In 2019, billions of consumers live inside a supercharged merry-go-round of human experience.

You know how it goes. Yet another immersive, compelling, unique, in-person experience is launched. Cue yet more pictures, videos, stories, status updates. And each one a token that feeds the machine. Around we go again.

It used to be that going to a new restaurant or trying a new business class cabin was exciting. Now people are going skiing in the middle of Copenhagen on top of the world’s most advanced urban clean energy plant (more on that later).

And it isn’t just traditional experience providers that are fueling these new expectations. Today, it can feel like every pet shop, dentist and local accountant are competing to win in the Experience Economy.

WTF happened? And in this environment, where do you start when it comes to delighting your guests, diners, shoppers, passengers, visitors (need we go on)?

Always different, always the same…

The highly evolved Experience Economy of 2019 might feel dizzying. But press pause for a moment and it’s possible to get a handle on it. That starts with seeing how it’s founded on a few core, eternal truths about human nature.

Driving the endless search for new in-person experiences are a set of basic human needs that are as old as human beings themselves. The human needs for play, community, personalization, authenticity and more.

And, of course, the need for status. You can see that status quest – for a special story to tell oneself, and the crowd – in the frenetic search for yet another experience that is fresh, unique, cultured, anything to make people take notice. You can see it in the half a billion daily active users that Instagram Stories racked up in January 2019.

But once you understand that this avalanche of experiences all revolves, in the end, around basic human needs, you have the not-so-secret code. Then the question becomes: how can you create experiences that will tap into and serve those needs?

In this report we’re not going to run through the well-worn trends. You already know about ethical travel, immersive dining, and peer-led urban tours.

Instead, here are three powerful, actionable trends that give you a handle on where in-person customer experiences are heading next. Each one is a practical innovation opportunity. And each one could see you delight customers in the months ahead.

In 2019, automation and magical in-person customer experiences collide!

In-person experiences that repair and reimagine the social fabric.

Amazing experiences, minus the guilt.

Ready for an experience of your own? Let’s do this 🚀💪


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Automation Theater

In 2019, automation and magical in-person customer experiences collide!

We know what you're thinking. A briefing on the future of compelling in-person customer experiences, and we start with automation? Let us explain...

You already know that when it comes to asking a consumer to engage with you, there are two opposing paths to take. Either offer a super-efficient, automated process that is as fast and easy as possible, or offer a compelling and magical experience that consumers actively want to spend time on.

And for much of traditional CX across both digital and real world, that division holds true. Either be automated or be magical. Just look at the way this new Nike House of Innovation in NYC leverages a host of automation tech to deliver an efficient, personalized customer experience.

But this trend represents the twilight zone where the hard division between automated and magical experiences breaks down. Because AUTOMATION THEATER is about automation-fueled in-person experiences that are also immersive, compelling, and magical in their own right.

That means experiences that blend speed, precision or efficiency with playfulness and delight. Experiences consumers will travel to engage in, and spend significant time on.

So why is now the time to offer some automation and robot-fueled magic?

Humans of Earth. Across many markets around the world, millions are concerned that automation is ushering us towards a bleak future. For example, in a recent survey significant majorities across nine markets –including the US, Italy, Brazil and South Africa – said they believe automation will make economic inequality worse (Pew Research, September 2018). In this environment, and with a broader techlash still raging, brands that use automation tech to create magical, human-centred experiences will also make a powerful and reassuring statement about their values when it comes to technology: 'we are going to use automation for humans, not against them!'

Peak curiosity. Established and high-profile automated experiences such as the Amazon Go store and Alibaba's Tao Cafe, along with a host of Pepper-fueled hospitality concepts, have pushed 'in real life' automated consumerism into the awareness of large numbers of consumers. Although these technologies – especially robots – remain unfamiliar, consumers are super curious about them. A dose of AUTOMATION THEATER will indulge that curiosity, and help assuage the tech-anxiety discussed above. So go ahead, celebrate the robots; put them front and center!

Evolution of automagic. This trend might seem counterintuitive, but the truth is that consumers have already had a glimpse of how automation and magic can be blended. That is, via the kind of efficient digital services that automated a mundane task so effectively that the result felt automagical (for example, think about the ever so slightly magical feeling generated by auto-savings apps such as Digit). Now, those consumers will expect IRL experiences that offer the same blend of automation and magic. And yes, this is yet another example of online expectations transferring to the physical world.

So, ready to offer some AUTOMATION THEATER? First get inspired. 🤖

Featured Innovations

  • Ministry of Supply — In-store robot heat-shrinks clothes for perfect fit

    How about experiences that combine auto-personalization and a spectacle that's magical in its own right?

    December 2018 saw US apparel brand Ministry of Supply partner with the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT to create an experience that combines an in-store robotic arm and sweaters made out of a special fabric that shrinks when exposed to heat. Once a customer's measurements are taken, the robot will heat-shrink the sweater for a precise fit, right in front of the customer’s eyes.

    Swipe to see more innovations >>

  • Alibaba — Tech giant opens futuristic hotel

    This example deploys multiple examples of automation-fueled magic to give guests the feeling of staying in 'the hotel of the future'.

    In December 2018, Alibaba opened the FlyZoo hotel in Hangzhou. Guests check-in via podiums that employ facial recognition. Lifts and room doors are also operated via facial recognition. Robotic butlers can carry food and laundry to guest rooms. The hotel bar is equipped with a robotic arm can mix more than 20 different cocktails.

  • DAWN ver.β — Tokyo cafe staffed by robots controlled by disabled people

    What about a dose of AUTOMATION THEATER that also allows consumers to support values they deeply believe in?

    A café in Tokyo opened its doors in November 2018 for a trial run with its new recruits – robots wirelessly controlled by paralyzed people, using tablets or computers. Located in the headquarters of nonprofit Nippon Foundation, the DAWN ver.β café's robot waiters could take orders, bring customers food and drink and respond to any questions. A second trial was held in December 2018.

  • Engineered Arts — Robot is world's first AI portrait artist

    This robot is an installation art piece. But where art goes, commerce will soon follow ;)

    In February 2019, the UK-based Engineered Arts launched Ai-Da, Da: a robot artist. Cameras located behind Ai-Da’s eyes allow her to recognize human faces and a robotic arm that is capable of using a pencil allows her to draw the portrait of a person sitting in front of her. Ai-Da is also capable of eye contact, can mimic the facial expressions of a person interacting with her, and can speak using natural language. Her creators hope Ai-Da will be the world’s first 'AI ultra-realistic robot artist'.


We're not saying that every instance of automation in your business should become a piece of AUTOMATION THEATER: plenty of automation should be invisible.

But an automated future is coming. And this trend represents a powerful way for you to prove that you'll be using these technologies to help create a world that's delightful, not dystopian. Act quickly, though: in a few years the novelty of automation tech will have worn off for most consumers, and creating AUTOMATION THEATER will be much harder!

Step one when it comes to applying this trend? It’s about bridging the divide between automation and magic that exists inside your organization.

If you're thinking about delivering magical human experiences, talk to colleagues working on new tech and services that are intended to automate aspects of your customer process. How can you leverage the work on automation that's already happening inside your organization to deliver a some truly magical AUTOMATION THEATER?

Even if you're too small for all that to apply, you can still think about how to leverage automation tech to deliver a magical experience. And remember that you don't have to build these technologies yourself; off-the-shelf hacks can work to deliver some in-person THEATER. Like this NYC wine store that used Amazon Alexa to deliver instant wine recommendations to customers.

Last, take inspiration from the way artists and creatives are playing with AI and automation tech to delight and surprise their audiences. The Ai-Da may be a museum installation for now – but how long before every hotel lobby needs its own AI portrait artist?



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In-person experiences that repair and reimagine the social fabric.

In a distant possible future, humans can upload their mind to the cloud, and roam eternally across virtual landscapes...listening to very loud EDM.

We've all heard the futurist techno-blah. And there are genuine experience trends emerging in virtual spaces, too: more on that in our full report, available to clients of our Premium Service. But for now, we humans are incontrovertibly physical beings. We can't just exist; we have to exist somewhere.

And with the headwinds of deglobalization still gusting, we've all had a powerful reminder of the importance of connection to place and everything that comes with it: community, familiarity, belonging. Huge swathes of evidence now points to the deep links between social connection and community on the one hand, and reported happiness levels – and even greater longevity – on the other.

But today, a sense of being deeply grounded in local community is ever-harder for many consumers to maintain. No wonder, then, that in 2019 consumers will embrace innovative shared spaces and in-person experiences that help win the growing battle against social atomization and promote social wellbeing.

So what's pushing this trend forward now?

Glow-face epidemic. We're all addicted to our phones. Okay, not everyone; but, basically, everyone. What's more, rising numbers know that this is damaging individual wellbeing and eroding any sense of a shared social space. One glimpse? 54% of US teens say they spend too much time on their phone (Pew, August 2018). With study after study reinforcing the message that excessive screen time is damaging, the search for experiences and spaces that reinstate feelings of IRL community will only grow.

On-demand hermits. It's awesome to be able to order your dinner via an app. One day a robot will deliver it: even better! Except...humans. Combine on-demand lifestyles with a steadily rising number of single-occupancy households in many markets – from 31% of all households in the EU in 2010 to 34% in 2017 (Eurostat, July 2018) – and you have prime (pun intended) conditions for social atomization.

Post-demographic village. The post-demographic jumble that we've been writing about forever means rising numbers of consumers sense that others out there of all ages, genders, beliefs and more can share their tastes, interests and passions. That means they'll increasingly embrace innovative spaces and experiences that throw everyone into the mix and promote togetherness.


Featured Innovations

  • Lululemon — Athleisure brand opens library in NYC flagship

    This brand took inspiration from one a well-loved community space: the library.

    In December 2018, Lululemon partnered with publishing giant Penguin Random House to create a mini-library in the brand's HUB Seventeen flagship store and community space in NYC. The library features over 1,000 fiction and non-fiction titles. The library will be open throughout Spring 2019, and will host special events such as celebrity book readings food events.

    Swipe to see more innovations >>

  • Ibis — Global hotel chain repositions around local community and social interaction

    Want to go all out on this trend? See how this hotel chain is reimagining itself around the need for community.

    In February 2019, global hotel chain Ibis announced plans to reinvent the guest experience at their properties around increased contact with the local community and greater opportunities for social interaction. The shift will reposition Ibis hotels around flexible ‘life hub’ spaces that encourage interaction between guests and with members of the local community.

  • Banco Itaú — Installation celebrates country’s musical heritage

    How about bringing people together by celebrating local heritage and culture?

    January 2019 saw Brazil-based Banco Itaú present el Paseo del Recuerdo, a large-scale installation celebrating the 70th anniversary of Paraguay’s most iconic song, Recuerdos de Ypacaraí ('Memories of Ypacaraí'). Located in the town of San Bernardino in Paraguay, passersby were encouraged to manipulate a set of large metal tubes to produce the song’s main chords and then share their experience on social media.

  • Nike — Sports giant reopens first ever store as a community space

    How about opening a community space for people who people who share a passion?

    In January 2019, Nike reopened its first store, in Santa Monica, California, as a community space for runners. The store at 3107 Pico Boulevard was originally opened in 1967, when Nike was known as Blue Ribbon Sports, and quickly became a space for local runners and fitness devotees – seen at the time as oddball enthusiasts – to gather and share experiences.

  • Walmart and eSports Arena — Esports space opens inside Walmart stores

    When you think shared passions, think broadly! Walmart tapped into rising participation in esports.

    Gaming competitions and events were brought to Walmart shoppers via a collaboration with dedicated esports facility provider Esports Arena in November 2018. Five Walmart stores in California, Washington, and Colorado played host to gaming league nights and tournaments. The stores also hosted open play hours so customers could train or practice together, and test new products.

  • Lidl — Supermarket chain plans new community in west London

    This retail brand is pushing at the boundaries of this trend by helping shape a new London community.

    Lidl has unveiled plans to develop a community in London's Richmond neighborhood. Announced in July 2018, the plans include the development of over 3,000 homes, a primary school and a playground with space for hockey and soccer pitches. Meanwhile, August 2018 saw Lidl Ireland open The Bakery: a pop-up store providing a safe space for young people to talk about mental health.


We all know there's nothing new about brands creating experiential spaces for the purposes of brand building. And yes, VILLAGE SQUARED is an evolution of that long-standing trend.

The difference here? Think spaces that actively promote social bonds and enhance social wellness.

One question to get you started:

Who in your community is suffering most from social atomization? Who lacks a safe space to get together, meet new people and try new things? Remember to challenge conventional (demographic!) thinking on these questions. For example, contrary to much popular opinion studies often find it's actually young people, not the elderly, who most often report feelings of loneliness.

Finally, see the featured innovations to fuel thinking on the level of intensity with which you respond to this trend. A temporary experiment, like the Lululemon pop-up? A deeper commitment, requiring significant time and resources, like the reimagined Nike store? Or go all out and reimagine your entire brand around this trend and the deep human need for connection to place, as Ibis are doing?


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Amazing experiences, minus the guilt.

Single-use plastics have been the eco issue of the last 12 months. And a whole bunch of brands responded by ditching single-use plastic straws, bags, and more.

Driving that shift is a rising awareness that the amped-up, 'grab-go-throw' consumerism that defined the 21st century is a dead end for the planet.

In 2019, we'll see the explosion of sentiment against wasteful products transfer to experiences, too. That means rising numbers of consumers embracing amazing experiences that are tweaked, reimagined or reengineered in order to minimize negative impact on the planet – or even to have a positive impact.

The time is now. There's nothing new in the search for a more sustainable consumerism. Indeed, consumers have been searching out more sustainable travel experiences for some time. But 2018's campaign against single-use plastics is a signal of a broader tipping point in the planetary awareness of millions of consumers. They heard the recent warning from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we have just 12 years to limit a climate catastrophe. In 2019, those consumers won't tolerate unreconstructed eco-damaging in-person experiences – in retail spaces, hotels, restaurants, or anywhere else – any more than they will tolerate old-fashioned plastic straws.

Status currencies. Why are accelerating expectations around product sustainability certain to transfer to experiences, too? Because in an Insta-obsessed world, experiences are a highly shareable status currency that allows consumers to tell a story about who they are and what they believe. In 2019, consumers will still thirst after shareable, Insta-ready experiences; they'll just increasingly demand that those experiences reflect deeply held values around sustainability, too. Shower of biodegradable glitter at a São Paulo street carnival, anyone?

Take a look at how other brands and businesses are creating experiences that spell the END OF EXCESS.



  • Amager Resource Center — Copenhagen waste-to-energy plant features artificial ski slope

    'Alexa, show me a magical urban experience that supports a positive impact on its surroundings'

    Copenhagen's Amager Resource Center burns municipal waste to generate electricity. In Q3 2018, the plant opened an artificial ski slope and a climbing wall, labelled the Copenhill urbain mountain, to the public. The Copenhill also features a restaurant, and an après-ski bar surrounded by tree-lined hiking trails. The Amager Resource Center is one of the world’s most advanced waste-to-energy centers, and forms part of Copenhagen’s commitment to become the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025.

    Swipe for more innovations >>

  • Hi Fly — Airline makes world’s first single use plastic-free flight

    Flying is a guilt-ridden experience for many. But here’s one step in the right direction...

    In December 2018, Portuguese airline Hi Fly operated the first single-use plastic-free flight. The airline replaced plastic cutlery and containers with bamboo and compostable alternatives. The flight took passengers from the carrier’s HQ in Lisbon to Brazil on an Airbus A340. In March 2018, the airline pledged to eliminate single-use plastics before the end of 2019. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says airline passengers generated over 5.7 million tonnes of cabin waste in 2017, a figure set to double within 15 years if no action is taken.

  • Hi Fly — Airline makes world’s first single use plastic-free flight

    Flying is a guilt-ridden experience for many. But here’s one step in the right direction...

    In December 2018, Portuguese airline Hi Fly operated the first single-use plastic-free flight. The airline replaced plastic cutlery and containers with bamboo and compostable alternatives. The flight took passengers from the carrier’s HQ in Lisbon to Brazil on an Airbus A340. In March 2018, the airline pledged to eliminate single-use plastics before the end of 2019. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says airline passengers generated over 5.7 million tonnes of cabin waste in 2017, a figure set to double within 15 years if no action is taken.

  • Ijen — Zero-waste restaurant opens in Bali

    Zero-waste approaches are not new; but they’re still a powerful play when it comes to this trend.

    Ijen, Indonesia’s first zero-waste restaurant, opened in September 2018 at the Potato Head Beach Club in Bali. Offering local seafood caught by hand, the restaurant features furniture made from foam offcuts and recycled wood, and a floor created from cement, broken plates and smashed glass. Candles made from wine bottles burn used kitchen oil, while organic waste is recycled as local pig food or animal fertilizer.


END OF EXCESS is just one emerging trend. But it is fueled by a truly epic quest to find a new kind of consumerism – one that is compatible with continued life on this planet.

Okay, that's pretty freaking daunting. But here's the thing: consumers understand that mission means a long-term shift. What they'll want from the brands and experiences they engage with in 2019 is a sense that you're moving in the right direction.

On this, take inspiration from Hi Fly. By moving to eliminate single-use plastics, the airline is demonstrating a broader commitment to minimizing the negative planetary impacts of the experience. We all know flying is not the most sustainable activity right now (fly less!), but if an airline can embrace this trend, so can you!

Another powerful application angle here? Think continued indulgence, luxury or sheer fun minus the guilt. At the Amager Resource Center, visitors can practice their parallel turns while supporting Copenhagen's quest to go carbon neutral. The Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, who designed the Center, has a philosophy he calls hedonistic sustainability, which reminds us of a Trend Briefing we once wrote. Great minds...

Last, a glimpse of where this trend is heading next. That is, towards a model of consumerism that isn't about simply minimizing negative impact, but about actively generating positive impact. Like the world's first 'energy positive' hotel, planned to open in northern Norway in 2021. The Svart hotel will generate more energy than it consumes, meaning guests will be supporting a positive environmental impact every time they stay. Innovations such as this one will drive expectations that all kinds of experiences can actively give back to our planet, rather than taking from it.



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Phew, that was intense. Hope you enjoyed the ride 🚀

But in truth this moment should be the beginning of a journey, not the end of one. Now is the time to act.

And that starts with remembering that each of these trends is an innovation opportunity. That is, an opportunity to create your next magical, compelling, shareable, must-do (and do again!) in-person experience.

So take these trends and featured innovation examples back to your team, and challenge them. What can we do with this? How can we adapt this trend around our brand, our market, our customers, our values? What can we do to meet and exceed these emerging customer expectations?

For those of you who want to take this even further – we’ll see you at one of our upcoming events on the Future of Experiences.

Now, go – get started today! We can’t promise that creating the next generation of compelling in-person experiences will be easy. But it will be deeply worthwhile.

About The Author:



This Trend Briefing has many hands on it. A huge thanks to the team that pulled this together with such positivity and enthusiasm, especially: Vicky Kim and Nikki Ritmeijer (for design!), and also Maxwell Luthy, Vicki Loomes, Henry Mason, Alida Urban, Harry Metzger, Harvey Gomez, Jareth Ashbrook, Jonathan Herbst and Lisa Feierstein. THANK YOU!