European consumers as sellsumers

A very interesting consumer trend that has been strongly boosted by the economic downturn is that of consumers who no longer consume in a passive way, but actually participate in their personal and local economy.

The recession has been helping to spread this ever-evolving trend among cash-strapped ordinary consumers, extending the trend beyond the 20-something digital ‘Wunderkindern’ who were instrumental in taking the flea market to a global level.

Key trends

  • Where it all originates;
  • eBay and other e-market places;
  • The World Wide Web – a cornucopia;
  • Your space or MySpace?

Commercial opportunities

  • It is important to be aware of the consumer participation megatrend and all other evidence that consumers want to be involved in creating products and services that impact on their lives. Be among the first companies to read the writing on the wall!
  • Tap into the “sellsumers” consumer base, mine it for ideas and create new forms of products, services, and business ventures. Become partners rather than trying to understand and research it with your conventional instruments;
  • Use skills offered and evident online through blogs and other forums. Here is an example: the blog advises companies to “put your content into the mix or invite sellsumers into your space. Either way, you’ll need quality content that makes your brand stand out”;
  • Unleash your inner sellsumer!

Background

It is a universal dream to become your own boss, even when it can only be part-time and not sustaining. Trendwatching.com has found a new sobriquet for this new class of experts in business, marketing and advertising, the sellsumer, who have the confidence to try their hand at (tiny) businesses of their own.

Euromonitor has already made the distinction between “sellsumers & property”, which includes ways for consumers to capitalise on possessions; and “sellsumers & creation”, a method of generating money by selling craft designs and products, software, and more.

Sellsuming, however, is also a consumption trend, referring back to market methods of bartering or trading. Everybody is a consumer, but some do it in a roundabout way.

Internet users in Eastern & Western Europe: 2003-2008
Million
Source: Euromonitor International from International Telecommunications Union/World Bank/Trade Sources.

Where it all originates

Selling as you consume is not an invention of the internet era. In European cities, “flea markets” and yard sales have existed for as long as there have been things to sell. In the past decade since the introduction of the euro and culminating in the recent recession, a feeling of being hard-up has motivated more people to sell their family silver – or their junk.

When collectors in Paris go “aux puces”, they are talking about the Saint-Ouen market, the oldest such institution which has been at the Porte de Clignancourt for over a hundred years. These traditional flea markets are renewing themselves constantly with immigrants bringing their ethnic goods for sale and women setting up stalls for their knitting and other crafts, and men selling self-made instruments and woodwork.

Charity shops in the UK have experienced a boom. In Germany, whole city neighbourhoods have annual flea markets that turn into street parties. In Eastern European countries, many families top up their income by selling country-typical craft objects and classical old flea market treasures to passing tourists, either from the street outside their homes or through the local flea markets.

Blogs like ihanna.nu/blog/ or xscat.com direct visitors towards Stockholm`s flea markets and crafts projects. Germany has a virtual guide to all national flea markets on the internet, flohmarkt-termine.de, in Austria it’s flohmarkt-termine.at. In the UK, car boot sales have become an industry in itself, where people sell – and buy.

eBay and other e-market places

eBay defined the concept of the global market place, where initially the internet was turned into an auction site anyone could participate in. Now it has become something of a worldwide flea market. It has also been out-eBayed by an infinite number of smaller market and bartering sites of which etsy.com may well be “the world’s most vibrant market place”.

In addition, a growing number of blogs are taking a leaf out of eBay, Amazon and etsy’s book by starting small scale selling and bartering cottage industries. Sites such as craftmarketer.com offer advice for budding sellsumers, and on Amazon, there is “The Basic Guide to Selling Crafts on the Internet”, a book by James Dillehay. Trendwatching calls this the place to find “premium obscure’ or just plain dirt-cheap products and services.

The World Wide Web – a cornucopia

The blogosphere and Web 2.0 are increasingly filling up with individuals offering their knowledge and selling their skills to other bloggers or, ultimately, to willing corporations. Privately generated and shared film and book reviews, legal advice, food and restaurant criticism, advice on how to become a food photographer and recipes to share – the World Wide Web is a marketplace that is thriving, adapting and growing all the time, and it is also constantly on the brink of becoming economically viable for many individuals.

One example of this viability is Getty Images, one of the world’s leading photo databases, which linked up with the photo sharing site flickr.com inviting flickr amateurs to share (and wherever possible to sell) their images via Getty.

Other examples are blogs that turn into marketing platforms due to their popularity and wide readership, or into consultancies, like mandel-consulting.com who sells “Swedishness” through his website. Two examples of food bloggers turning into cookbook authors, and food gurus, are German deliciousday.com and US-French blogger latartinegourmande.com.

Your space or MySpace?

For some people, their only saleable asset may be the fact that they have a parking space outside their house, or a little paved front garden, as the UK example of parkatmyhouse.co.uk shows, or as does parkatmyhouse.com, operating in the UK, Ireland, Canada, US, Australia, New Zealand and The Netherlands, where car owners can pre-book a spot daily, but can also make one-off bookings for a football match or a day of shopping in the city.

In Sweden, a brand-new website offers all land and lot owners the chance to present their own “single-spot-camping”. As the site explains: “The idea is: Anyone who owns land (it can even consist of a garage entrance) and would like to welcome one or a couple of camping guests is welcome to connect.”

Famously – or notoriously – myspace.com and Facebook have become talent scouts as users with a special skill or talent can make this known to the world at large. Not all of them may be saleable, but if you are looking for a magician or a singer, a caterer for your children’s birthday party or someone with ideas for a new mobile phone application, this could be the place to find them – at a fair price, thanks to the lack of massive company overheads.

Outlook

They say saving is the new spending. But saving alone is not enough for the needs of modern consumers, and the sellsumer bug is spreading faster than swine flu! Consumer creativity, once unleashed, will ensure that there will be more and different ways of making that extra bit of cash from selling personal belongings, properties and creations.

Trend researchers trendwatching.com conclude that “the act of doing business will help SELLSUMERS feel a bit less like string puppets. And the successful ones may even feel superior to behind-the-times corporations.

In that sense, it’s yet another nail in the coffin for the traditional one-way consumer arena.” But beware: legislation is catching up with the freedom of the net, with certain checks on advertising brands and products on US blogs in place from December 2009. It is predictable that the EU will not remain far behind in trying to control internet trade.

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