Do experiential products match life’s experiences?

Discussion
Sep 11, 2014
Tom Ryan

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.

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?

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7 Comments on "Do experiential products match life’s experiences?"


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Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
4 years 9 months ago

To the degree that retailers can, I think they should try to make every product experiential. Sure, you can argue about a can of peas, but wouldn’t you say that Whole Foods and Central Market do a great job of making everyday grocery purchases something experiential? If retailers want to get consumers off of a focus on price, experience and services are the way to do that.

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Actual experiences and the anticipation of an experience will always trump material purchases as they relate to a shopper’s happiness. At our core, we, as shoppers want to be surprised and delighted throughout the entire shopping journey. This study further suggests that retailers (and brands alike) should concentrate on telling their story in such a way as to allow their audience (prospective customers) to envision how and why they’ll be happier by experiencing their product or service. The immediate purchase may be rewarding, but that excitement is but a flash, whereas utilizing the purchase as part of a continuing experience is far more fulfilling and rewarding.

Naomi K. Shapiro
Guest
Naomi K. Shapiro
4 years 9 months ago

A little confusing, but before I read to the end, I told myself the answer would be: 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 (Cornell University and the University of California study).

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

We spend a lot of time trying to analyze the shopper journey, consumer experience, etc. Bottom line, we are finding similar results from studies across a dozen countries that consumers do in fact gravitate toward products that match their lifestyles, or their desired lifestyles. Experience is everything. It’s one of the last differentiators. You need an “ideation” team to produce a constant stream of new, innovative experiences for shoppers.

Morley Ivers
Guest
Morley Ivers
4 years 9 months ago

Retailers need to focus on leveraging their products and services to create memories in their customers’ lives. If they are able to achieve this goal, they are likely to be in a strong position to create systematic loyalty where the consumer links the positive memory with the experience they had with their retailer.

Chuck Palmer
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Sometimes we work so very hard to understand the antecedents of an experience—in line or online—that we lose sight of the execution, and more importantly how consumers actually experience it. Perhaps we should not assume a consumer fully understands what is at play in an immersive environment and be clearer with what we want them to do.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

People remember about 10 percent of what they hear …
They remember about 24 percent of what they see (read) …
They remember 81 percent of what they do.

Retailers are stuck in the ruts of “show and telling” consumers about products.

The research suggests that retailers would be much more effective if they could create experiences where consumers “touch and do” things with products. Even better if they can “touch and do” them with friends.

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