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


  • 1. Consumer roles and obligations in the(post)-digital media society Norw. Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion February 16 17, 2010 Dag Slettemes SIFO, www.sifo.noConference:Teaching consumer competences- implementing strategies for consumer education Dag Slettemes

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 Slettemes 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 Slettemes 4. Information a core challenge Information abundance: Information abundance information overload Too much choice actual freedom increasing while feelingof freedom may be reduced Less time to evaluate every product / consumption activity /information piece before deciding More information, more choice greater risk of apathyamong consumers. Hence; less informed and rational consumption choices. Information about same phenomenon/product stems fromvarious resources. Who to trust? Harder to evaluate information quality Information relevance: When everything goes digital only the digital becomesrelevant. Digital information is manageable in terms ofsystematisation and navigation analogue information isless so. Hence, in practice, analogue information is out-defined does not exist when choices are made. Dag Slettemes 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 Slettemes 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 Slettemes 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 Slettemes 8. Consumer competence @ home Consumer role in digital era; connected with home Searching at home, shopping at home, consuming athome 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 updatesof anti-virus, pin-codes, encryption, relaxedabout personal information) Dag Slettemes 9. Self-service Expectations that consumer will do more Both private and public actors may punish consumers for not doing self-serviceChallenges: 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 Slettemes 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 knowledgeby 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 Slettemes 11. Changing premises for consumers in the information society Unlimited, free information Consumers supposed to act on that information, in more and more consumptiondecisions. 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 thesechallenges? 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 thatthe information society creates Dag Slettemes 12. Finally returning to the title and the post-digital inparenthesis: How digital are these challenges that digitalisationproduces? Are we soon beyond the digital, and how will we thenunderstand 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 todays 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 Slettemes