Consumer Love Shifts from Experiences to eCommerce

Kimberly Surico |
 01/08/21 |
5 min read

Consumer Love Shifts from Experiences to eCommerce 

As we kick off 2021, one consumer intelligence purchase pattern is clear: people who were spending money on ‘experiences’ instead of things have redirected those funds toward other pursuits. Some have used it for essentials, but many have directed it toward purchasing pandemic distractions. Consumer love has shifted from experiences to ecommerce.

We’ll go over how this shift began and its impact on ecommerce, such as:

  • Why consumers loved “experiences” over things pre-pandemic
  • An emotional shift – consumer sentiments before the pandemic and after
  • Consumers replacing their first love with leveled-up ecommerce

Market intelligence statistics of interest here include:

  • 60% of interactions with brands are online
  • The market value of board games for 2020 is 9.27 billion
  • In Q2 of 2020, 11.6 billion dollars was spent on gaming in the U.S. alone


Experiences as Consumers’ First Love

As we ended 2019, it was established that a whopping 76% of consumers preferred to spend their money on “experiences” over things. And brands were increasingly making efforts to accommodate this emerging trend. From theatre to travel, experiences were the new ‘it’ toy or new car.


So, what do experiences offer? According to A wonderful life: experiential consumption and the pursuit of happiness by Thomas Gilovich, experimental purchases provide greater satisfaction by:

  • Enhancing social relations more effectively than material goods
  • Developing a bigger part of a person’s identity
  • Evaluating experiences on your own terms with fewer social comparisons

Taking a more intimate approach with consumers became a must for brands in 2019. And then 2020 caused companies to shift their gaze a bit. Though the consumer experience is still paramount, the definition of “experiences’ has adapted to meet the need of the new pandemically altered consumer.

Brands are tracking sentiments using consumer intelligence to discover emerging trends – ensuring they are with their customer every step of the purchase path. And monitoring social media is smart, as over 74% of consumers depend on social media to guide them when making purchase decisions.

So, how has COVID-19 changed the way consumers think about experiences though – beyond being stuck inside? Let’s travel back in time to visualize the consumer intelligence shift.

COVID Changed the Game

The pandemic put everyone in a mood. More so than ever before, emotions, which have become consumers’ driving force behind what they want, were all over the map and unpredictable. And the idea of paying for experiences shifted from trips and outings to paying for services and products that either kept consumers safe or has helped them feel less isolated. And this consumer crowd was not easy to please.

Using market intelligence, we can sort our conversation around ‘experiences’ into buckets of sentiment to demonstrate how it drives the conversation. Our timeline below has bars ordered by date and conversations sectioned by positive, negative and neutral sentiments. Each sentiment is labeled by percentage, with number of posts at the top of each bar. This information is helpful for determining how experiences are viewed over all – and it’s a positive win.


However, visually present are the dips and spikes in these columns. For example, in March of 2020, when the pandemic hit the U.S. in full force, there is a decline in experience-oriented conversation, with positive sentiment resting at 55%, and negative rising to 14%.

Exploring the bars, we can see part of what caused this shift in attitude. On the left, this post from October 2019 is about craving new adventures with our pets. However, as time moves into our pandemically altered world – conversations take a negative turn with people trying to remain positive as an unsure future loomed. It wasn’t just about staying inside, but changing every previously positive habit that brought them joy:


And brands left in the lurch were forced to shift quickly to accommodate the new consumer intelligence, as ecommerce experienced a surge. And the dislike of ‘things’ began to shift, as consumers were left with little else to do.


Favorite Experiences Include More ‘Things’

2020 was an opportunity for ecommerce to take the wheel, which made sense as 60% of interactions with brands have been online. And in February and April 2020, internet sales rose from 19.0% of total sales to 30.2%.

The pandemic has encouraged a “back to basics” approach, with people experiencing things, yes – but in smaller, contained units and more focused on specific interests.

For example, in Britain learning a new language, gardening and physical activity such as Yoga were emerging trends. Other creative choices around the world have been experimental crafting or physical competition. However, also on the rise worldwide is gaming, and not just video games – though we’ll get into that as well. But the classic board game is seeing a revival.

Market Intelligence reveals conversation clusters that talk about board games in the last year. Each segment is interactive for deeper exploration:


We’ve highlighted the top three market intelligence clusters for a sampling of this. Titles stick out such as 30 Games to Play During Quarantine with Family, New Board Game Café Business and The Best Online Board Games of 2020. This sampling is a great example of board games’ reach. Not only are they experiencing a new-found fan club, but they allow participants to engage with them online and attend socially distanced board game cafés as well, countering the isolation weighing so many people down.

Board Games to the Rescue

The conversations around board games is significant. Statistics show that in 2020 the market value of board games alone is 9.27 billion. And destined to increase. Pulling from the clusters above we see popular family games, such as Exploding Kittens and Labyrinth, have experienced a surge in sales. And good news for consumers, many games can be played via Zoom:


COVID-19 has encouraged a more niche environment all around. It’s more about connecting with family and in small online and (safely) in-person groups around shared interests. Of course, online gaming, or video games fit very neatly in this new dynamic.

And there’s good news, Oxford University found people who play more video games reported greater well-being than those who had lower playtime. Combine that news with the fact that in Q2 of 2020 11.6 billion dollars was spent on gaming in the US alone, hopefully helping those struggling with depression to lessen its affects.

And it seems to be doing just that: consumer intelligence shows us that gaming is playing savior when it comes to consumer emotions right now. The summary metrics below show a net sentiment of 63% across 3,746,206 posts. This is quite good as it’s measured on a scale from -100 to 100:


Clicking on any of the peaks and valleys leads us to posts elaborating why any given sentiment exists. For example, the user below was drawn in by the graphics of a game but stayed to play. It’s this type of post which tells companies what they are doing right (or wrong) with their UX. That’s super important intel for any brand, but particularly a video game maker:


And they can also explain where you may be missing the mark. Below this user explains they love the video game CyberPunk 2077 which raked in $500 million just in pre-orders. However, this user is also dissatisfied and has a number of complaints for the senior game designer, Andrew Zawadzki. And it seems CyberPunk 2077 has its hands full with a good number of user concerns, so it’s good to catch them – and address them – early:


One post has the power to echo across thousands of consumers’ social media platforms, after all. What are your consumers saying about you? And what will be the next emerging trend for “experiences” in these current and post-pandemic days?

Stay in the know with the best-in-class market and consumer intelligence – reach out for a demo!


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