Most of us simply don’t own as much of anything as much as our parents and grandparents used to, which means that the heyday for conveyor belt rewards such as carriage clocks, lawnmowers and dining sets is well and truly over.
Having fewer possessions used to be about achieving a Zen-like state. And while it’s true that decluttering can be a great stress-buster, there are more immediate reasons for abandoning conspicuous consumption these days.
For a start, we've moved to digital. CDs, DVDs, videos, books, and photo albums… large collections of physical media are being replaced by digital storage. Even downloads are now having to move over in favour of streaming.
“Digital media players (Chromecast, Apple TV) replace digital TV recorders and receivers such as Freeview boxes, and the rise of the smartphone has meant that digital camcorders - once a popular way of capturing birthdays and special events in the 90s/early 00s - have been taken out of the basket.”
ONS on updating the contents of the inflation basket, March 2018
While there always will be collectors (and it’s nice to see vinyl making such a strong comeback), there’s no denying that digital formats are a fast, convenient and often cheaper alternative to owning and storing shelves of content.
Our view of ownership is changing
It isn’t just the smaller items that are changing: it’s the bigger investments, too. Fewer and fewer people own their cars outright. Vehicles are now being rented, leased or purchased via agreements that we can walk away from – PCP suits us because it’s flexible, it represents great value, and it has become the norm.
Eighty-two percent of new cars in Britain are currently bought under PCP agreements.
Finance & Leasing Association, 2017
More and more people are renting their homes now, too, as rising prices and deposit requirements have made buying impossible for many. This has also become a contributory factor to decluttering in itself. When you’re home-sharing with others or changing address every two or three years, it makes sense to be hauling less stuff around with you, especially if you have less than the whole house to spread out in.
“The traditional home is becoming unattainable, but it is also becoming unnecessary for a large number of white collar workers.”
Jonathan Beckman, writing for The Economist, 1843
As ownership becomes less important, other things start to matter more, and what we do and how we connect with others has undergone a revolution during this century. Travel has never been easier, and incredible destinations are becoming increasingly accessible. Audiences are hungry to try new things, embark on adventures and share their experiences; so for some the trophy value can now even be just as much in sharing on social media as it does in the experience itself. For many, ‘have’ has come ‘do’.
So what’s the impact on rewards and incentives?
Whether it’s due to lack of funds, lack of space, or simply lifestyle preferences, a growing number of people simply don’t own as much of anything as much as their parents and grandparents did, and the heyday for ‘conveyor belt’ rewards such as carriage clocks, lawnmowers and teddy bears is well and truly over. Of course, both employee and consumer audiences will still covet physical rewards, especially if they involve aspirational brands. But if you want to appeal to Generations X, Y and Z – and of course those ‘millennials’ – it’s important to recognise that ‘more stuff’ is unlikely to be what they’re looking for.
“Look what I did!”
Choice and relevance make successful rewards. Give your employees and consumers a choice of where to spend their reward (and what to spend it on), and they’ll be far happier than receiving something they didn’t want. Offer access to lifestyle experiences, and you’ll be enabling people to share – either in person, or online – enhancing the overall feel-good factor of the reward.
A meal out, a trip to the movies, a spa day, a card loaded with £250 to spend on their favourite fashions… it’s time to give recipients what they really want rather than something else to clutter up their shelves.