produces shifts in market power from business to the individual consumer / consumer groups • Consumers can use this power (both individually and as an aggregate) and compete with business and the technocracy • overcoming information asymmetry • Increasing transparency • Potential for organising interests, at low costs. • Provided consumers with sanction opportunities: exit and voice • Exit; leaving a commercial relation when dissatisfied, due to low exchange costs + easy access to alternative suppliers • Voice; express discontent or complaints, through various digital forums and channels Dag Slettemeås
  8. 8. • Consumer competence – @ home • Consumer role in digital era; connected with home • Searching at home, shopping at home, consuming at home • Greater contextual control at home: » Responsible for physical and technical environment. » Left by oneself: own systems – little support » Responsible for acquiring, managing and transferring data (often valuable or sensitive) Risks: » Danger of compromising personal data, due to failing security routines (few updates of anti-virus, pin-codes, encryption, relaxed about personal information…) Dag Slettemeås
  9. 9. • Self-service • Expectations that consumer will ”do more” • Both private and public actors may ”punish” consumers for not doing self-service Challenges: • Ruins the traditional principle of division of labour – and comparative advantages? • Self-service not suited for everyone? • Consumers becoming mediocre sales assistants? • Traditional sales personnel migrating to support functions? • ”Professionalizing” the consumer role? • Will efficiency-gains be shared with consumers? Dag Slettemeås
  10. 10. • New role aspect: active consumers – deeper involvement in the value chain • Consumer moves from passive buyer to active negotiator, in terms of: – Price – Product specifications – Eco awareness and ethics • Consuming with the aid of digital support systems (often based on co-produced knowledge by “peer-consumers”) • May participate in production, through – Feed-back processes (interaction) – as individuals (experts) or as aggregates (sum of consumers experiences) – Beta-testing – Wiki-related work Challenges: • When cumulating ”subjective evaluations” – Consumers seen as neutral marketers – But services can be manipulated through crowd-hacking (business promoting their own products, or talking negatively about competitors) – May undermine trust and credibility in consumer evaluations • Commercial actors may transfer responsibility to consumers due to deeper involvement. However… • Most everyday consumption  standardised products with few demands for tailoring  ordinary consumption • Hence, involvement low and less active than may be predicted with “digital products” • High involvement with all products would be exhausting to the consumer • (although more and more “ordinary” products are being discussed online) Dag Slettemeås
  11. 11. • Changing premises for consumers in the information society • Unlimited, free information… • Consumers supposed to act on that information, in more and more consumption decisions. • Expansion of the consumer role (blurring / merging with citizen role) • Expected to voice frustrations, complaints and more general concerns. • Can we demand this of consumers? – (sharing responsibility with public and commercial actors) • Are all consumer groups capable? – (potential digital divide among consumer) – Absolute competence increases, but relatively more among resourceful consumers  relative gap increases. • How to equip consumers with the necessary means to deal with these challenges? – Digital competence, analytical skills, critical and logical reasoning, ethical and moral reflection of global character • Demands a highly reflective, informed, competent, involved, motivated, environmental and ethical consumer… • A super-consumer? • …with meta-competence, strongly anchored in the digital challenges that the information society creates Dag Slettemeås
  12. 12. • Finally – returning to the title and the “post-digital in parenthesis”:  How ”digital” are these challenges that digitalisation produces?  Are we soon beyond the digital, and how will we then understand and deal with such challenges? • Digital competence/literacy » Transgresses roles and sectors » Transgresses technologies and services » Transgresses the digital and the analogue domain • Digital competence/literacy a precondition, but not necessary condition, for practicing the consumer role in the information society • Next phase: when all citizens / consumer are born “into the digital” today’s separations will disappear, e.g.: – e-commerce  commerce – digital literacy  literacy – etc • Hence; in the post-digital era the digital has become the ordinary – and fully integrated with the analogue domain. • New revolutions on the way: The internet of things – were all physical objects / people / environments will get unique and virtual identities and be connected in a seamless web of information. Dag Slettemeås