Shopping for a better world

March 21, 2017

We are living in the information age. Consumers are making more informed decisions. Informed decisions take into account the consequences of consumption. The purchasing power of consumers brings social change that makes life more satisfying. For many of us material needs have been satisfied, therefore consumption is starting to focus more on purpose.


Informed purchase decisions can be seen as the search for satisfaction. Consumers are emphasising a sense of meaning and purpose. This became apparent in our survey in Sweden (n = 1005), carried out in summer 2016. Most participants felt they could make a difference: “Consumers have great power but we are not using it to that extent.”

79 % of citizens don’t normally buy a new product before the old one is worn out or broken
75 % of citizens think that responsibility is a requirement for quality
52 % of citizens will happily sacrifice their own comfort for the common good
48 % of citizens are worried about the state of the world and this guides their consumption choices.

Seven consumer segments in Sweden

We identified seven consumer segments (Figure 1). Considerations of individual virtue and value seem to be an essential motivator in purchase decisions. One can buy organic local products for supporting local well-being rather than for environmental reasons. Consumer behaviour is an expression of moral self-realisation.

Figure 1. Identified Swedish consumer segments according to the Theory of Basic Human Values by Shalom Schwartz.


THE INDEPENDENT are the biggest consumer segment in Sweden. They know what is important to them and what gives them life satisfaction. The Independent value being open to change. They have a strong inner need for pleasure, excitement and new experiences. It is based on a strong sense of efficacy – they feel they can make a difference.

They prefer ascetic and aesthetic surroundings. Even if they are looking for new experiences, they favour leasing and hiring instead of owning. They are ready to adopt mobility-as-a-service. One of them said: “Everybody drives their own car. That is insane.”

THE COMMITTED are strongly guided by their values. The gap between their thoughts and actions is narrow. They value independent thoughts and actions, as well as self-transcendence. They enjoy the simple life and a sense of community. They have recognised that a work-and-spend mentality alienates them from what really matters.

The Committed want to make a difference. They are worried about the world. It decreases their happiness but brings increased meaning to their lives. They demonstrate social compassion and are knowledgeable about environmental topics. They do what they can but they are not fanatical: “I pay pollution tax. We rent a car in summer, we take the train. You do what you can.”

THE CONSIDERATE are the oldest consumer segment (53 % of them are over 60 years old). Their behaviour is directed by security, conformity, tradition and benevolence. They value safety, harmony and stability of life. The Considerate are cautious and slow to adopt new habits. They value respect, commitment and acceptance of the customs and ideals that traditional culture or religion provide. The Considerate are motivated by their compassion for others.

Currently, 54 % of them are homeowners. This is the highest percentage amongst the seven consumer segments. In future, members of the Considerate with relatively small income may realise that they can make some extra money by renting out what they already own.

THE ACHIEVERS value hedonism, self-enhancement, achievement and power. They want to maximise their experiences so they don’t miss out on anything in life. Their everyday choices are linked to financial success and status. They value power because it helps manage other people and things.

The Achievers are not ready for the sharing economy: “There are a lot of people talking about the sharing economy, but it’s not something for us.” Despite this they could be the first consumer segment to adopt the concept of ‘wellbeing as a service.’ They are ready to utilise personalised online services, which help them understand who they are and what is best for them.

THE SMART have diverse values. None of their values stand out by comparison. The Smart are relatively young people (63 % under 50). They have the lowest income of the seven consumer segments. However, they have found their ways to enjoy life. They are happy with a frugal life.

The future of the Smart is difficult to predict because they are opportunists. They could completely withdraw from their current way of life. Some are ready for the sharing economy: “I’m using a tool pool in the housing community.” However, some show progression towards a money-is-everything attitude.

THE SEEKERS are looking to find themselves because they are young (86 % are under 50). Their purchase decisions are directed by stimulation, hedonism and achievement. The Seekers are also driven by social standards. What is not illegal is acceptable to them, they don’t question norms.

The Seekers are used to taking survival for granted. They are interested in moving from ownership to the use of services. 43 % of them already live in rented apartments. The sharing economy is apparent in their thinking: “I could share with someone I can trust.” 

THE BYSTANDERS form a consumer segment that prefers security, conformity and tradition. They prefer to sit back and see how things will work out before jumping on board. They feel they can’t make a difference in society.

The Bystanders are resilient citizens because they focus on essential matters in their lives and they desire to live in peace. They are so cautious and critical about new influences that they can be immune to the conflicts people face in a complex world.

Purpose-driven consumption is growing

In Sweden, people enjoy the egalitarian culture of the country. Consumers seem to be moving from a focus on economic and physical security to values emphasising self-expression and a sense of meaning and purpose. Sweden is a fascinating society to study because it’s a forerunner in the shift from materialism to post-materialism. In everyday life, this means that the importance of ownership has decreased, services are used instead of owning goods, and the renewal of goods is motivated by real needs. This enhances consumers’ life satisfaction and provides better opportunities for the next generation.


Dr. Arto O. Salonen, Research Director (Metropolia), Adjunct Professor (University of Helsinki)