According to the business consultant, Joseph Pine, there has been a fundamental change going on in the fabric of our modern economy. If you work in retail it’s something to be aware of because it is at the heart of what modern consumers really want from retailers.
In the beginning our economy was based primarily on things that come out of the ground. For example, before greeting cards or paper, we harvested trees for timber and sold it on the open marketplace. Commodities like minerals, animals and vegetables were the basis of the agrarian economy that lasted for millennia.
During the Industrial Revolution goods became the primary economic offering. Goods like paper and card were manufactured using commodities like timber as a raw material. Over time, goods have become commoditised and people don’t care who makes them. They care only about price.
There's an antidote to commoditisation and that is customisation. Customising a good automatically turns it into a service. Henry Cole needed a more efficient way than writing individual letters to connect with friends at Christmas and so the first greeting cards were commissioned. Over time some services can be commoditised as well. If all designs on cards stayed the same and fashions didn’t exist then that is what would happen with cards too and people would only care about who sold them the cheapest.
When you customise a service that is so appropriate to a particular person at that moment in time you can't help, but make them go ‘wow’. It turns it into a memorable event and becomes an experience. Think of a beautiful greeting card shop, Disneyland or boutique hotels. Experiences are what consumers most want these days and they want them to be authentic.
Some people like to differentiate between levels of authenticity. They might say that Disneyland is less authentic than hiking through the mountains or that spot UV printed cards on ensocoat feel less authentic than letter pressed cards made with GF Smith colourplan. The truth is there is no such thing as an inauthentic experience because experiences happen inside of us. They are our reactions to the events staged before us.
You could also argue that there is no truly natural authentic experience for, even if you go for a walk in the woods, there is a company that manufactured the shoes you walk in, your phone, the car you got there in. These are all manmade ‘artificial’ elements brought into the woods by you.
In the new experience economy, authenticity has now become the new consumer sensibility and the buying criteria by which we choose who we buy from and what we are going to buy.
If you can look at how each of these economies developed you can see the imperative or business focus that is needed to meet the need of the consumer sensibility:
What’s needed now is the ability to render an authentic experience, because you have to get consumers to perceive your offering as authentic.