The sentiment ‘there’s value in experience’ is well known. Today, this idiom applies more than ever, with a steady rise in consumers spending more on doing things and less on buying things.
Neatly referred to as the “experience economy” (1), sociologists have been discussing a shift in consumer expectations and demand, and, alongside this, our cycle of production and consumption since the late 1980’s. Their observations are that customers are now looking to outsource entire experiences rather than stay in the home and construct occasions themselves.
This year’s figures from Barclaycard support this theory. The figures for April 2017 show a 20% increase in spending in pubs compared with the same month in 2016. Spending in restaurants went up 16%, while theatres and cinemas enjoyed a 13% rise. Meanwhile, department stores suffered a 1% drop and vehicle sales were down 11%. (2)
So why are experiences now in demand?
James Wallman, a trend forecaster and the author of ‘Stuffocation: Living More with Less’, suggests that the change in our spending habits correlates with the change in how we socialise. It’s well documented that social platforms allow us to compare ourselves to others and, in this counter-capitalist millennial/gen-Z age (3), sharing our experiences online is a greater ‘status booster’ than sharing images of our new-fangled possessions. “Posting pictures of what you just bought is gauche; posting pictures of something you’re doing is fine,” Wallman states. However, businesses do not despair as Wallman explains: “experientialism […] is not anti-consumerist or anti-capitalist. Money is still going into the economy and creating jobs – we’re just spending it on experiences.”
The happiness factor
Doing things makes us happy. In fact, it gives us pleasure threefold: we enjoy the anticipation of the experience, the experience itself and the memory of the experience. Psychologists Amit Kumar, Thomas Gilovich and Matthew Killingsworth put the biggest stock in the anticipation of an experience and compare this feeling to our, oftentimes, frustration waiting for tangible items to arrive or become available: “think about waiting for a delicious meal at a nice restaurant or looking forward to a vacation and how different that feels from waiting for, say, your pre-ordered iPhone to arrive. Or when the two-day shipping on Amazon Prime doesn’t seem fast enough," Kumar says.
Equally, we stop appreciating things to which we're constantly exposed. This is called ‘hedonic adaption.’ Shiny, new objects just become background after a while. It's the ephemerality of experiences that draws us to them.
To today’s consumer value no longer means cheap, it means value-for-money with an increased focus on quality. We are prepared to spend more on authenticity, uniqueness and, as you might guess, experiences. Many perceive that the amount of money a product costs indicates its quality.
This premiumisation may have occurred in response to new working lifestyles: consumers’ are working much longer hours than ever before, with later retirements to boot (4). They have less leisure time and want to spend these limited hours on authentic experiences that add value to their weekend/break/evening - something to share, to look forward and look back on fondly.
For us at Prestige Venues & Events, this is a very exciting time; with the market taking an active interest our speciality, namely experiences. Plus, with more and more businesses recognising this trend we are endeavouring to distinguish ourselves further, to work harder and to be more creative in curating fully-rounded, extraordinary experiences for our customers - such as Jardin Blanc. This is a secret garden restaurant nestled in a private corner of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and masterminded by Raymond Blanc OBE. Here you will find delicious menus of fresh summer produce, impeccable design, a mini on-site distillery (the first in the world!), tempting cocktails, sculpture, live music, cooking demonstrations and five star service. This experience, as well as many others from Prestige Venues & Events, is designed to delight, entertain and serve as a magical memory for all of our guests… plus, it will look great on your Instagram feed.
1. The Experience Economy, B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, 1988
2. Consumer spending grew 5.5 per cent in April as inflation drives up cost of everyday essentials, Barclaycard, 2017
3. Why do the young reject Capitalism? Warren A. Stephens, The Wall Street Journal, 2017
4. Wellbeing charity, CABA