The edamame economy

It seems as if there is an endless supply of middle-class consumers who have boutique identities and aspirations, especially among people in their 20s. Consumers now use hotels differently. They bring their laptops down to the lobby rather than working in their rooms. Fewer people bother to unpack their bags. Therefore, room desks and closets are less important, but having a happening lobby scene is more important. People need a civic space where they can have their contiguous but individualized iPad experiences.

Boutique hotels are, on one level, kind of ridiculous. They are almost invariably too dark throughout, making it hard to read. The bed is often too low. The bathroom door is sometimes a flimsy sliding shutter, sacrificing privacy for style.

But they do exemplify a shift in the consumer market, which you might call the shift from the lima bean economy to the edamame economy. It’s easy to forget how much more boring the marketplace was a few decades ago — more boring cuisine, more boring restaurants, more boring hotels. Recently, there’s been a creative brand explosion, to go along with nichification and segmentation. Companies are much more interested in creating emotional arousal. Hotels, sneakers, iced tea and even ice cream is now marketed to people on the basis of psychographic profiles and the result is a profusion of unusual products and distinctive experiences. Consumers have been educated by the market and now the median level of cultural competence is much higher.