The new consumers

Shape-shifting consumers in a networked society

Commerce reports

As the world has evolved from the age of industrialization to a networked society, the nature of consumption has also changed.

We help shape a networked society, leading transformation across industries and societies with transformative technologies. This series of commerce reports explores how technology has forever changed our idea of ownership.


Commerce and consumption in a networked society

The evolution of consumers' consumption patterns is intertwined with the disruptions that have transformed industries, cities and society alike. Businesses that grasp the new reality will be the ones that survive transformation to grow and flourish.

Furthermore, the evolving nature of consumption means that growth no longer has to be at the expense of the global environment.

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Disruption of the old consumption logic

The Industrial Age marked one of the great transformations in human history. Mass manufacturing both enabled and required mass consumption and highly organized labor forces. The flood of people from rural societies to cities accelerated social and economic changes. For the first time in history, consumption became a leisure activity and individuals became defined by their patterns of consumption.

Image of hands making pouring coffee with a tablet in the background

If the early part of the 20th century was marked by a focus on improving the means of production, the great gains of the latter half began to be seen in the increasingly sophisticated means of consumption. Digital technologies were first the province of the business world, but as they entered consumer markets, prices rapidly fell and advances became exponential.

New market actors

ICT and big data are fueling the rise of a third economy in which new market actors – commercial, "indiepreneurial," and crowd-sourced – are empowered with new models of production and exchange, as well as automated, frictionless and highly personalized consumption. In this third economy, products give way to services, and consumers adopt more – and more complex – roles as consumers, users, co-creators, citizens, specialists, and actors. Collaboration, crowdfunding, crafting and sharing are just some of the hallmarks of the modern, involved consumer.

Read the report "Disruption of the old consumption logic"

Rethinking the value of ownership

man in a bike repair shop examining a wheel and looking at a mobile phone

The 20th century elevated consumption to be central and critical to the economic system, occurring as a consequence of the way production and labor were organized. But by the dawn of the new century, developed societies were grappling with the challenge of creating a more humane form of consumption, driven by three major forces: lower labor demands in technological industry, erosion of the social contract, and the environmental costs of reckless consumption on increasingly scarce natural resources. 

Consumers become curators rather than receivers

A networked society encourages a rise of meritocracy and the formation of a creative elite – a development that is both empowering and challenging. Within this order, merit is increasingly defined by a new set of emerging values, such as knowledge, transparency, fairness, quality of experience, authenticity, sociality, healthiness, and simplicity.

Knowledge informs consumption, helping consumers become curators rather than just receivers. Data drives transparency, levelling the marketplace and improving access. Likewise, more knowledgeable consumers are better placed to resist unfair market conditions. As technologies and products are increasingly commoditized, consumers now favor experiences, access, and services over ownership of items.

Read the report “Emerging consumer values”

The new consumer in a networked society

Consumption is no longer the straightforward, disproportionate exchange of the Industrial Age. The consumer in a networked society is more complex, more involved, and more versatile than ever before. Today we need a nuanced understanding of the consumer – someone who consumes products and services while behaving and contributing in many new ways. In a networked society, we see the consumer take on new roles, as user, co-creator, ennobler, enabler, producer, and activist.


Any individual can take on all of these roles, in different combinations across different transactions. And while every market will comprise consumers in different roles, most categories will have their share of passionate and highly involved consumers.

Read the report “The new consumer in a networked society”

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