The Growing Business of Helping Customers Slow Down

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WE are living in an age of acceleration. How are people coping? Increasingly, by seeking out opportunities to slow down.

This desire to decelerate is a major trend with implications for companies, organizations and society.

To explore why and how people can achieve deceleration, we studied another extreme version of it: We immersed ourselves among people walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, an ancient pilgrimage route that has been drawing ever larger crowds, of varied ages, religious backgrounds and countries of origin, over the past two decades. We identified three key dimensions to slowing down:

Embodied deceleration, which is the physical slowing down of the body. Technological deceleration, which is not giving up technology, but carefully controlling its use. And episodic deceleration, which is engaging in only a few activities per day—in our data, walking, eating, sleeping—and, crucially, reducing the amount of consumption choices to be made.

In general, all three dimensions speak to ideas such as simplicity, de-materialization and authenticity.

Companies are beginning to provide spaces where consumers can decelerate on all three dimensions. In the retail sector there’s “slow shopping,” the creation of calming, relaxed, private yet interactive experiences. In the tourism sector, while embodied and episodic deceleration has long been encouraged as part of luxury hotels’ wellness focus, we are beginning to see the absence of Wi-Fi marketed as an amenity.

We expect interest in such experiences to rise exponentially in coming years. Recognizing our existential need to occasionally slow down can be the basis for winning consumer strategies.

Giana M. Eckhardt is a professor of marketing and director of the Center for Research in Sustainability at Royal Holloway University of London. Katharina C. Husemann is senior lecturer of marketing at Royal Holloway University of London.