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The Experience Economy

The Experience Economy, according to B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore in their 1999 book of the same name, is an advanced service economy which has begun to sell "mass customization" services that are similar to theatre, using underlying goods and services as props.

Businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers, they argue, and that memory itself becomes the product - the "experience". More advanced experience businesses can begin charging for the value of the "transformation" that an experience offers, e.g. as education offerings might do if they were able to participate in the value that is created by the educated individual. This, they argue, is a natural progression in the value added by the business over and above its inputs.

Five ways of marketing a product or service

A core argument is that because of technology, increasing competition, and the increasing expectations of consumers, services today are starting to look like commodities. Products can be placed on a continum from undifferentiated (refered to as commodities) to highly differentiated. Just as service markets build on goods markets which in turn build on commodity markets, so transformation and experience markets build on these newly commoditized services, e.g. Internet bandwidth, consulting help.

The classification for each stage in the evolution of products is:

Proceeding to the next stage more or less requires giving away products at the more commodified level. For instance, to charge for service, e.g. new car warranties, one must be prepared to give away new cars to replace 'lemons'. And, to charge for transformations, one must be prepared to risk there being no payment for the time you spend working with customers who don't "transform".

Pine and Gilmore draw on Walt Disney, AOL, Nordstrom, Starbucks, Saturn and IBM as examples.


Their thesis has been criticized as an example of an over-hyped business philosophy arising from or in the dotcom boom and a rising economy in the U.S that was tolerant of high prices, inflated claims, and no limitations of supply - or investment. Detracters contrast it with other service economy theses such as Natural Capitalism, in which there is a clear focus on making measurably better use of scarce resources, usually considered to be the basis of economics. They claim service management should stress effeciency more than effectiveness.

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