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Valuing experiences over ‘stuff’: How consumers are shaping retail and media

Whether we are talking shopping, viewing content, traveling or just casually socializing with friends, experience takes center stage for today’s consumers.

The reason for this is that experiences are the modern world’s social currency, so the more we fight for them the better we can market ourselves to others. And the more experiences we gather, the better individuals we become, a truth that touches a nerve across age groups and generations, but more so for the up-to-35 year olds, Millennials or just a good mix of Gen Y and Z.

Experiences are more important than possessions

Focusing on experience in a technologically evolving environment

Rapid technological changes have impacted the way consumers perform everyday tasks. Internet enabled smart phones and tablets have placed the power in the consumers’ hands. Literally. For the last few years, online purchasing has been gaining a lot of momentum, beating the lines, registers and check outs of brick-and-mortar stores. The advancements of app shopping technology and the rise (until recently) of shopping loyalty were this trend’s enablers. But do consumers now want more?

Whilst technology (ie. the internet) is used widely to search for information about a product, check online reviews, compare prices and check availability, experiencing the actual product/item is emerging as an intermediate step before the final purchase occurs.

In Europe, 20% of shoppers are reporting showrooming on mobile device, up y-o-y (GfK FutureBuy)

Think of a typical pre-Christmas shopping day. Consumers get experiences dosed up on atmosphere, lights and odors by visiting shops and malls whilst they are examining present options only to go back home and buy them online that same evening, often at a lower price. Now, this is no longer a behavior observed before the Festive season; technology ignited consumers combining seamless online and offline purchasing (and vice versa) is an everyday occurrence.

Infographic: 42% of consumers merge online & offline shopping, a higher % than those who shop online or offline exclusively (GfK Tech consumer 360)

The two channels have become completely intertwined in the consumer’s mind. Physical retail’s response was to embrace new ways to fuel the consumer’s imagination and please the senses while overcompensating for the digital medium’s inability to do so. As a result, stores are now becoming less about replenishment whilst focusing increasingly on experience rather than transactions.

The ‘experience’ revolution’s effect on media and entertainment

When it comes to experiencing content, shying away from physical purchases of DVDs and Blu-rays is nothing new. What’s more interesting is consumers’ muted response to downloading content. Most recently, consumers spoke loudly by remaining unexcited about Netflix’s newly introduced downloading option – only 3% of its subscribers have downloaded content since its launch back in November last year. (© GfK 2017 SVOD Content Consumption Tracker).

Owning content, even if it’s just digitally, comes with the headache of storing and is missing out on ‘the thrill of the moment’ experience, which comes to life when deciding what to stream and how much of it. Streaming revolutionized the means to watch content and gave birth to a whole new viewing experience: binge-viewing.

The binge-viewing phenomenon

Two decades ago, back-to-back episodes of our favorite series was more than enough for a series enthusiast to make an appointment to view and turn the evening into a social event. The much cooler version of this, which gives full control over to the viewer about ‘what, when & how much’, is the binge-viewing phenomenon. ‘I stayed up all night to catch up on X’ is now a viewing treat even for the younger Gen Xs (around 40), who (via the delights of streaming) relive their student life instantanés.

The evolution of our viewing experience re-shaped the watercooler moments in the office, which have been replaced with questions such as: “how far along are you?”, whilst there is a certain pressure on viewers to have covered (or sampled at least) the most talked about shows.

To finesse our newly experienced viewing addiction, content creators had to revisit their scripting techniques; drip-feeding thrill and suspense throughout all episodes rather than keeping cliffhangers for the end of a series. This new, far superior viewing experience has created monster consumers, who expect everything (all content) on anything (all platforms), leaving content providers scratching their heads on the new viable model.

Far from implying that the streaming technology is directly linked to the death of physical media, it feels that the ease of streaming content legally (or illegally) has further downgraded the sense of ownership here with DVDs and Blu-rays gathering shelf dust and the odd video rental shop serving as a museum of the pre-digital era.

Does the balance between experiences over ‘stuff’ shift when our home is the focus?

Technology has exploded and even though consumers take notice, they are the ones who dictate the rhythm when it comes to adopting it. Especially when it comes to technology targeting their own home. Our homes may be increasingly seen as entertainment & hobby centers, but first and foremost, they remain our private retreats. Virtual Reality gadgets and Smart Home tech are promising even more elevated sensory experiences to the average consumer, however their appeal still remains quite niche, limiting their popularity to birthday presents for loved ones.

Cost, security issues and data privacy concerns seem to counterbalance our urge to create edgy experiences in this instance. Instead, we are seeing a U-turn to simpler things and times, like the taking up of cross stitching or micro brewing by sub-groups of the younger generations, who perceive such hobbies as an antidote to fast technology.

One thing is certain: The search for memorable experiences continues, not least because compared to possessions, these intangible, non-measurable moments generate a feeling of happiness that doesn’t evaporate.

*This article was originally posted on TM Forum Live

Mary Kyriakidi is the Director of Media & Entertainment at GfK. To share your thoughts, please email her at mary.kyriakidi@gfk.com or leave a comment below.

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