Rob Walker's latest column for the New York Times Magazine discusses what Profs Dan Ariely and Michael Norton define as "conceptual consumption:" consumers buy the idea or goal that is embodied by something they purchase; their purchase is not simply about the thing itself.
This brings Walker to a discussion of Lululemon, which began as a retailer of functional clothing for those serious about yoga and now has broadened its merchandise mix to include other apparel. Here, the conceptual consumption is based, in large part, on aspiring to the yoga lifestyle. In fact, Lululemon's site says it offers "yoga-inspired apparel for healthy living."
Conceptual consumption has a lot to do with the popularity of LL Bean among suburbanites like myself, who want to feel part of the outdoorsy lifestyle even when sitting at a desk or wheeling around the supermarket.
It's downright fun to browse (online or in stores) at REI and EMS, admiring the tech touches on clothing and accessories, imagining yourself in the midst of nature's majesty, and even making the occasional purchase. When you're not actually shooting the rapids or pitching a tent, cargo pants with zip-off legs look spiffy and are comfy for lounging around Panera Bread.