Retail

Marketplaces For Once-In-A-Lifetime Experiences

If Only

Luminaries such as professional athletes want to offer once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to consumers, but they have to get the word out and accept bookings before they provide them with unforgettable experiences. Marketplaces like IfOnly seek to take the manual aspect out of booking unique experiences – a task that once might have required a concierge – along with everyday experiences that consumers might find on other platforms. The idea is to offer a white-glove service “that feels like a concierge is taking care of you,” IfOnly VP of Marketing Katelyn Watson told PYMNTS.com in an interview.

Sites like IfOnly offer thousands of experiences, ranging from walking tours to paragliding from influencers IfOnly calls luminaries. Experiences that have a fixed date and time, such as a concert, can be booked like a room on a home-sharing site. Other experiences, however, require human interaction because of price or complexity. In those cases, platforms have a fulfillment team to help. In addition, sites like IfOnly also have a conversational platform that allows guests and luminaries to talk: If a luminary is hosting a food experience, for example, a guest might need to communicate his or her dietary needs.

Marketplaces can attract millennials, as that demographic group is more likely to value experiences over other target markets. But in the case of IfOnly and similar sites, the experiences are typically priced at the premium level. The average order value for local experiences on IfOnly is $400 – and more once-in-a-lifetime experiences can average about $2,000. As a result, IfOnly’s customer base is typically customers over age 35 without children.

In terms of focus, IfOnly is working to help customers discover their own cities. The hope is that after experiencing a local activity, travelers will use IfOnly in other cities they may visit. Either way, experiences on such sites can be rather unique: In San Francisco, for example, the site has an experience to meet a red panda at the zoo with the zookeeper. “You can’t do that if you were just going to the zoo,” Watson noted.

Friends and Gift Giving

When consumers do book an experience, they pay by credit card. But sites like IfOnly have unique payment features: IfOnly, for example, allows customers to buy experiences with friends: They can pay for their portions of experiences and send an invite to friends so they can “go Dutch” and split the cost. Once enough people pay for the experience, their events are then scheduled. “This helps take away the friction from rallying your friends and getting them together,” Watson said, adding, though, that a challenge with the feature is the inherent fact that people don’t like to plan. But people do like to give gifts. (The site also has a giving-back component, through which a portion of an event’s proceeds are donated to the charity of the luminary’s choice.)

IfOnly and similar sites, for example, have found that people really like to give experiences as gifts. As a result, they seek to reduce the hurdles through gift giving by allowing customers to check out with gift purchases. Through this type of sale, customers can send a redemption link to the recipient, and “it takes away lot of the friction in booking, mainly around the scheduling and fulfillment process,” Watson said. One hurdle, however, is that some people like to give something tangible, to put something in a recipient’s hand. As a result, IfOnly crafted a unique solution: It allows gift givers to upgrade their purchase to include a gift box with a gift certificate.

And experiences as gifts are often popular with recipients: According to an IfOnly survey, about two-thirds or 67 percent of respondents preferred an experience over a traditional gift certificate. The same percentage of respondents said they would feel more thankful for receiving an experience than a physical present. In addition, about eight in 10, or 81 percent, of respondents believed experiences would be more memorable than any other kind of gift. With these preferences in mind, platforms like IfOnly see gifts as an opportunity – not just for the December holidays, but also for occasions like Valentine’s Day. Through these marketplaces, consumers can book hard-to-find experiences for a holiday or another occasion without having to seek out a concierge.

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