Retail

Making Marketplaces For Experiences

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Millennials, the conventional wisdom goes, are far more into experiences than they are into buying things. Some of that, according to Joshua Becker, who authors the blog Becoming Minimalist, is actually just a new statement of an ongoing issue in American society. One of the recurring themes in American capitalism, he said, is the periodic fear that this next generation just isn’t doing its part, commercially speaking, and spending enough.

But, he noted, in the case of millennials some of that fear is not just the same old alarm. The generation that entered adulthood attempting to simultaneously clear the dual hurdles of record levels of student loan debt and an entirely stalled economy, he said, is in some ways thinking very differently about commerce than even its older siblings in Generation X.

“This long-term worry is far more significant and can be summarized in one sentence: Millennials don’t want to buy stuff,” Becker said.

There is some element of truth in that statement. Millennials are somewhat less likely to buy certain goods that were popular with their forebears — and that is a wide range of things, including diamond engagement rings, canned tuna and beer. But the apocalyptic headlines (of which there are no shortage) tend to create something of a false impression of the average millennial customer. Millennials are happy to buy “stuff” if experiences and travel are included in the definition.

IfOnly seeks to meet that need in the market with what it calls its marketplace for unique experiences — a listing of thousands of bookable experiences for its adventuresome users in cities around the U.S.

What falls under the heading of a unique experiences ranges quite widely. On the less expensive end of the spectrum are things one might expect to see on any number of marketplaces serving up experiences (Airbnb and Fixers are two of the more prominent names in the game) — dinners custom-paired with wine by course, walking tours, hiking excursions. Then there are the more exotic experiences that truly fall under the sub-heading of unique: walking the red carpet with Chris Helmsworth, a Bruno Mars ticket package that includes a pre-show reception with the artist in Las Vegas front row seats, a meet and greet with KISS on their latest farewell tour. As one might expect, the price tag goes up the more genuinely once-in-a-lifetime the experience gets — and for the more luxurious and exotic packaging options, prices on the site quickly span to thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.

But what the user gets, no matter what level of package they book, and what IfOnly markets as its main selling tool, is the same ease of use and white-gloved experiences in making that purchase.

No matter what, InOnly’s spokesperson said, it should feel “as though a concierge is taking care of you.”

The space IfOnly operates in is getting increasingly competitive, particularly as more travel platforms like Airbnb are adding on activity booking as part of their greater services menu. But the firm remains confident because of what it calls its unrivaled quality control on the activities. All of the “luminaries” on the marketplace listing experiences are fully vetted before their listing can appear. Other sites might offer the activity, but not necessarily guarantees about how it will go once the user gets there.

Moreover, competition in the field is not a bad thing. Shortly after securing $20 million in Series D funding a little over a year ago, the firm’s newly appointed CEO John Boris said that in some ways, competition is a form of encouragement for the firm.

“It legitimizes that there’s a multibillion-dollar market here,” he noted.

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