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Service or product?

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I was planning to post on the topic of purchasing decisions today, when by coincidence I saw Jeremy Litchfield’s interesting post on consumer responsibility. Isn’t it great when things fit together like that?

One aspect of taking this responsibility is whether we decide to buy services or products. I was faced with a choice over the weekend of buying a “thing” or a “service”. Both served exactly the same function (to make some of my data safe).

Products clearly have a quite different environmental profile from services. A product requires energy and raw materials to manufacture and transport. A service, delivered over the internet, for example, has low transportation cost. And the incremental cost of providing it may be small because of economies of scale and the fact I share the tangible components with many other people.

I considered the environmental impact of both – and the service won hands-down. But I still felt myself so drawn to the “thing”. A strong emotional pull that I couldn’t fully locate, but I knew was real. What was this all about?

The thing was nice and shiny and I could imagine it arriving and the fun of unpacking it. The service was a software download – and pretty intangible and almost “grey”, in my mind.

Something about “having” the thing – on my shelf, in my house – was also attractive. I guess this is the same thrill that collectors have. Not something I thought I suffered from, but I when I looked I could really experience it.

There were some additional benefits to the service – the “thing” would quickly become obsolete. Whereas someone else would have the problem of ensuring the service always took advantage of the latest technological advances. And, of course, if the “thing” broke I’d be the one dealing with the problem.

But I also felt some fear around the service – the idea of tying myself into a long-term contract was getting under my skin. My preference is not to load myself with financial commitments. I guess I am not alone in that, especially right now.

In this case the burden of owning the “thing” seemed negligible; whereas I felt I was imprisoning myself in the service deal – probably for life.

In the end, I found another way and bought neither. Hooray for a simpler life!

But my point is that there are habits around this kind of purchasing decision. Perhaps my example was trivial. If we are talking about the difference between car ownership or car sharing, then yes, as Jeremy points out, we need to take responsibility.

But, in my opinion, we need to do that fully: we as consumers, and also the businesses that serve us, need to become aware of these emotional and psychological factors if we are to have any collective hope of changing our behaviour. Some clever people are already looking at this – look at Live|Work’s work for Streetcar, for example.

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Author: Pete Burden

Asking good questions in a complex world to help people navigate, learn & grow #Coaching #Leadership #ActionLearning #OD Projects & businesses with #SocialValue

One thought on “Service or product?

  1. This is interesting because the issues you raise are in essence the same ones businesses are starting to consider in respect of ‘cloud computing’. Will they trust their IT infrastructure to be taken care of out there in the ether. Committing to ‘the service’ will involve greater considerations than just cost I think.

    And ultimately the same will happen for schools, I believe. One of the big issues for them will be the fear that if they use ‘the service’ will they lose their individuality, the unique charateristics that each schhol is fiercely proud of. One of the big controversies of the Buidling Schools for the Future project is the concern about it being a one size fits all solution.

    But the issue of service v product in respect of the individual rather than the institution is a generational thing isn’t it? Witness what has happenened in the world of music. Personally I still buy CD’s but my kids are happy just to download tracks.

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