Ownership assumes a whole new take

Margaret Gilsenan examines consumer trends impacting on how people are changing their attitudes to material possessions

As I write, we are observing a trending perfect storm that is slowly creeping over the horizon which will fundamentally change our attitudes to ownership in the coming years. The theory is backed up by the findings of a global study by Foresight Factory which that found that money, time and experiences were the top three things global consumers sought most.

Only two per cent wished for more possessions.

Boys + Girls’ Kaleidoscope Trends has identified several forces at play in Ireland and globally revolutionising the ownership model. Smart brands are adapting to ensure they are future ready by understanding and leveraging the forces of environmental consciousness, mindfulness, new living situations, fluid experiences and consumer uncertainty.


Growing environmental unease and social responsibility means we are becoming more conscious of our consumption and our over-consumption. In fashion alone, it can be seen in three different ways. Firstly, fashion retailers like Zara are bringing out their own sustainable collections. Secondly, there is a growing trend among young adults to be more self-sufficient.

They are taking up sewing classes that allow them to make as well as repair older clothes. Thirdly, some retailers are turning the ownership model on its head with digital collections. Sweden’s fashion brand Carlings allows consumers to choose clothes which they digitally place on your photo so that you can be Insta-ready without buying a stitch of anything new.


Our attitudes to ownership and ‘stuff’ is impacted by our interest in mindfulness. Japanese consultant Marie Kondo called us all to declutter our lives of anything that did not bring us joy. As people get more stressed, it is a well-recognised fact that a decluttered life brings with it peace of mind. In short, we will buy less and hold onto what we do purchase for longer.

BT to go with second-hand rows: Department stores Brown Thomas and Arnotts may start selling used luxury goods as they make a shift to conscientious consumption. Group managing director Donald McDonald told the Sunday Independent that by the end of next year they expect to roll out “a significant offering in this area”. McDonald said the trend will evolve over the coming years as they are well-placed to be major players in the market.


Our world is becoming more urbanised. As fewer people can afford to buy their own homes, when home sizes get more compact and traffic gets ever more congested, consumer needs change. We need less stuff. We don’t have to pay for things we aren’t using. Big brands are reacting. Ikea is trialling a furniture rental model; motor brands are turning to car-sharing.


As experiences gain further traction over possessions, we want those experiences to be fluid, varied and fulfilling. We don’t necessarily want the permanence of ownership. The media companies have already exploited this with their subscription services offering us more and more choice and control. Permanence is out of favour, replaced by choice and change.


Finally, the impact of all of the above on ownership is compounded by global consumer uncertainty. In September, Irish consumer sentiment hit a six-year low, prompting some nervousness about the future, more risk averse and a less willingness to spend and invest. In the past, it would have meant a dash to buy cheaper goods, but our growing environmental awareness means that more of us are conscious that this is not the best solution for our planet and strive to be more fiscally and environmentally responsible about our buying decisions.

All of this may suggest that we are going to live like Spartans, but the truth is that never has any generation wished to have a more deprived or diminished lifestyle than the generations that went before them – and this generation is no different. Our studies show that we are not prepared to do without; but we are starting to think about how we can do ‘with’ differently.

It means that ownership in many categories is going to become about access not possession.  The big question to ask is how do businesses make sure that their customers have easy access to their brands? Brands making inroads here are in subscription: Netflix, Amazon Prime, The Irish Times; in sharing: Dublin Bikes, Yuko (Toyota’s car sharing club); in rental: Rent the Runway, Fernish, Ikea rental and in trial: Carlings Digital and Mercari used makeup.

So as we all start to think about the changes afoot in the concept of ownership, and how we can give more consumers access to products without actually having to purchase them, be encouraged by the words of American consultant and author Peter Drucker, who said: “The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it and exploits it as an opportunity”.

Margaret Gilsenan is founder and head of strategy at Boys + Girls














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