What if the world stopped shopping? J. B. Mackinnon shines a light on the damaging effects of overconsumption on the planet and our health, wellbeing and happiness.
I can truly say that The Day the World Stops Shopping is a book that has completely changed my thinking. The book is a thought experiment on what would happen, and how, we could get to a world that reduces consumption by 25% (he originally wanted to imagine we stop completely, but most everyone he spoke to thought this too unrealistic and ridiculous to even entertain the idea). It comprehensively explains how we would need to change our working week, our economy, and our attitudes and behaviours, and the book covers how various aspects of society, from retail, economics, marketing, and mental health, can all play a part in reducing our consumption and leading to a far happier world. It also goes through some case studies of situations and groups of society that are already reducing consumption, to see if this is something we could incorporate into the modern world on a larger scale.
I’m not an economist, or a scientist, but I am a marketer and I do have a business background. This book was fascinating to me, as it confirms thoughts I have often had about overconsumption and runaway consumerist societies, as well as how businesses can be a part of the solution, if only their attitudes changed. There are endless tidbits of information that you’ll find fascinating within this book, but here’s a few of my key takeaways:
- Sundays have stopped becoming a day of rest, as shopping has become an expectation every day of the week, at every hour of the week. At the moment, we are on 24/7. Sundays used to be a day where we stopped, relaxed, and recharged for the week ahead, and stopped consuming for the day. That is no more. And I think it’s having negative effects on our mental health and wellbeing, as well as encouraging us to consume almost constantly, to a point where the concept of shops being closed for over 24 hours sends people into a panic (just think about the mad rush at petrol stations and shops before any bank holiday or Christmas).
- Consumption exists within social norms, which at the moment, are changing to have people consuming more. I found it really interesting to learn that over the past 20 years or so, average room temperatures that are considered ‘comfortable’ are increasing and the amount of clothes we own and wash is increasing. The reasons for this exist within social norms. Once we start to question these norms, we can begin to reduce our consumption. Mackinnon speaks to the academic, Elizabeth Shove (my favourite academic – is it sad that I have a favourite?) who talks about these changing social norms and how that makes it hard for us to consume less, even if we wanted to.
- Capitalism and consumerism are successful motivators, but beyond that, offer little extra to enrich people’s lives. The desire for more ‘things’ motivates us to work hard, study hard, etc. but once we actually have these possessions, the happiness derived from them starts to plateau. Traditional economics says that people buy things with agency to understand which product is best for them and their wellbeing, but this concept questions that idea. Is there a less materialistic way for society to create motivation, one that doesn’t destroy the planet?
- Long-term business strategy doesn’t have to mean growth to be successful. Chapter 13: Business plays the long, long, long, long game, discusses family businesses that have survived literally centuries. But, they aren’t focused on growth, just maintenance and consistency – long term sustainable success. growth isn’t, and shouldn’t be a measure of success of a business. In Mackinnon’s example, Japanese business Toraya, the business has had minimal growth, but it’s been around since ‘at least the 1600s’. This, in my opinion, is the kind of business we should be modelling success on, not the businesses that go from 0 to a million in 5 years.
- Marketing can be used to decrease consumption back to a healthy level. Marketing has a bad reputation of causing runaway overconsumption, but I have always believed that as a communication tool, it has the power to flip that script. This book confirms it, and as Philip Kotler suggests that marketing is simply about managing demand, it doesn’t have to be about increasing it. Demarketing, the concept of using marketing to dissuade people from consuming, or encouraging them to consume less, offers a solution that marketing could provide to the problem of climate change and overconsumption.
My biggest take-away from this book (which I already knew deep down) is that a simpler life, that doesn’t revolve around endless consumption, is a happier and more fulfilling one. However, as a marketing student, I know that consumerism is deeply embedded into every single aspect of life today. So how do I stop consuming? Whilst The Day the World Stops Shopping offers some insights into this, my personal plight to reduce my consumption is certainly only just beginning, as I think we’d all like to consume a little bit less, if only the world would let us. I read this book by borrowing it from the library, but ironically, I think when the paperback comes out in June, I’ll be ordering my own copy as I think it’s a book I’ll be rereading over and over again to remind myself of its important messages.
Have you read The Day the World Stops Shopping? Personally, it has changed my perspective, and provided evidence to thoughts I’d wondered about for years. But I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Do you think you could reduce your consumption by 25%? How would it change your life, and do you think it would be for the better? Please let me know by adding a comment, or reach out on Instagram via @WorkingZillennial !