The Prosumer trend dates back to 1980 when Alvin Toffler wrote about consumers not only consuming the products they use but also, to an increasing extent, producing them. The meaning of the term ’prosumer’ has shifted since then, though, and now it is usually referring to consumers being more knowledgeable and demanding when they buy products. This type of ‘professional consumers’ differed from the traditional consumers, who were seen as more passive and accepting. The Prosumer trend forced companies to increase the quality of their products and services, and to be more sharp and accurate in their marketing and communication.
A more recent trend is the Co-commerce trend. This trend includes several aspects, such as for instance co-curation and co-sharing. It is also related to open innovation, which means that companies use external ideas and initiatives (e.g. from consumers) since they realize that it is unwise to rely only on internal resources in a world where knowledge and creativity is so widely distributed. The relationship between companies and consumers has become highly collaborative. Consumers nowadays are not only knowledgeable and demanding; they are to an increasing extent involved in innovation and development and have influence over the actual products and services.
The DIY trend (Do It Yourself) has been around for a long time but has reached an entirely new potential as 3D printers and laser cutters have become available to a broader audience. Also, a lot of ‘makerspaces’ are opening around the world, for instance in Stockholm. Many people talk about a ‘maker revolution’ and Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson even wrote a book about it – “Makers. The New Industrial Revolution”.
An effect of this could very well be that consumers will manufacture much more of the products they consume. Rather than just buying the lamp or car consumers would download the ‘code’ or ‘recipe’ for it and 3D-print it – at home or at the local print shop down the street. Furthermore, there might be business models where consumers 3D-print a larger amount of products or parts of a product, e.g. the lamp shade, for companies and by doing so get the lamp for free.
Thus, in addition to being more knowledgeable, demanding and involved in innovation and development, people also might take an active part in the production (which is, by the way, closer to what Alvin Toffler actually meant when he coined the term ‘prosumer’ in 1980). The already blurry line between brands and consumers would become even more unclear and the traditional distinction between producers and consumers would become obsolete, as the arena for development and production of products and services would change drastically. In a TEDxStockholm talk in 2009, industrial designer Alexander Lervik compared the shift the 3D printer will cause to the disruption the internet and the mp3 format caused in the music industry.
We might be witnessing a major shift from a world where consumers were quite passive receivers of whatever the producers provided them with, to one where they not only influence brands, products and services but also are an active part of production. Obviously this would not only be interesting from business and consumer behavior perspectives; but also from a political point of view (and there are, of course, already political takes on this).
All this being said, it is always wise to remember what Paul Saffo has said about this type of shifts; people have a tendency to over-estimate the impact of new technology in the short term and under-estimate the effects in the long term. Provided that he is right, not much will change in the next couple of years – but it is very exciting to think about the possible effects in the long run.