Evolution of Consumption: Are technological innovations changing our relationship with the goods we own?

Smartphones, online platforms, technological advances in collecting consumer data – How are these developments changing our relationships with the goods we own? In their recent article Morewedge, Monga, Palmatier, Shu, and Small (2020, you can find the article HERE) state that while technological innovations create value for consumers in many ways, they may disrupt psychological ownership–the feeling that a thing is “MINE.” This constitutes a potentially big challenge to consumers and marketers and it is a an insight that chimes in well with earlier research that suggests that considerations of (psychological) ownership are needed to understand how consumers behave in digital spheres (you can find  Kamleitner and Mitchell’s 2019 article “Your Data is my Data” HERE or download their book chapter “Personal data and (psychological) ownership” HERE).

To address the question of how psychological ownership is affected by technological developments, Morewedge, Monga, Palmatier, Shu, and Small (2020) suggest a psychological ownership framework in their article. They propose that technological innovations are driving an evolution in consumption along two major dimensions. The first dimension of change is from a model of legal ownership, in which consumers purchase and consume their own private goods, to a model of legal access, in which consumers purchase temporary access rights to goods and services. The second dimension of change is from consuming solid material goods to liquid experiential goods. The authors propose a psychological ownership framework, in which these changes and effects are organized, and examine this framework across three macro trends in marketing: (1) growth of the sharing economy, (2) digitization of goods and services, and (3) expansion of personal data. The framework predicts when technological innovations will threaten, transfer, and create opportunities to preserve psychological ownership, and it helps to identify research opportunities for marketing scholars.

This nice overarching framework aligns well and can be complemented with other recent findings on psychological ownership. For example, Ruzeviciute, Kamleitner, and Biswas (2020, you can find the article HERE) show that a sense of visceral proximity to an object, an experience that can be triggered via the object’s scent, instills psychological ownership and in turn product appeal. Perceived proximity thus enhances feelings of ownership, but we cannot touch or smell online products. Maybe the advancement of digital scent delivery technologies could thus be added to the opportunities to preserve psychological ownership for online products in the future. Another recent finding is likely to hold implications for the identified challenge. In times of online recommendation systems and omnipresent advertisements in online media, consumers are often trying out new products based on suggestions that were made to them. Yet, Kokkoris, Hoelzl, and Kamleitner (2020, you can find the article HERE) and Kirk, Peck, and Swain (2018, you can fine the article HERE) find that consumers are more likely to psychologically appropriate things they discovered autonomously and intended to discover it. Maybe toning down the recommendations and letting consumers discover offers by themselves may equally buffer against a loss of psychological ownership when it comes to purely digital access-based products.

The importance of the findings discussed above is that they show that current developments and innovations are changing consumption models and that psychological ownership is a valuable lens through which to understand and manage the consumer experience. Psychological ownership is a central theme and provides many opportunities for further research. Certainly, upcoming developments will raise important questions, to which the concept of psychological ownership can make a valuable contribution.

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