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.

Personal Data and (Psychological) Ownership: A Book Chapter by Bernadette Kamleitner & Vince Mitchell

We are writing the year 2017, an era with a higher population of mobile gadgets than people (GSMA Intelligence 2017), where we easily create a 10 million Blu-ray discs amount of data each day (Walker 2015). A substantial fraction of these data represents virtual copies of our very selves. From digitally tracking our personal health over religiously using our loyalty cards for better deals to simply surfing the Internet for information – where we go, what we do and consume, how we behave and feel is not a private matter anymore (Haddadi & Brown 2014). Despite heightened public concern about how personal data is collected and used (Pew Research Center 2014), we rarely think about oversharing when we download apps, sign up for mailing lists, or give away our personal details in exchange for a boost in convenience and temporary well-being. What is more, the question of who holds legitimate claim over these data – legally as well as psychologically – is still fuelling an undisputed yet to date unsatisfactory debate.

In a new book chapter to appear in a book on ownership that Joann Peck and Suzanne Shu are editing for Springer, Bernadette Kamleitner from WU Vienna and Vince Mitchell who is just about to move from London to The University of Sydney are exploring these and related questions in detail and come to surprising conclusions about the logic of ownership in the context of personal data. Read for yourself what they discovered in the abstract below. The matching first-draft of the chapter in its entirety can be downloaded [HERE]:

In the age of information everything becomes mined for the nuggets giving rise to it: data. Yet, who these new treasures do and should belong to is still being hotly debated. With individuals often acting as the source of the ore and businesses acting as the miners, both appear to hold a claim. This chapter contributes to this debate by analyzing whether and when personal data may evoke a sense of ownership in those they are about. Juxtaposing insights on the experience and functions of ownership with the essence of data and practices in data markets, we conclude that a very large fraction of personal data defies the logic and mechanisms of psychological possessions. In the canon of reasons for this defeat, issues of data characteristics, obscuring market practices, and data’s mere scope are center stage. In response, we propose to condense the boundless collection of data points into the singularized and graspable metaphor of a digital blueprint of the self. This metaphor is suggested to grasp the notion of personal data. To also enable consumers to effectively manage their data, we advocate adopting a practice commonly used with plentiful assets: the establishment of personal data agents and managers.


GSMA Intelligence. (2017), available at https://www.gsmaintelligence.com/

Haddadi & Brown (2014), Quantified Self and the Privacy Challenge, Technology Law Futures.

Kamleitner & Mitchell (2017). Can consumers experience ownership for all their personal data? From issues of scope and invisibility agents handling our digital footpring. In press

Pew Research Center (2014). Public Perceptions of Privacy and Security in the Post-Snowden Era. November 12. http://www.pewresearch.org.

Walker (2015). Every Day Big Data Statistics – 2.5 Quintillion Bytes of Data Created Daily. Available at http://www.vcloudnews.com/every-day-big-data-statistics-2-5-quintillion-bytes-of-data-created-daily/