Values and authenticity key in the ‘experience economy’

Blake Gladman

Issues like sustainability and ethical stance are increasingly important to today’s shoppers when choosing which stores to use in the so-called ‘experience economy’, and will become even more so in the future – so how well do you live your ideals and how well do you communicate them to your customers?

by Blake Gladman

If you consider all the factors at play when consumers decide upon which brand to buy, what retailer to shop at or what restaurant to go to for dinner, the usual suspects spring to mind: price, range, quality, availability, value for money, speed or service, customer service, atmosphere and so on. Yet there are other factors that are becoming increasingly important to today’s shoppers and these aren’t factors that local retailers don’t necessarily see as key. According to our research, around half of consumers now consider the brand’s approach to health, the environment and its ethical stance as major factors in influencing their decision, and these factors are becoming more important to consumers as time goes by.

Think of it like psychologist Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’. When the basic ones such as price, quality, customer service and so on have been established and compared, then comes the psychological and self-fulfilling needs. This is where the ethics and ideals of the business in question come into play.

Live your ideals

However, establishing your ethical and sustainable credentials and communicating them to shoppers isn’t as easy as just posting something on Facebook or running an advert saying you care about the environment. You need to ‘live’ your ideals in order to truly resonate with consumers of today.

In a lot of ways, they see brands the same way they see their friends: they feel a close personal connection with them because they share so much with them and know so much about them in return. Everything a brand does – from how it treats its staff to how it disposes of its waste and how it interacts with the local communities in which it operates – is all, somehow or another, in the public domain, and it’s by these actions that consumers measure a company, not by what it says in its adverts.

But don’t forget that what’s good for the environment and good for the community also tends to be good for business. We all like to spend more time with people we like, respect and who share the same values as us. It’s no different when it comes to the companies we choose to spend our time and money with. Actively engaging with the local community and proactively contributing to good causes and publicly driving home your ethical credentials are great ways to show your customers that they should want to give you their business.

Authenticity matters

The key, however, is that it must be authentic. Nurturing and maintaining authenticity is a sure-fire way to gain credibility and loyalty but, more importantly, a lack of authenticity or worse – trying to fake it – is a one-way ticket to the bottom of the pile.

If you’re not there yet but have a desire to get there, then don’t worry – start the journey now and make sure you share that journey with your customers. They want the real you, warts and all. This is key – customers know we live in a world that isn’t perfect so to see a retailer acting as if they operate within a perfect world immediately rings alarms bells and gives off an aura of inauthenticity.

The way to truly connect with today’s consumer is to embrace the challenges you face, embrace the mistakes you make and to celebrate your successes with them. Just as a friend would do.

Get social

The beauty of the modern connected world is that it is easier than ever to bring your customers into your world and share your journey with them. Consumers of today are more knowledgeable about global issues and more aware about the impact they, and the businesses they use, have on the wider world. The biggest driver of this change is by far and away, social media. Some 67% of the UK population are active social media users – who spend on average 1hr 50 mins per day scrolling, liking, commenting and sharing.

The medium has opened the everyday consumer’s eyes to the impact that ‘bad behaviour’ is having on our environment – from images of plastic-filled oceans, vast deforestation, food wastage on the streets, low-paid supply chains, and unfair treatment of staff. Not only can people see more readily and vividly the impact of their actions and the actions of businesses, but they can ‘show off’ the positive changes that they are making – be it ditching a plastic straw, using a reusable coffee cup or marching for the campaign against climate change.

Make a difference

We all believe we can make a positive change and make an impact. This for me is the key to responsible retailing in terms of connecting it with the consumer. As it’s very hard for a consumer to engage with calls to ‘help stop climate change’ or ‘improve the healthy eating habits of the nation’. Keep it simple, keep it actionable and if it’s ‘shareable’ then you’ve got the holy grail.

For example, the UK is likely to be throwing away about 295 billion pieces of plastic every year, much of which cannot be recycled. A huge issue. However, there are very simple things that retailers and consumers can do which directly tackle this issue and can make a tangible difference. Reducing unnecessary use of plastic packaging in-store, banning plastic carrier bags, encouraging use of reusable cups and deposit return schemes are all actions that can be implemented by retailers and consumers.

Iceland was the first major retailer to commit to removing plastic packaging from its own-label range of products, but it certainly won’t be the last. Independent retailer Andrew Thornton – who owns Budgens store in Belsize Park, London – now offers more than 1,800 SKUs of plastic-free packaged products. Store sales are up, and every retailer is looking at this store as their inspiration for the future. What five years ago would have been seen as madness is now revolutionary.

Keep it achievable

Responsible retailing is about tackling the big issues of our time, but if we don’t start with achievable goals we won’t get the engagement of our consumers and without them we won’t be able to go on the journey together. Keep it simple, keep it actionable and make it shareable – as this will create the impact in order to make an impact.

The overarching theme is one in which we collectively need to be clear that as consumer-facing businesses, we are selling solutions and experiences. We are no longer selling products. Retail has moved away from a commodities business and into a hospitality business. Convenience is no longer about store formats, size or the range of products you have, it’s about how easy and relevant the experience is to your shoppers. We are all living and operating within the ‘experience economy’.

The term was first coined by Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore in 1998 through their book of the same name and outlined the move from shifting ‘stuff’ to connecting with customers on a more emotional level. This trend has of course been popular with industry experts and analysts for many years now – the experience economy being, essentially, the next global economy following on from the industrial and, most recently, service economies. Latest figures show we are continuing to spend less money on buying things, and more on doing things – and telling the world about it online afterwards, of course. From pubs to shops, businesses are scrambling to adapt to this shift.

Opportunity abounds

The beauty is that there is so much opportunity out there for retailers to embrace the experience economy – immersive technology, local craft produce, social engagement, digital media – all these tools are at our disposal to create the feeling of a meaningful relationship between brand and buyer, online and offline. Plus, there is a customer out there who is craving these experiences and just waiting to share them on social media. Businesses already dealing in experiences are enhancing them to benefit from this shifting economy.

Blake Gladman is Strategy and Insight Director at KAM Media and spoke at SLR’s recent Sustainability in Local Retail conference. If you are you looking to understand how your business can benefit from the experience economy or want to know more about sustainability and other future consumer trends, get in touch at