Five stages in the breakdown of American consumerism

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on January 2, 2009

There is a five stage process that consumers are undergoing as they struggle through the cultural transformation caused by the faltering 'American Dream', according to a research report from ethnographic research firm Context-Based Research and marketing firm Carton Donofrio.

The report, entitled 'Grounding the American Dream', suggests that society is currently weathering the early stages of a traumatic economic event, and provides insights into the business impact of the coming transition period.

The five-stage process detailed by the report explains how consumers are already coping and rebuilding their view of the world as the changing economic state begins to alter the American culture of consumerism. The research concluded that most Americans will eventually emerge from this process of cultural change as what the authors call "grounded consumers".

The five stages of change identified by the research are:

  1. Realisation
    Consumers will come to understand how the larger economy interacts with their own personal economy, and what changes they need to make in order to survive. As part of this stage they will need to re-evaluate most of their purchase decisions.
  2. Life is not a loan
    Consumers will begin to assess their own financial situations and realise that it can be fatal to live a life based on credit. As a result, the concept of living well within your personal means will become key in most consumers' mindsets.
  3. A new value equation
    A transition from a "me" to a "we" economy will involve a movement toward a new kind of value equation in which decisions begin to truly balance rational, emotional, and social needs, rather than primarily focusing on selfish needs and desires.
  4. A new consumer toolkit
    Consumers will begin to be more practical as they start to remove excess "stuff" from their lives. Although they will be tightening their belts (and purse strings) they will still try to find ways to obtain personal gratification through small luxuries.
  5. Walking the talk
    While the first four stages comprise a build-up to both cultural and financial transformations, the resultant 'grounded consumers' will ultimately be smarter and better connected than before, and they will begin to realise that the road to the achieving the so-called 'American Dream' is not necessarily paved with purchases.

The complete report, which includes a business brief on the study's implications for companies in the financial services, tourism, packaged goods, and other sectors, has been made available for download from the Grounded Consumer web site - click here (free registration required).

For additional information:
·  Visit Context-Based Research at
·  Visit Carton Donofrio at