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I read a story in Harvard Business Review this week about Patagonia’s “Buy Less” campaign, in which the outdoor apparel brand is actually encouraging customers to cut down on their purchasing of Patagonia products. HBR explains:

To put its buy-less idea into action, Patagonia recently partnered with eBay to enable consumers to resell their used Patagonia apparel via the Common Threads Initiative within eBay. In addition, consumers will now be able to resell their used Patagonia apparel on a new Used Clothing & Gear section on Patagonia’s website. The company wants to influence consumer buying behavior as part of its corporate mission. Patagonia (and other sustainability pundits) views individuals’ consumption as a considerable drain on natural resources. And with the global population forecast to swell to over 9 billion by 2050, left unchecked, this drain will become significant.

HBR’s story tries to determine whether this initiative, which it calls “genuine and borderline heroic,” will ultimately increase Patagonia’s revenue. But I’m more interested in how an idea like this affects the customer. When I read about the “Buy Less” campaign, I thought of an old Chris Rock bit:

“The government curing AIDS? That’s like Cadillac making a car that last for fifty years… and you know they can do it! But they ain’t gonna do something that fucking dumb! Shit! They got metal on the space shuttle that can go around the moon and withstand temperatures up to 20,000 degrees. You mean to tell me you don’t think they can make an El Dorado where the fucking bumper don’t fall off?”

If a company makes a product that lasts too long, it’ll be a while before they’ll see any repeat business.

In 2009 I was in the market for a new PC. My Dell Dimension, which I’d received as a Christmas present in 2000, was on its last leg. I consulted my tech-savvy friend Gil about which brands other than Dell I should consider. I was really down on Dell after some poor customer service experiences and was ready for a change. But then Gil made a good point. “You know,” he said, “your last Dell computer lasted you nine years.”

And he was absolutely right. Sure, it took some of Gil’s magic to extend its life—cleaning out viruses more than once, adding new virus protection, and installing new memory—but a nine-year shelf life for a PC is unheard of. Not long after that conversation, I bought another Dell. (FYI I still think the customer service stinks, but the computer works fine.)

But if I called the CEO of Dell and told him that story, he might not be thrilled. After all, between 2001 and 2008, I didn’t buy a single Dell product.

Now imagine if Dell called me up in 2002 and said, “Mr. Calise, our records show your Dell Dimension is two years old. We’d like to buy it back from you. Oh and by the way, Dell now has several new PC models you may be interested in if you’re looking to upgrade.” Well, that seems to be the direction Patagonia (with the help of eBay) is headed in:

It sounds strange to say that encouraging customers to buy less new apparel could actually lead to increased sales volume for Patagonia. Yet this scenario is possible. Two types of customers could be more inclined to buy new Patagonia apparel as a result of Patagonia’s efforts: customers who make decisions based on sustainability considerations and customers who can now sell their used Patagonia apparel for cash to buy new apparel. Indeed, John Donahue, the CEO of Patagonia’s new business partner, eBay, suggested this might be possible: “Patagonia is extending its customer base and increasing it. People who are selling it are likely to turn around, take the money they got, and buy the new Patagonia products.”

For the record, I’ve never bought or owned a Patagonia product. But by encouraging me to Buy Less, Patagonia might actually persuade me to Buy More.

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