Can consumers enjoy the holiday and gift-giving season without getting deeply in debt or giving up shopping altogether?

“Retailers would like us to spend ’til the end, while consumer culture critics urge us to shun materialism and embrace simplicity,” says Julie Ozanne, marketing professor at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business. “Both are extreme positions that miss the point that shopping and consuming can be both delightful and horrible.”

Ozanne advocates a moderate approach — one that she feels is more likely to change consumer behavior beyond the holidays. “Be more mindful about consumption. Assess potential purchases. Pursue those that will truly bring pleasure and eliminate those that won’t.”

An award-winning teacher and researcher, Ozanne specializes in research on consumer behavior, sustainable models of consumption, and social marketing and the public interest. Shopping for toys, for example, she says, can be stressful for parents and fraught with conflict. “Borrowing from toy libraries can be a good alternative to toy purchases.”

Ozanne’s research on toy libraries shows that they offer benefits beyond saving money: “parents can avoid socializing their children on marketplace behavior at an early age and can teach them instead about sharing, caring for collective goods, and considering the needs of others.”

Being a consumer has become a major part of life in a modern society, Ozanne says. Though serious problems have resulted from the process of consuming, so have genuine opportunities for remedial action, she adds. Ozanne is co-editing a forthcoming book, Transformative Consumer Research for Personal and Collective Well-Being, that aims to be a pioneering and comprehensive “compendium of the state of knowledge in consumer behavior and quality of life.”

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