Special Session Summary Consuming Experiences and Experiencing Consumption: It's Not What You Consume But How You Consume It


Ruth Ann Smith (1996) ,"Special Session Summary Consuming Experiences and Experiencing Consumption: It's Not What You Consume But How You Consume It", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 311.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, 1996      Page 311



Ruth Ann Smith, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The basic premise of this special session was that consumption episodes give rise to experiences that are purposefully sought by consumers. The three presentations focused on research pertaining to experiences deriving from different types of consumption episodes, as summarized below.



Linda Scott, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana

Scott's remarks focused on social critics who condemn experience-seeking consumption. Charges that consumption of experience as an end in itself is "meaningless," that pleasure is "obscene," and that abundance is "degrading" have been used to condemn such consumption experiences as the purchase and use of luxuries, recreation, and self-expressive acts like using make-up. Scott contended that these criticisms reflect an ideology based in Puritanism, Christian asceticism, Enlightenment economics, and class and ethnic prejudice.

She challenged this view of "moral" consumption on the grounds that its focus on basic material needs, rather than spiritual needs, devalues the best in what is human. She further contended that legitimate needs for self-expression are limited by this view in which the only acceptable consumption is that necessary for subsistence. Third, she argued that this perspective characterizes as "irrational" and "aberrant" consumer behaviors occurring with such frequency as to suggest that it is the definitions of rationality and aberrance that are inappropriate, rather than the behaviors. Finally, she provided evidence that this view is a moral smoke screen used to oppress marginal groups. She advocated a new view of consumption-as-process, in which consumption is conceptualized as experience-seeking, self-expression, and personal development, rather than consumption-as-outcome.



Peter H. Bloch and John L. Stockmyer, University of Missouri

Product enthusiasm, which represents the highest level of consumer involvement, has traditionally been cast as having an object focus and providing experiences that are sought as an end in themselves. In this investigation of car enthusiasts, Bloch and Stockmyer provide evidence that enthusiasts are not monolithic with respect to their experiences with a product category. Rather, their findings indicate that these experiences differ across enthusiasts and that the experience of an enthusiast changes through time.

Based on a survey of approximately 200 car enthusiasts, Bloch and Stockmyer identified six clusters (aesthetic, nostalgic, status/social, sensational, recreational, and stress-reducing) that differed in terms of the primary experience with cars. In some cases (e.g. the aesthetic cluster), the experiences were sought as an end in themselves, while in others (e.g. the status/social cluster) the experiences were socially instrumental. A comparison of the temporal duration of enthusiasm revealed a lifecycle such that an enthusiast may seek different experiences at various stages of the involvement with the product category.



Ruth Ann Smith, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Richard J. Lutz, University of Florida

Smith and Lutz proposed that experientialism is the experience-based counterpart to materialism and defined it following Richins and Dawson (1992) as a set of centrally held beliefs about the importance of experiences in one's life, and consisting of the three dimensions of centrality (beliefs that experiences are at the center of one's life), happiness (beliefs that experiences are essential to one's satisfaction and well-being), and success (beliefs that one's own and others' success is judged by the number and quality of experiences).

Two studies resulted in the development of a reliable (minimum subscale (a = .82) 18-item measure. A correlation of .53 between the experientialism and materialism happiness subscales suggested that both possessions and experiences are instruments to attaining happiness. Experientialism was also highly correlated with a value on excitement (Kahle 1983). Finally, the happiness subscale exhibited significant negative correlations with life satisfaction (Andrews & Withey 1976), indicating that consumption experiences, like objects, are used to reduce dissatisfaction with life.


Andrews, Frank M. and Stephen B. Withey (1976), Social Indicators of Well-Being: American's Perceptions of Life Quality, New York: Plenum.

Kahle, Lynn R., ed. (1983), Social Values and Social Change: Adaptation to Life in America, New York: Praeger.

Richins, Marsha L. and Scott Dawson (1992), "A Consumer Values Orientation for Materialism and Its Measurement: Scale Development and Validation," Journal of Consumer Research, 19 (December), 303-316.



Ruth Ann Smith, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23 | 1996

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