During their internship, Caitlin McLaren and Yuying Liu conducted research to find out people’s motivations and considerations around purchasing experiences this Christmas.
With the first ’normal’ Christmas since pre-Covid just around the corner, we are finally able to enjoy the festive season restriction-free. However, this is set against a backdrop of rising costs and economic uncertainty, making the cost of Christmas celebrations a concern for many. How has the post-Covid pent-up desire for experiences we weren’t able to have (e.g. travelling and spending time with loved ones) been impacted by the current economic climate? And how will this affect Christmas this year for both consumers and brands?
The cost of living crisis has hit us hard. Our survey found almost 6 in 10 Brits are in a worse financial situation than they were a year ago and are worried about their finances in the coming six months. Prices have increased everywhere, with the average UK weekly food shop costing 16.4% more than last year. It is therefore no surprise that people are buying fewer non-essential items.
Our survey found that Dining out, Technology and Holidays are the top three purchases people are cutting back on this year. This is a dramatic shift from October 2020, where 43% planned to spend more on a holiday post-Covid. Does this signal the end of the lockdown-fuelled desire for more experiences?
There is still demand for experiences, but consumers are more considerate with their purchases
The results from our survey found that spending has been directly affected by the current economic climate, with the majority still interested and wanting to take part in experiences, but cannot afford to do so. This sustained appetite for experiences on a more limited budget, means that consumers are much pickier with which experiences they are willing to spend money on. Gone are the days of buying a ticket to the theatre or planning a day trip on a whim to ‘see how it is’.
Consumers are now taking time to research and plan exactly the experience they want to purchase. They want to know what they will get out of it, how it will make them feel, and whether it provides good value for money before they part with their cash. This was directly reflected in our focus group discussions. For example, one of the respondents suggested that: “My friend makes a curated list for experiences each month. We go through it and think what is the most fun.” Another highlighted that: “I would be annoyed by restaurants that have average food and are expensive. I would rather go to a fancy restaurant, pay more and for it to be amazing.”
Spending time with loved ones is the top motivation for spending on an experience
Our survey found that 38% of consumers purchase experiences to spend time with family and friends. Quality time with loved ones is valued more than ever post-Covid and being able to share special moments and make new memories through an experience (such as a spa day or escape room), is a huge driver for experiential purchases. This also makes experiences a great gifting option. 50% of consumers from our survey reported that they would prefer experiential gifts. The shared anticipation and excitement before the event, and the lasting memories, make experiences the type of gift that really does keep on giving.
Returning to Christmas traditions, people are still willing to spend on gifts this year
It is therefore unsurprising that time with loved ones is a key priority for people this Christmas. After two Christmases with pandemic restrictions, people are excited to share this time together and get back to familiar traditions.
Although consumers are cutting down on their overall spend for Christmas gifts this year due to the rising cost of living, the gifting tradition is still important for many. 67% are either spending the same or more on gifts compared to last year, with many even willing to go over budget in order to find a perfect gift for their family.
What does this mean for experience-based brands this Christmas?
The excitement to spend time with loved ones paired with the demand for Christmas gifts, unlocks a great opportunity for experience-based brands this festive season. There is a huge market to tap into but this also comes with its challenges, and brands need to tread carefully both in terms of their offerings and how they communicate with potential consumers.
From our research, we found four main considerations for brands looking to sell experience-based products this Christmas:
- Keep communications upbeat and fun but beware of appearing out of touch with reality. People are looking to brands for escapism and optimistic messaging this Christmas which doesn’t reflect back on the past year. However, brands need to balance this with acknowledgement of current financial pressures to build and maintain relationships with consumers.
- Focus on shared experiences. Our survey found spending time with loved ones is the top reason for buying an experience. We also found Excitement, Relaxation and Joy are the top three feelings people seek out through experiences. Brands need to harness this to show consumers how their experience will provide the above and guarantee long-lasting, fun memories. For example, this year, Winter Wonderland’s campaign video placed a heavier emphasis on showing people having a good time with their family and friends, and less on the attractions. This choice is echoed in their slogan: “Moments together, memories forever…”
- Highlight value for money. In the face of consumers’ highly selective purchasing decisions, competition for business is fierce. It’s more crucial than ever this year for brands to show how they can stand out from their competitors.
- Provide flexible scheduling and attendance options. Scheduling difficulties is one of the top barriers to purchasing experiences as gifts. Easing customers’ worries about when and how they can enjoy the experience (e.g. re-scheduling options, gift vouchers) can help to encourage purchases.
With the countdown now on to the 25th December, there is a lot of excitement around a restriction-free Christmas. Although the cost of living crisis is casting a shadow over the country, Christmas is definitely not cancelled. By navigating through consumers economic challenges whilst remaining optimistic, brands have a huge opportunity to deliver unforgettable experiences to consumers this Christmas.