Luxury Consumers: What Counts Are Experiences, Not Things

July 24, 2007

This article is included in these additional categories:

Asia-Pacific | Europe & Middle East | Household Income | Television | Travel & Hospitality

Luxury consumers in the US and much of Western Europe are remarkably similar in many ways, especially in the emphasis they place on experiences rather than ownership, according to a report by the Consumer Research Center of The Conference Board.

“The largest share of luxury consumers (44%) and the largest share of consumers in each country most strongly agree that ‘luxury is having enough time to do whatever you want and being able to afford it.’ So, for luxury consumers worldwide, time is the ultimate luxury,” said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center.

The report was sponsored by Conde Nast Publications, Gucci Group, Gibson USA, The Ritz Carlton and Tru Vue and is based on an online survey of 1,800 affluent consumers in the US, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the UK. Respondents were over age 18 and in the top 25% income brackets.

Some findings from the report, “The Global Luxury Market: Exploring the Mindset of Luxury Consumers in Seven Countries”:

  • Time is the most highly valued luxury (named by 35% of respondents as best matching their personal definition of luxury), then life experiences (25%), followed by having comfort, beauty and quality (18%).
  • About one-fourth of luxury consumers strongly agree:
    • Luxury is less about the material things one has or one owns and more about how one experiences life, a sense of happiness and satisfaction (26% strongly agree).
    • Luxury is being comfortably well-off and not having to worry about tomorrow (25% strongly agree).
    • Luxury is the finer things in life that surround you with extreme comfort, beauty, and quality (25% strongly agree).
    • Luxury is the “best of the best” in all aspects of your life (18% strongly agree).
  • Luxury consumers’ favorite pursuits worldwide include tech-related activities and travel:
    • Activities, such as using a personal computer, the internet, or a cell phone, rank as the most participated-in lifestyle activities by nearly three-fourths of all luxury consumers.
    • Travel is next, with 69% of luxury consumers worldwide reporting an interest.
  • The most popular status luxuries owned across the countries surveyed:
    • Collections of antiques and rare items (30%)
    • Original art, paintings and sculpture (31%)
    • Vacation/second home (27%).

Some differences among cultures, according to the study:

  • American luxury consumers lead in ownership of antiques or collections of rare items, while the Italian luxury consumers are more likely to own original art.
  • The Italian luxury consumers also enjoy the highest share of vacation or second homes; their next most widely owned status luxuries include collections of fine jewelry and watches (24%), fine musical instruments (22%), and collections of fine wine and spirits.
  • Chinese luxury consumers lead the other countries in ownership of fine jewelry and watches and in fine wine and spirits ownership.
  • French consumers have the highest incidence of fine musical instrument ownership.
  • Compared with luxury consumers living in other countries, Japanese consumers trail in their participation in the various lifestyle activities included in the survey, such as photography (enjoyed by only 30% in Japan, compared with the international average of 59%); avid book reading (35% versus a 58% average); listening to records, tapes, DVDs (37% versus 56%).
  • American luxury consumers are notable for their interest in cable/satellite television, pets, physical fitness and health foods, electronics, and investing in stocks and bonds.
  • British consumers are distinctive in their strong interest in internet and cell phone use, videos/DVDs, wine, gourmet goods, health foods, avid book reading, and cable/satellite TV.
  • German, Italian and French luxury consumers tend to be similar:
    • German consumers are more involved in reading books, attending cultural events, gardening, and home furnishings.
    • Italian consumers share many of the same interests as those in Germany, but they are more active in travel.
    • French consumers are similar to those in Germany and Italy, too, but with an even greater interest in gourmet food and wine.
  • China has the greatest interest in photography, electronics and home furnishings.

“For the largest share of luxury consumers, luxury is not specifically related to how much something costs or what brand it might be,” says Pamela Danziger, president of Unity Marketing and author of the report. “Luxury is highly personal and something the individual interprets and judges for him or herself. But while luxury is highly personal and separated from price and brand, luxury is expected to be something with a quality that sets it far above the ordinary product.”

The vast majority of luxury consumers surveyed say they reject conspicuous consumption or buying to impress: The person who most matters when it comes to luxury is the individual and how he or she experiences, interprets, and feels about his or her own luxury lifestyle??”not what some neighbor, colleague, or coworker thinks.

While brands don’t necessarily define luxury, many luxury consumers look to the brand and the brand’s reputation as a signal of quality, according to the report. China is the only country surveyed in which a significant portion of consumers (46%) tend to agree that luxury is defined by the brand.

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