Thoughts on Changes in Consumer Purchasing Behavior – Products vs Platform

consumer purchasing behavior

There’s something I’ve noticed over the past few years, notably during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s been a deepening pattern in consumer purchasing behavior after Apple events. This reflects a consistent mix of delight and disappointment, enthusiasm and apathy. What follows is a variable mix of rapid and anemic uptake of updated and new products alike. Both have historically attended Apple product announcements, but not always together. Now they are more consistently present for the same announcements, often in equal measure. While product and service reviews have their place in making a purchase decision, there’s a more important factor that should be evaluated. We should better understand our relationship to a platform as a whole, like Apple’s many devices, rather than just the individual products.

Why the Shift in Users’ Purchasing Behavior Matters

Product and service reviews are important to consumers and analysts alike. However, increasingly they are an imprecise predictor of consumer purchasing behavior. Take, for example, the initial reviews of the Apple Watch Ultra, a mix of ‘Yeas’, ‘Nays’ and ‘Mehs’ and the assessments that it was for elite athletes and enthusiasts, but due to its dimensions and price, would not likely sell in high volume. Nevertheless, it is outpacing its initial apparent supply, if shipment delays are a guide, and is on track to extend Apple’s lead in smart watches.

Likewise, the reviews of the 2022 iPads, particularly the Pro line, have been unenthusiastic. In fact, the 2020 iPad Pro models drew negative criticism due to iPadOS 15 constraints. This year, the Pro models are expected to be the product’s strongest performer for the coming quarter. The Apple Studio Display, likewise, had a mixed reception, yet Apple cited it as a contributor to strong performance in Mac sales for their March 2022 quarterly report. Reviews are important, but are not always great predictors of consumer uptake. There may be under-appreciated but important reasons for this.  

What It Means to Understand Our Relationship to the Apple Platform and Its Products

One such under-appreciated change is our relationship to the technology itself, particularly regarding Apple. Likewise, we should look at how this may be influencing our consuming behavior in unanticipated ways. Simply put, Apple has managed to translate its rich ecosystem of offerings into an organized, integrated platform. This platform is made up of products and services designed to function seamlessly together. This occurs from the chipset architecture to the hardware to the software and across the product and service line. Furthermore, all of these are serviced and augmented by machine learning (AI). As such, the value added from any one single updated device or service is attenuated by the greater value of that platform’s robust design and value proposition.  To the user community, that provides both opportunity and peril for purchasing options.  

A Platform So Diverse One User Cannot Possibly Need Its Entirety

Apple’s platform is so rich and diverse that one person cannot purchase all of its products and services to derive benefit from that lineup. For that matter, they aren’t required to purchase all of them. Therein lies opportunity to make judicious purchases. The peril is in our inability to identify which of these products and services are actually pertinent to our needs. That inability leads us into an attempt to uncritically acquire new ones, thus incur unnecessary costs. Interacting with a platform requires that we first understand ourselves. We need to evaluate how we work and play. Then. we can decide what we need to optimize each of these products in our present circumstances.

Thoughtfully understanding our circumstances is also important. After all, these may change over time. The platform enables us to make changes according to how we utilize it, therefore modifying what we purchase.

Picking and Choosing Upgrades and Updates Judiciously

Especially, we should carefully consider specific products or device, like an iPhones, when Apple releases new models. When Apple offers new features, we should look at whether our current device can take advantage of those upgraded capacities. If not, there is no imperative to upgrade, apart from a desire to do so. Occasionally, there are additional products, like a desktop, monitor or HomePod, that extend how we exploit those platform features. These may bring added benefit, at which point new purchases make sense. Obviously, one can purchase according to one’s desires, according to their means. However, this can result in needless expense — a euphemism for “waste”.

The point is that a platform requires that we know ourselves and what we need. We should often try to avoid merely reacting compulsively to every new update or rollout. A platform provides a fundamental change in value proposition to mere spec upgrades on an individual product or assortment of products. For a generation experiencing first contact with platforms, it requires a conceptual and behavioral transition away from isolated product and service focus to the broader scope of opportunity afforded by a platform.

The Complexity and Simplicity of Consumer Purchasing Behavior Change  

To be clear, in each of Apple’s product lines, there is a range of devices of differing capacity and cost. Each of these, if used to fullest capacity in that platform, will provide the user with a rich experience. Even an entry-level device would seem impossible to our past selves. When compared to the most capable devices that occupied some of those niches a mere generation ago, like “mobile phones”, such would be a marvel of engineering. The entry-level iPad would have excelled the predictions of futurists and science fiction writers alike. It would have filled that generation with a sense of other-worldly awe for a fast-approaching future. 

Even with such a preview of that future, that earlier generation couldn’t have fully appreciated the device. It would still have suffered a lack of context needed to understand that device’s real value. They would have failed to comprehend how it could be exploited in a world of far richer opportunity and peril than their own. After all, the world today is populated by people with knowledge and skills not yet invented a generation ago.  That context is key to assessing any technology’s value. This is not value that can be shared between generations, but must be assigned by those that live them. 

The User Challenge 

And herein lies our challenge. This is an evolving platform. As such, it can shape and support a nearly limitless range of lifestyles and opportunities for self expression, exploration and creativity. That evolution is driven by the greater world of competing platforms and ecosystems around it. It must adapt or perish. The user, too, must adapt or fall behind. The devices and services we use, and their relative importance and use cases, will likewise change over time. Those who recognize these needs for change earliest will have a competitive advantage. Others, who fail to see and adapt to an evolving and dynamic technological ecosystem, are at a disadvantage. This is true not only in the workplace, but in personal well-being.

Our portable and wearable devices make it possible to extend our productivity and recreation to venues and situations. They provide for our personal safety and productivity in ways unimaginable as recently as when the iPhone debuted.

Illustrating the Extension of Productivity and Recreation Afforded By Our Devices

I have used personal devices innumerable times to get things done and still stay on schedule for committed work. Following my early morning workout, I may get an urgent text or call. A colleague in a different time zone may need to discuss a pending conference call. I can respond directly from my Apple Watch, providing essential information and coordination across multiple time zones. Meanwhile, I can continue getting dressed, thereby optimizing our productivity on the call. The late 20th century model would have required me to be at my computer and logged in. This would have likely resulted in either a delay or a less productive call.

Alternatively, my landscaper in upstate New York might text me a photo of some completed work. I can receive the photography on my Apple Watch. Satisfied the work is done, I can scroll down to my last payment on Apple Pay, and send again. Done in mere seconds, all while toweling off and getting ready for a teleconference. I might start that teleconference on my iPhone, then hand it off to my iPad Pro or Mac when I reach my desk.

This is far more efficient than even the early 21st century model. That would have meant logging into my bank’s website and authorizing a payment. Of course, even that is assuming the task didn’t fall off of my radar once my work began. Worse yet, I could be using my parents’ model of writing a paper check and sending it via post — time that I simply don’t have, adversely causing my personal affairs to suffer for my work schedule. Personal and professional well-being are thus served with a single swipe. 

A Comprehensive Benefit That’s Greater Than the Sum Of Its Parts

These small gains in efficiency add up, and can make the difference, in my profession, between securing a competitive grant or being an “also ran.” It’s not unlike an Olympic speed skater who beats a competitive field of comparable talent by fractions of a second, simply by having a more efficient stroke. Small gains in performance accrue over the course of days and months to measurable gains in productivity and personal well-being.

There is another dimension to this: ethics. When device performance affects personal safety, security and extends life, it forces an ethical debate on making it universal. Seat belts, bicycle helmets and technologies that prevent lead leaching into drinking water are examples. The data security and personal protective features on Apple’s devices, as data accumulate, may force a similar debate as competitors imitate many of these features, with varying efficacy. This is a topic for another time, but we should factor this into our assessment of the value proposition of our personal and wearable devices.

By making judicious choices in their engagement with these platforms, and adapting to the opportunities these portable and wearable devices provide, not to mention new devices to come, users can obtain greater benefit at lesser cost for every gain in productivity and recreation than those who choose less efficiently, and therefore at greater cost in misspent assets, especially time, an asset that can never be recovered. 

Recommendations for Efficiency Gains

When it comes to Apple products specifically, I recommend self-examination guide consumer purchasing behavior. What do you really use, how frequently, and how do you actually use these for your greatest productivity and enjoyment, in equal measure? This should not be confused with the transitory thrill of owning something new. Rather, what sustains you, day in and day out? More importantly, what would improve that and how? Are any of the new products and services, at any given rollout, providing those opportunities for improvement in your productivity and pleasure? Mind you, Apple will happily sell you as many things as you are able to purchase. However, inefficiency from picking the wrong tools, and worse, paralysis from having too many choices, are soul-sapping burdens that will have the opposite effect. 

Rather than simply looking at new releases as an opportunity for acquiring more, examine whether any of these provide an opportunity to pare down, to simplify and thereby enhance one’s efficiency and economy. For example, one may have a desktop Mac, an iPad and an iPhone, but like my daughter, actually prefer to run their business and an active social life, including entertainment, from an iPhone and a headset. If so, then one can safely, and happily, ignore new Mac and iPad updates until they either prefer these or their older devices are longer supported, while still enjoying the full benefits of the platform, at least as one uses it. Efficiency.  

Conclusion

In short, the mixed feelings and not infrequent dysthymia that users experience with each product/service release may be the result of a conflict between their consumption behavior and the technology they attempt to consume. Failing to appreciate that one is engaging a platform, rather than an expanding array of disparate products and services, most of which one seldom uses or requires, erodes one’s productivity and sense of well-being and joy. Worse, it may even contribute to a gathering sense of unhappiness and lack of fulfillment.

Failure to identify and exploit new opportunities for productivity and play is a necessary adaptation to a changing environment, and will contribute more to a sense of well-being than will falling behind. We can exploit the opportunity that a platform provides to reconsider how we work and play, and pare down on elements we neither use nor require to be our most productive and happy self, team or family. After all, and perhaps ironically, this too is consistent with what Apple touts as unlocking one’s full potential. 

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