Eat, drink and pay merry: the experience economy at Christmas

Eat, drink and pay merry: the experience economy at Christmas

From new trends in gifting to the unique experiences lighting up the 2019 holiday season, we take a look at the experience economy with a festive twist...



Christmas is a time for giving - or is it? As the experience economy continues to go from strength to strength, it seems more and more of us are moving away from gifts under the tree in favour of gifting moments and memories. We’re also making more of the season with friends and family, spending time attending ever more novel and creative festive experiences.

All I want for Christmas 

The way we give gifts is evolving. Interestingly, we’re seeing the ‘got it all’ generation adopting an increasingly back to basics approach to the festive season; in 2018 Barclaycard research revealed Brits were planning to spend around £1.6bn on experience gifts at Christmas - up 155 per cent on 2017. Why? The same survey found that almost half of shoppers worry that friends and family will receive the same gift twice (46 per cent) – and 36 per cent fear they won’t be able to find the perfect present. With top experience gifts including gig and theatre tickets, cookery courses and chef’s tables, afternoon teas and spa days, it seems Christmas shoppers are ditching the usual dressing gowns and aftershave in favour of lasting memories to be gifted and shared with the people they love. Spending an average of £129 per shopper according to Barclaycard, more adventurous experience options include themed escape rooms, gin distillery tours, ship simulators, street art tours and even survival courses for the more adventurous.

Give it to someone special

This growing trend in gift-giving ties in with another trend in the experience space. 2019 research from Barclaycard suggests Brits are spending as much as £965m a year forgoing their own entertainment preferences in favour of keeping a friend, family member or partner happy by attending an event for their benefit. Named the ‘Gigplomats’ in a phrase coined by Barclaycard, these generous souls cite making someone happy (50 per cent), attending in the name of love (43 per cent) and spending time with their loved ones (38 per cent) as the top reasons for attending events they might not go to otherwise. Over a third (34 per cent) of Brits admit to operating a ‘gig pro quo’ approach to live entertainment, agreeing to attend an event only if the favour is returned. Going to an event for someone else’s benefit isn’t as bad as it might sound; despite their initial reluctance, 68 per cent of respondents actually admit to enjoying these events, despite their expectations. Expect to see more tickets under the tree this year, and more confused boyfriends and girlfriends at live music gigs in 2020.

The new old-fashioned way 

For those who do decide to stick to Christmas gift shopping, the in-store experience is becoming increasingly important. For brands, winning the hearts of Christmas consumers relies on creating personalised experiences that draw shoppers into stores, and make them stand out from the crowd. And it works; according to Barclaycard, 52 per cent of consumers would choose to tell their peers about a memorable brand experience they have had rather than a purchase they’ve made. Earlier this year Barclaycard Payment Solutions teamed up with sports brand Decathlon, offering customers an experience where they could test their outdoor gear in a ‘microclimate pod’ simulating the conditions on Mount Snowdon. This experience was designed to help tackle the number of customers clicking but not collecting goods ordered online. With online shopping on the rise, it’s up to brands to entice shoppers in store, with added-value experiences one can only have in the physical world.

Just like the ones I used to know…

Christmas is prime time for the experience economy, as friends, families and couples gather together to soak up the atmosphere. Some of the best festive experiences are the ones that draw on the nostalgia and magic tied up in our childhood Christmas memories. Back in the eighties and nineties, a memorable childhood Christmas experience might have been limited to seeing Father Christmas at your school bazaar. Not so any more. With a focus on glittering sensory experiences that enhance that festive feeling for revellers of all ages, this year’s Christmas experiences are bigger, better and more innovative than our eight-year-old selves could have dreamed up. Think Victorian Christmases, up-all-night skate sessions and screenings of our favourite Christmas movies accompanied by a full symphony orchestra. The Telegraph recently published a list of this year’s best experiences for little people, including a codebreaking Christmas at Bletchley Park, the Unesco-listed Kents Cavern in Torquay and illuminations at Kew Gardens. Winter wonderland-style events are also becoming a huge trend in the UK. Following the success of the main event in Hyde Park, we’re seeing local events popping up all over, from National Trust-sponsored ‘light walks’ around the UK’s magnificent stately homes, to disco yoga and hidden cinemas on Clapham Common. 

Eat, drink and pay merry 

Innovation doesn’t have to mean augmented reality Christmas cards or singing postboxes from the Royal Mail. Sometimes it’s about appreciating the seamless payments technology that makes it all possible. As customers are moving towards brands that provide joy on tap, they are also demanding smoother, more straightforward transactions; if anything, how we pay is (ironically) becoming less of an experience. How does this work in the run-up to Christmas? Whether you’re off to Manchester or Lincoln, browsing the Christmas markets is a long-standing festive tradition. In 2019, payment innovations from Barclays are helping businesses like market stalls and food traders to trade more easily with customers out and about doing their Christmas shopping. Providers are also taking steps to give customers more control over their spend, such as adding controls and temporary card freezes to help out those who regularly leave their cards in shops, bars and restaurants.

For many of us, taking time out to relax with friends and family at Christmas time is the experience – everything else is just there to enhance. But with the ‘surprise and delight’ factor becoming more and more valuable, you can expect to see more events and fewer scents under the Christmas tree.