Sustainable Consumerism via Context-Aware Shopping

Sustainable Consumerism via Context-Aware Shopping

Johannes Klinglmayr (Linz Center of Mechatronics GmbH, Linz, Austria), Bernhard Bergmair (Linz Center of Mechatronics GmbH, Linz, Austria), Maria Anneliese Klaffenböck (Linz Center of Mechatronics GmbH, Linz, Austria), LeanderB. Hörmann (Linz Center of Mechatronics GmbH, Linz, Austria) and Evangelos Pournaras (ETH Zurich, Zürich, Switzerland)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/IJDST.2017100104
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We are living in a world of vast information. The means of the Internet allow access to diverse sources of information, with social media and Internet of Things technologies significantly expanding the informational ecosystem. With the use of social media, it is easy for ‘like-minded' people to group up and initiate movements. One way to articulate such movements is via political consumerism. Users group together and boycott or buycott (boost purchases) for certain products with a concrete collective goal in mind. If, however, the collective goal is vague and abstract, as in the case of sustainability, this bottom-up strategy may lose its popularity and attraction. In this paper, we introduce a new concept of how individual consumers can follow their own understanding of sustainability, while at the same time benefiting from collective and participatory actions. We discuss how the means of ICT can be used to develop political consumerism further to transform individual policies into collective statements.
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We are living in a world of vast piles of information. The means of the Internet allow access to diverse sources of information, with social media and Internet of Things technologies significantly expanding the informational ecosystem. This new era comes with various implications by the systematic data-driven approaches that are applied in several techno-socio-economic systems. Take for instance predictions for stock markets, or obtaining pictures on user groups and even individual user behavior. At the individual level, users can design their news environment and select news boards, feeds, and blogs. They can capture their interest on almost any topic, create specific forums and build up networks of similar interests. At a collective level, these individual users create political movements, new trends and social phenomena.

A prime example for the power of self-organization in a social context is political consumerism. People of similar political view boycott or boost purchases of specific products in order to make a statement (Stolle et al., 2005). These initiatives may appear spontaneously, they are “citizen prompted, citizen-created action involving people taking charge of matters that they themselves deem important in a variety of arenas” (Micheletti, 2003). These initiatives are “bottom-up grassroots engagement rather than mobilization within rigid organizational structures.” (Balsiger, 2013). The combination the political concerns with market actions is often also based on ethical considerations and referred to as political consumerism (Micheletti et al., 2003). Political consumerism has happened since decades. Its arising, however, is still considered to be spontaneous, despite the fact that social media can be subject of manipulation and propaganda (Ferrara, 2015; Gunitsky, 2015). In the past, boycotts were predominantly directed against companies, countries or policies of a country (Stolle et al., 2005).

The political consumerism presents two facets of self-regulation. First, the consumption is self-regulating as it is an element within the understanding of supply and demand in market economy (Witt, 1997). Second, consumers regulate themselves in regard to their collective political view. If this collective view has a compact and clear perspective, consumers can deduce their own purchasing rules rather easily. If, however, the collective view is vague, deductions might vary, and so will the actions of the individual consumers. In this situation, no feeling of community is created and the collective motion is less likely to be effective.

In this paper, we elaborate on a new concept introduced in an earlier work (Klinglmayr et al., 2016), which develops the method of political consumerism further. It allows the creation of a community feeling for a topic that is by definition vague and imprecise, the sustainable consumerism1. We elevate political consumerism to an ICT-enabled techno-socio-economic system. We use data mining and data analysis techniques to aggregate the piles of product information and present it to the user in an understandable and simple format. Together with hardware installments and a smart phone application, we develop a new consumer-centric platform. Our novel concept allows the individuals to (i) follow a personalized and conscious understanding of sustainable consumerism, (ii) find ‘like-minded’ people within aware consumers and (iii) reach out to retailers with their concerns and create awareness amongst people outside a movement.

To achieve this level of self-regulation among consumers, we design and develop a platform with a decision support engine and a communication unit. On the individual level, we empower consumers by condensing the piles of information on products to comprehensive data, relating these data to the user’s privacy-preserved preferences and show consumers the social binding and collective purchasing power they create by following the concept. On a collective level, we study how this empowerment changes the way consumers purchase. Within future field tests on the supermarket shop floors, we will observe the collective consumption behavior over months. We will analyze how consumption patterns change and if they reflect the intrinsic motivation of consumers in regard to the environment and sustainability at large.

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