9 Mar /15


Today’s work is unique in that, regardless of any socio-economic factor, occupation, or level of understanding of English – this word describes all of us.

The word that can define all of us is consumer, because, no matter our individuality, we all consume things, from rent and utilities to food and drinks to entertainment and electronics.

First used in the 15th century, a consumer was logically defined as “someone who consumes,” which, at the time, was considered to be a negative attribute. However, as time passed and economic thought evolved, the definition was (at the end of the 17th century) adjusted to mean “a person who purchases and/or used a good or a commodity” without the negative connotation.

And purchases we do: with the private sector accounting for nearly £1 trillion of the UK £1.59 trillion GDP economy, consumers arguably make up about 60% of all UK economic activity. Not only does this demonstrate that consumer have the lion’s share in determining what drives the economy, but, given the number of choices, it also shows that, in order to remain viable, companies have to compete for consumers by offering better services and better products at a better price. A recent survey of 2,500 British adults demonstrates this: showing how companies like M&S, Cadbury, and Heinz have had trouble attracting positive consumer attention, while companies like Apple, John Lewis, and British Airways have been spending heavily to advertise themselves as well as the steps they take to improve satisfaction with their brand.

Being a word that entered into the economic sphere, consumer has had a trickle-down effect, being used by philosophers and essayists before the popular, widespread usage that became common in the 20th century. The first use of the word consumer comes in 1691 from philosophical titan John Locke (he was also the one to introduce the word currency in its meaning of a medium of exchange), who writes that, “Money may be considered as in the hands of the Consumer, under which Name I here reckon the Merchant who buys the Commodity, when made, to export.” A half-century later, the essayist Joseph Harris, in An Essay Upon Money and Coins, states that, “All men are in some degree consumers of foreign commodities.” Finally though, after more than another century, in 1897, the word “consumer” reached the realm of the common man via the Sears, Roebuck Catalogue, which first had the heading of “Consumers guide.”