The Experience Economy

Since Pine and Gilmore’s insightful book, there has been much discussion of the “experience economy.”1 To a great extent, today’s consumers buy experiences. Rather than vacations that are simply observational, such as traditional trips to Europe, recent years have witnessed increasing interest in participatory excursions such as backpacking in the Himalayas. Rather than just purchases of nonde­script coffee in generic white cups, coffee consumption now entails carefully crafted purchase environments and containers, not to men­tion the new quality levels demanded of the liquid itself. Consumers are increasingly interested in the experiences that accompany prod­ucts and services, in being personally engaged.

Consumer demand for experience is part of an evolution of the marketplace and of society. In an agrarian society, microeconomies at the household level produced and sold commodities. Food and cloth­ing were goods created from commodities, put together in-house. As the industrial age replaced the agrarian, manufactured goods replaced the homespun. Food and clothing looked homespun but were mass-produced. Diners, for instance, served the same foods that were served in homes, but on a larger scale. As the service industry has grown to be a major portion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it has added its own unique value to the marketplace. Chefs created new blends of commodities, and food no longer mimicked the home­made. The fashion industry reinvented clothing. Now that consumers

1 Pine, B. J., II, and J. H. Gilmore. The Experience Economy. Harvard Business

School Press, Boston, 1999.

are moving beyond simple services to experiential purchases, not only do consumers at Asian restaurants manipulate chopsticks rather than knife and fork, but restaurants such the Rain Forest Cafe have emerged that imitate the environment of South American rainforests, or at least what people want them to look like. Clothing fabrics, such as Eliotex, speak of outdoor adventure even while worn comfortably indoors. Of course, this progression applies far beyond food and clothing to other product spheres. Lawn care? Homeowners who once replaced their lawn mowers with lawn services now use profes­sional landscapers to achieve outdoor gardens of bygone castle eras.