The idea of memories over material possessions isn’t a new one, but it is one that was gaining huge momentum all the way through to the beginning of 2020. Then the pandemic hit, and we were all forced to stay inside and essentially experience nothing but our own four walls. Or were we? We take a look at the Experience Economy in 2020.


The popularity of the Experience Economy has seen staggering rises in the last few years. Eventbrite conducted a survey which showed that over 77% of millennials think the best memories come from experiences and over 72% stated they would be increasing their spending on experiences over materialistic possessions. We have seen a shift to experience in every walk of life. The Instagram age has only propelled this further. Yes, a picture of a new pair of trainers is nice, but going to the Nike x Asos sneaker launch with HIIT, a sound bath and workshops are even nicer. Experience creates a backdrop for people to engage, to join in a singular space, and feel like part of a community. That’s why the experience economy has moved from events and activities into retail and our everyday life. Even live music has hit our high streets with multiple artists creating a pop-up experience for their fans. Think about the BTS fan store, Sam Smith’s Wig Shop on Brewer Street, and Stormzy’s corner store. Experience matters because experience brings us together in a feeling, which is far more powerful than a product.

And it’s not just millennials, every generation is realising the importance of truly experiencing something. From an increase in adventure holidays over resorts (think Flashpack’s growth) to some of our most traditional brands with an older demographic creating memorable experiences like the John Lewis rooftop pop-ups or the new experiential space in Selfridges which has been home to a skatepark and a slide already! We were about to hit peak experience economy when the pandemic hit.


The pandemic hit the hospitality and experience industry hard, very hard. All collective experiences were cancelled; all festivals, live shows, sporting events and even going to meet a friend were all outlawed seemingly overnight. This was devastating to so many sectors of the UK, with no grants afforded and such uncertainty over the length of time of lockdown, or the after affects, you would imagine that the mere concept of the experience economy would have disappeared. But no, you can’t hold back the human need for experiences. People are social beings, who crave social experiences, so even with every avenue of experience cut off; we still found a way to create a new economy. People facetimed and zoomed more than ever. The humble videochat became the go-to to keep connected straight away, but then more connection started to bloom. Brands turned to technology, communal exercise went online, wine tasting was streamed into people’s houses, art classes and pub quizzes galore found a new home and a new audience online. People kept experiencing and kept connecting. We also found ways to keep the experience alive offline as well. The local shop became a ritual, a way to get out of the house, get some fresh air, and experience something other than your direct environment. The craving for experiences saw a shift from supermarkets to local brands for many. Local companies like The Notting Hill Fish Shop and The General Store offered a greater ‘day out’ than Lidl or Sainsbury’s so people favoured this as a trip rather than a chore. With a slower pace of life, no commute and nothing to spend on- we saw consumption shift to independent stockists, places that were a destination to visit (the local butcher, fish shop and grocery store are all far more entertaining and nuanced than another aisle in a bright supermarket).


“So throughout the pandemic, we still found ways to connect. We entertained ourselves online and sought experiences in the local shops and parks. But what does this mean for the experience economy coming out the other side? As the lockdown restrictions are eased slowly but surely we can see what a new normal experience looks like. It’s quite clear that a post-corona world is a world reborn with less materialism and more social awareness. This shift was already earmarked for the future of consumption, the pandemic just sped it up! The stay at home order accelerated digital transformation completely. We were all very quick to adapt, even non-digital natives were connecting through technology and remaining social more than ever. The pandemic helped us reimagine what we had missed. With no access to gyms, group activities, or even a browse around the shop, it was hugely obvious to everyone how much fulfillment experiences gave us. Experiences help people become healthier, happier, and more fulfilled and coming out of a pandemic this need is only amplified. Just as we have seen a shift in retail, we will also see a shift in experience. We predict that the big hit to the experience economy will create a hockey stick effect on it’s resurgence. Over 100 days in lockdown has only heightened people’s need to connect and intensified the craving to experience new things. We see more people spending locally; the rise of WFH has meant that neighbourhoods are the new focus for many and spending time in your own community will be more important than ever. We also see more people willing to adapt. The socially distanced festivals, masked performances, and open-air theatres have already been welcomed with open arms. This willingness to change from the norm as a consumer means that introduction of new experiences and events will be a far quicker transition than pre-COVID. “
What looked like it would devastate the economy experience may actually be a good thing in the long-run. For those who have weathered the storm, the attitudes coming out of lockdown are craving social connection and more demanding of experience than ever. It’s no surprise that Selfridges opened a cinema as soon as restrictions were lifted; they know that everything we consume in a post-pandemic world has to make us feel something. We are more interested in alturism than materialism, social causes than social standing and experiences, and connection over consumerism. The post-pandemic word is something we are just stepping into, but we think that the experience economy is stronger than every, connecting to people is more needed than ever, and our local economy is definitely more needed than ever.

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