Lap of Luxury — or Is That Lapland?



Luxury consumers in the United States and much of Western Europe are remarkably similar in many ways, especially in the emphasis consumers place on experiences, rather than something that one has or owns, according to a report just released by the Consumer Research Center of the Conference Board.

The report was sponsored by Condé 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 United States, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom. Respondents were over age 18 and in the top 25 percent income brackets.

"Consumers have remarkably similar perspectives on how to define luxury," says Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center. "The largest share of luxury consumers (44 percent) 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."

Time is the most highly valued luxury (named by 35 percent of respondents as best matching their personal definition of luxury), then comes life experiences (25 percent), followed by having comfort, beauty and quality (18 percent).

About one-fourth or fewer luxury consumers strongly agree that:

· 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 percent strongly agree).

· Luxury is being comfortably well off and not having to worry about tomorrow (25 percent strongly agree).

· Luxury is the finer things in life that surround you with extreme comfort, beauty and quality (25 percent strongly agree).

· Luxury is the "best of the best" in all aspects of your life (18 percent strongly agree).

Luxury consumers' favorite pursuits worldwide include high-tech activities and travel. High-tech 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 comes next, with 69 percent of luxury consumers worldwide reporting an interest.

The most popular status luxuries owned across the countries surveyed were collections of antiques and rare items (30 percent of all luxury consumers); original art, paintings and sculpture (31 percent); and vacation/second home (27 percent).

American luxury consumers led in ownership of antiques or collections of rare items, while the Italian luxury consumers were more likely to own original art. The Italian luxury consumers also enjoy the highest share of vacation or second homes.

The next most widely owned status luxuries included collections of fine jewelry and watches (24 percent), and fine musical instruments (22 percent). Chinese luxury consumers led the other countries in ownership of fine jewelry and watches, and in fine wine and spirits ownership, while the 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 percent in Japan, compared to the international average of 59 percent); avid book-reading (35 percent versus a 58 percent average of all countries); listening to records, tapes and DVDs (37 percent versus 56 percent).

Other key differences across cultures include:

· American consumers are noted 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 usage, videos/DVDs, wine, gourmet goods, health foods, avid book-reading and cable/satellite TV.

· 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."

Luxury is noticeably a cut above the average, as 81 percent of luxury consumers agreed. Luxury is about the feelings the consumers get in enjoying their luxury lifestyles so it is very much an experience, rather than a material good one has or one owns.

Because it's defined personally and about one's experience, luxury is something that everyone can partake in. Nearly three-fourths of those surveyed agreed that "luxury is for everyone and different for everyone." It is not exclusive to one class or group.

While brands don't necessarily define luxury, many luxury consumers look to the brand and the brand's reputation as a signal of quality. 



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