Retail Reflections: Shopping & ‘The Experience’ economy

Alan Monahan writes: I warmed even more to Sam Delaney – one of my favourite newspaper reviewers – when he told Sky viewers the other day that he still bought “stuff” rather than spending his money on “experiences”.


Like me, he probably enjoys shopping for himself – and others – although I’m also not averse to savouring the occasional ‘experience’, be it a visit to the cinema or trip to the theatre.

If you haven’t already twigged, the phrase ‘the experience economy’ is now the new black – so beloved by researchers who just can’t stop talking about it. Essentially, it means that nowadays lots of people prefer to do stuff rather than buy stuff, which isn’t good news for retailers.

The people at Barclaycard, which processes nearly half of the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, were the latest to jump on the bandwagon.

They told us that although shoppers were still willing to loosen their purse strings when it came to spending on ‘the experience economy’, growth in discretionary categories slowed overall last month – up 3.7% in comparison to March’s 4.8% – while entertainment remained a bright spot (up 15%) as Brits took advantage of the bank holiday weekend to dine out with friends and family in pubs and restaurants.

As you might expect, DIY stores and garden centres also performed strongly, rising 26.6% and 7.7% respectively, as shoppers took advantage of the ‘mini-heatwave’ early on in the month to spruce up their homes and gardens.

Research undertaken for Barclaycard amongst consumers found that a ‘business as usual’ approach to spending is likely to continue in many categories. Four in 10 say that the value of the pound will not affect their summer holiday plans, and one in five intend to spend more on ‘experiences’ – here we go again – rather than physical things (stuff) in May.

There is evidence of a broader fall in perceived spending power as a result of inflationary pressures, with just over half of Brits indicating they feel confident in their household finances – down from 70% who said the same in March.

I was interested to see technology and payments business Visa report that April saw the first fall in consumer spending online for nearly four years as belt-tightening begins to bite. If they’re not doing it already, it’s time for brick and mortar retailers – with or without a digital presence – to create their own in-store ‘experiences’ to counter the expected slowdown and  make the most of occasions such as Father’s Day, which falls next month.

Congratulations to former John Lewis boss Andy Street, who has been elected mayor of the West Midlands. He is, no doubt, a frequent visitor to his old firm’s striking new store in Birmingham. I do hope that if he pops into its café he doesn’t have to wait as long as I did for a cup of coffee which, when it did arrive, wasn’t a patch on that served up by the ubiquitous Costa – and considerably more expensive.

Finally, I’m told that the Bitcoin has now been approved as a legal means of payment in Japan, where there is strong demand for the cryptocurrency. Apparently, it hit an all-time high of £1,084 earlier this month.  I’ve no doubt that it has its converts here: call me old-fashioned, but I’m just not one of them.


Pictured is Today young musician, Cubby Howard, a pianist with the Greater Manchester Jazz Orchestra, who appeared at Barton Grange garden centre in February. Garden centres are the kings of experience shopping.