Do experiential products match life’s experiences?
Past studies have found that people get more enjoyment and satisfaction from the purchase of experiential adventures or events — eating out, going to a concert, traveling, etc. — than from material purchases such as apparel or jewelry. But a new study finds a host of experiential products can provide the same feeling of well-being as life experiences.
The study from the University of Michigan and San Francisco State University examined consumers’ reactions to "experiential" products — purchases that combine material items and life experiences. These were defined as purchases people make "to have in order to do" and include video games, sports equipment, books or musical instruments.
The study’s respondents were asked to describe a recent purchase and the happiness it afforded. The purchases were placed in three groups: material items, experiential products and life experiences. Researchers expected material items would provide the smallest happiness boost, life experiences the largest, with experiential products falling in the middle. But experiential products matched the level of well-being of life experiences. Both came out ahead of material purchases.
Researchers then explored whether the purchases satisfied any of three key psychological needs:
- Identity expression – the purchase reflects the consumer’s true values;
- Competence – the purchase allows the consumer to utilize skills and knowledge;
- Relatedness – the purchase brings the consumer closer to others.
They found that while experiential products and life experiences offered similar levels of identity expression, the former were best at providing competence and the latter best at providing relatedness.
"They are essentially two different routes to the same well-being," said Ryan Howell, a researcher at San Francisco State University, in a statement. "If you’re not feeling very competent, the best way to alleviate that deprivation would be through the use of experiential products. On the other hand, if you’re feeling lonely, you should buy life experiences and do things with others."
The ideal products for happiness, he added, may be those that simultaneously satisfy both needs, such as a board game played with others or going to the museum with friends.
A separate study from the Cornell University and the University of California found people have higher levels of happiness when making experiential purchases over material ones because "people may think about future experiences in more abstract ways that can make them seem more significant and more gratifying." Anticipating experiences also may make people feel more connected, the authors found.
- ‘Experiential products’ provide same happiness boost as experiences, study finds – San Francisco State University
- Purchases ‘to have in order to do’ make people just as happy as life experiences – University of Michigan
- Experiences Make You Happier Than Possessions – Before and After – Cornell University
- Happiness for Sale: Do Experiential Purchases Make Consumers Happier Than Material Purchases? – Social Science Research Network
In what ways can retailers do a better job promoting messages around experiential products? What lessons do the studies offer around experiential products and experiences?