Rise of a new consumerism
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - October 11, 2019 - 12:00am

Consumer activism in the Philippines in recent years has suffered a serious blow as the voices of organized and individual dissent were drowned. It is now difficult to pinpoint a dedicated consumer advocacy group that will champion consumer rights — other than those targeting prices of oil or electricity, or water.

If a consumer has a problem with a commodity that was purchased, getting a defective product exchanged could be a challenge. Refunds are even harder to hack. The biggest problem was getting companies to be responsible for inferior-made products that wore out in shorter time than normal.

The demise of yesterday’s consumer activism can perhaps be traced to the emergence of cheap manufactured products, like an electric fan, that many have started to consider as throwaways after three or five years of use, depending on the warranty, if there is.

As they say, you get what you pay for: Don’t expect a cheap product to last forever. We have become a throw-away consumer society, where fashion dictates buying a reasonably priced pair of shoes that can be discarded once a new season comes up with a new style.

The list of these products goes on and on: smartphones, earphones, electronic gadgets, dresses, bags, fashion accessories, housewares, and decors. I guess in the Philippines, the only thing that’s hard to let go of is a vehicle, even if it’s over 20 years old; Filipinos are known to have an emotional attachment especially to their car.

Digital era

Today’s brand trackers, however, are talking about a new revolution that will breed a new kind of consumer activist. This is because of the rise of digital marketing, plus a heightened sense of individualism, and to some extent the movement on climate change.

The rise of Generation Z, those born in the mid 1990s to the first decade of the new millennium, exude a different vibe that is attributed to this era of rapid technological changes, as well as social upheavals and environmental degradation.

As consumer activists, they differ greatly from Millennials, or those belonging to Generation X, born in the 1980s. Gen Zers are those born in the era of powerful social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram who easily wield technology platforms as weapons to communicate their beliefs and ideologies.

Gen Z consumers, for example, will boycott brands that do not promote ethical and sustainable beliefs and practices. Some even go to the extent of espousing support for political movements, like the ongoing strife in Hong Kong.

Their voices are loud and threatening, amplified by the power of technology, but more so by their anguish that governments and world leaders are not taking them seriously or doing enough. Research describes them as impatient, impassioned, and quick to action.


Business is listening to all these changes, it seems, and many more are taking serious stock of what the Gen Z is saying and doing.

On the sidelines of the recent United Nations General Assembly held in New York last month, coinciding with the Global Climate Strike that purportedly mobilized 7.6 million people, mostly youth, a growing number of companies gave stepped up commitments to curb global warming.

The pledges ranged from totally weaning their source of energy to renewables, fully electrifying their vehicle fleets, cutting emissions from operations and transportation to zero, or transforming these to become more environmental friendly.

Sustainability and ethical themes also resounded in corporate commitments to honor only supply chains that believe and live in human rights and the dignity of people. Others promised to lift people who worked in remote areas that supplied their raw materials out of poverty.

Still others focused on researches that would improve technologies in the manufacturing and industrial processes that would make them safer and less intrusive for the environment.

Bill Gates, for example, in his three-part series “The Mind of Bill” by Netflix, spent billions of dollars to develop a radically new and safer system to harness nuclear energy, and one that uses the spent and highly radioactive fuel of today’s archaic nuclear power plants.

For many of the multinational companies, the driving force — taking aside their avowals to protect the world’s ecosystem — is to protect their brand from a consumer backlash and promote their reputation.

Smaller companies are embracing movements to do away with plastic packaging or increasing their commitment to plant more trees. Like multinationals, they fear not being seen as supportive of Gen Z ideals as something that will tarnish their image.

Beyond rhetoric

Beyond rhetoric and all the environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) posturing, the real reason is still the need to survive. Companies across many segments recognize the immense power that Gen Z holds in their future.

Gen Z alone is seen to be the biggest consumer market segment until the next decade, and their access to information and nimbleness at making personal decisions based on convictions without regard for other considerations make them a powerful force.

This hyper-connected generation is tomorrow’s decision-makers who will command how and where disposable incomes will be spent, and the value of their spending will be far more affluent than what previous generations have been able to get their hands on.

They will be the future officers of companies whose views will steer the future of commerce. Thus, it makes good business sense to mind the facts about this new breed of consumers, if companies will want to survive the next decades.

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We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us on www.facebook.com/ReyGamboa and follow us on www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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