It has been said that spending money on experiences makes people far happier than spending money on material things. For instance, travelling to visit new places and having new experiences has been said to be the only thing one spends money on that makes the one rich. Many people would agree to this assertion. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology proposed that the reason for this is because experiences tend to be shared more than material goods.
For instance, if you were to spend money to go watch a football match, it is more likely that you will go with someone or there will be other spectators to share the experience with. However, if you were to spend money to buy the most expensive mobile phone, it would be weird to share the mobile phone with someone. The phone will be yours and yours alone to enjoy. The above-referred study, titled, “To do, to have, or to share? Valuing experiences over material possessions depends on the involvement of others” was emphatic that adding others to an experience was the sole reason why experiences were better than material goods.
Truly, many would agree that having a solo experience and coming back with stories is not as exciting as sharing that experience with a companion or companions. It is generally believed that experiences are best enjoyed when shared. Nothing beats having someone to share an experience with.
This is why watching football, or any other sports game, on television alone at home is not as exciting as watching it with friends. The arguments, the verbal jabs, the raucous at critical junctures in the game, etc. creates an atmosphere that would be very difficult to replicate when one is all alone at home. Who watches an UEFA Champions League Final or a World Cup Final all alone at home?
The beauty of sharing an experience is that you get to compare your experiences with the one sharing the experience with you. And if both of you had an equally-good time or if both of you have the same evaluation about the experience, then your experience becomes even better. However, a problem arises when one of you believed the experience was good but the other individual has a different evaluation. Then in that case, both parties might not find the experience as exciting.
It is also true that there are certain experiences that if one is seen enjoying alone, the one would be viewed in a negative light by society. You might be viewed as an anti-social person if you are often seen visiting certain places all by yourself. People would begin to wonder if you have any friends or relatives at all. Therefore, going out to share an experience with another person can help alleviate the stress from being perceived as anti-social or socially disconnected.
There was another study that concluded that there was actually no difference in the happiness level between shared and solo experiences. In an August 2015 edition of the Journal of Consumer Research, researchers inferred that customers normally overestimate how much they will enjoy a particular experience because they are accompanied by a companion. That study was titled “Inhibited from Bowling Alone”.
So there is evidently no conclusive result when it comes to shared experiences. On one side, there is the popular view that shared experiences are more enjoyable and then there is the other argument that it does not really matter whether the experience is shared or not. However, there is also a third view—that sharing experiences actually makes the experience less enjoyable.
A November 2006 publication in the Journal of Marketing Research found that in sharing experiences, the opinions of others have an effect on how individuals enjoyed the experience. Titled “Is Happiness Shared Doubled and Sadness Shared Halved? Social Influence on Enjoyment of Hedonic Experiences,” this study found that when a companion says something positive about the experience, the customer enjoys the experience the more. However, if the customer’s companion has a negative impression of the experience, the customer tends to find the experience less enjoyable.
According to another study titled, “Navigating Shared Consumption Experiences: Clarity About a Partner’s Interests Increases Enjoyment”, published in the April 2021 edition of Journal of Marketing Research (JMR), there are many reasons why sharing an experience is not as great as we have been made to believe. This study found that when the two people enjoying the experience have no clarity regarding their individual interests, the experience becomes less enjoyable.
In a field experiment conducted for that particular study, two individuals visited an art exhibition. One was really looking forward to the experience but was not too sure if the companion had the same expectation or interest. Suffice to say, at the exhibition, the interested individual did not enjoy the experience. At every art piece, she was unsure of the time she had to spend admiring each piece because she was not sure if she and her companion had the admiration of that piece. In other words, by not being on the “same page”, these two individuals had different experience at the event. Things would have been far better if they had had a discussion about their expectations of the experience before entering that art exhibition.
It is asserted that anything that takes away the attention of customer during an experience will also have a deleterious effect on the one’s experience. This is especially true when the companion sharing the experience is new to the experience. If the partner in the experience needs to have the entire experience explained to him or her, then there is bound to be a problem.
You can imagine how uncomfortable it would be if you took someone to a game the one has no idea of. If you had to explain everything to the one, how would you enjoy the experience? How can you concentrate on an experience if you are having to give a lecture to someone else about that experience? If you are to explain every scene of a movie with someone you went to the movies with, chances are, you might not enjoy the experience much.
Scientists refer to this as “social coordination”—a process of timing one’s actions to sync with the actions of the one’s companion. Because social coordination takes time and energy, it takes away from the experience of the one doing the coordination. The only time social coordination does not become a problem is when it is expected. When the one doing the coordination entered the experience knowing full well that he or she was going to have to coordinate his or her actions with that of the companion, then the experience is a bit more manageable.
From the above, it is clear that for an experience such as visiting the art exhibition, having a guide would have greatly helped the experience. This is important for businesses engaged in offering such experiences. Providing help in the form of a guide would be most helpful in giving customers a fantastic experience. Having a guide should not only be for tours. Businesses with showrooms exhibiting various items, from electronic appliances to even shoes, should have “guides” that take customers through the experience. These customer-handling individuals should always be alert. Customers who come in with companions must be treated in such a way that the experience of both parties is on the same level.
But why is this important? Why is it important for businesses to know whether shared experiences are better than solo experiences? Simple. The more enjoyable an experience, the greater the chances of the customer coming back often for more, which translates into more sales for the business. When customers enjoy an experience, they will tell others about it, who will also tell others, if they enjoy the service. In short, an enjoyable experience makes the business more money and is vital for the success of the business. Therefore, anything that will stand in the way of a customer having a great experience must be looked at.
It is important for businesses that provide service experiences, where there is a tendency for individuals to come in the company of friends or family, to understand the dynamics of shared experiences. For instance, if a customer comes in with another person, the business must understand that the views of that person has a potential of affecting how the customer enjoys the experience. In short, the companion of a customer must be treated as customer because, he or she is. Smart businesses know that the companion is as much a customer as the original customer and so they would pull out all the stops to ensure that both customer and companion are given the best of services.
In effect, the way front line employees treat single customers should differ from the way they treat customers who come in pairs. The solo customer’s experience might be markedly different from that of the customer who comes in with companions. Whereas with solo experiences, the evaluation and subsequent validation is by the same individual; in the case of shared experiences, things are different. If one individual says the service was great and a companion, or all other companions, says the service was bad, there is a problem—a problem that can come back to haunt the business in question.