Why Do We Buy the Things We Buy?

Overwhelmed by the unmitigated rise of Instagram-dominating trends like Unicorn Coffee, charcoal ice-cream, and rainbow sprinkle cakes, one intrepid Vox writer set out to find what, exactly, makes us buy the (sometimes stupid) things we buy. And in a word, it’s emotion.

“Trends seem to come out of nowhere, blindsiding us each season, in a way that feels unpredictable,” David Sax writes. “That’s because these shifts in the collective appetite (for everything from music and food to clothes and even politics) are driven by… human emotion.”

Does the assertion come off as a little reductive? Maybe. But he makes some compelling points. As he argues, “A trend that personifies the centrality of emotion in consumer trends is the surprising growth of books over the past decade… despite an avalanche of predictions to the contrary.”

Both physical books and bookstores, he notes, should’ve been phased out by now — technology has rendered both cumbersome and obsolete. But because bookstores “provided a physical space,” he writes, they ”[deliver] the one thing Amazon is incapable of: a sense of belonging.”

That “sense of belonging” is fostered three ways, he says, through “community, curation, and convening.” None of those guarantee sales per-say, but they do trigger emotional responses that can, and often do.

And thus, he posits, “We buy as much to belong as to own,” a sentiment reiterated by the prevalence of Box Logos, Triple S sneakers and Calabasas-branded garms on social media.

“Sure, there are some logical advantages to the trends that take off beyond mere fads,” he writes. “Kale has endured because it’s easy to plant, cheap, and can work in all sorts of dishes. Birkenstocks made a huge comeback because they’re damn comfortable.” But in the end, Sax tied all that success back to human emotion.

You can read more about it at Vox.

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  • Logic doesn’t care about fades in raw denim, but emotion cares so very much about honeycombs and roping.