Views, Not Shoes: The Age of the Experiential Consumer

Millennials are saying goodbye to the era of ‘things’ and hello to the experience economy.

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Views Not Shoes

Sorry to break it to you, but no one cares about the expensive sunglasses featuring in your latest Instagram post unless you’ve got the adventurous, exotic background to match. A recent survey from Eventbrite found that more than three quarters of millennials are opting to buy desirable experiences over desirable things. This generation’s interest in events as well as the $1.3 trillion dollars they’re spending each year has brought about a serious boom in the economy of experiences.

Brands have always aimed to create ideals for people to spend their money trying to emulate, but what we’re seeing a trend for lately is that the connections to these ideals are no longer being made by ‘having’ or ‘wearing’, but by ‘doing’. The amount we spend on air travel and dining out is increasing each year, and there’s a clear preference for events such as concerts, festivals, Contiki tours, and fun-runs over designer jeans and handbags.

So, why the change?

In the current social media environment, users aren’t getting their Instagram likes and Snapchat views by showing their material things, but by showing their experiences, or for the more celebrity-level users, by commercialising their lifestyle. The latest trend is to be doing. Forget a picture of those sweet kicks in your bedroom, if you want street cred we want a snap of some snow-capped mountains out the window of your Airbnb.

While experiences only last for as long as you’re there, or food for as long as it’s on your plate, we’d still rather spend our money on a trip than on a longer-lasting object. Plenty of research conducted over the last decade has been telling us that moments make us happier than stuff does, and millennials have shown that we’re listening.

It’s not that we’re spending less money, just that we’re looking to put it in a different place – one that we apparently see to be giving us more bang for our buck. According to the association for consumer research, consumers believe a higher price for experiences has a more direct correlation with quality than higher prices for products does.

We don’t get buyer’s remorse the same when we spend money on things we can share with our friends (whether that be in real life or on social media). If we buy a bad product, the money is as good as gone. But if we have a bad experience, it’s more likely to become a good story, or at the very least, a character-building experience.

Although it might be much harder for our generation to find a job or buy a house, it’s become far more accessible for us to travel than it was for our parents. Could we have saved up the money from our ten-or-so trips and put a deposit on a great house instead? Probably. Were we ever going to? Of course not. We’d rather go through the constant cycle of save, travel, sleep, repeat – only to remain the stay-at-home children our parents always feared.

Mintel’s 2015 American Lifestyles report projects that over the next five years, the greatest gains in spending will be seen in the “non-essential” categories, which includes vacationing and dining out. So what does this new trend mean for companies and their advertisers? There needs to be more than just an online presence (the internet is so yesterday, people). Brands need to be driving consumer engagement and creating experiences if they want any kind of audience. If experiences aren’t what you’re selling, then you better make an experience out of what you are selling, or we’re going to start tuning out.