The latest research by Marian Makkar and Sheau-Fen sheds new light on why rich people buy inconspicuous luxury. Why do people buy handbags, watches and clothes which are not obviously branded, and which are not known to the general public? Why do people spend a fortune buying fashion which is inconspicuous?
The research has found that there are four themes that run through the reasoning of the rich when they buy what they perceive as true luxury.
Informants view the consumption of inconspicuous luxury as part of their lives. It's essential to the well-being and brings in true happiness. Luxury consumers with a real understanding of luxury believe they have good taste that's acquired through knowledge.
"You gain fashion knowledge by experience. I used to buy things I got disappointed with so, I wouldn't buy next time. I'll be more careful, or I spend more time before I buy something. You have to limit impulsive purchases because this is exactly when you buy something wrong or something that doesn't suit you. But only something you gain by experience. No one was actually born having this quality of knowledge. I think it's a learning curve. I don't buy easy now. I spend a lot of time online. I research read a lot about a brand I want to buy. Mainly, the need to buy start from me seeing something or knowing about it, then I go through phases looking online and researching, really blogs of course depending on what I'm actually buying. Once I’m convinced I buy it.” This is a quote from Raymond was a commercial director, who was interviewed during the research.
The purchasing process for rich people includes extensive research to become heavily involved with the brand history and craftsmanship before purchasing it. It is not just an item but also a representation of who they are and want others to see.
"the Dunhill brand feels like a reaffirmation of myself. This is the kind of man I like to be part of. It connects with me, it understands my needs and the values of this brand, no matter how they position it, it aligns with what I have in mind. I feel like this brand is an extension of me, so I want to be part of that brand.” That's a quote from Alexander, a sales director.
Rich people do not search for ways to be better than others. They search for products that suits what they perceive to be their own unique identities in specific tastes. Informants appreciate luxuries craftsmanship and heritage. They prefer to own one exclusive luxury product as a form of art rather have many mediocre ones that they are indifferent about.
This was seen in several of the informant’s minimalistic clothing and locations they chose to carry out the interviews. Four example, Raymond requested to meet the interviewer at seven star Dubai hotel in a quite lobby, but arrived in a very plain short white shirt and loafers. He revealed that he plain shirt was Amani and his watch was exclusive IWC $40,000 watch. He commented on how much he appreciated the quality and texture whilst it was still understated.
The Need To Differentiate
The second theme includes the need to differentiate between various rich people. When rich people spoke of their motivations to buy inconspicuous luxury they had to speak about the others so, for example, Alexander when interviewed said, “People who acquire money want to make sure that people know they have the money. I think it's a bit tacky. They have all this money and they don't have the equity or knowledge behind them to use that money properly.” In saying that Alexander was directly referring to himself as the opposite of these conspicuous consumers.
According to real luxury consumers they choose luxury goods based on quality and subtlety. Luxury they say is to enjoy without the need for approval and applause but it's all about self satisfaction and achievement.
It's All About Experience
The third scene that emerged in the research from talking to rich people encapsulated the importance of living luxuriously. It's not only about the consuming process but also about the way the rich live that revolves around experiences and aspirations. So luxury by today's standards is more about enjoying the pleasure of the experience. Rich people expressed an appreciation for luxury as experienced rather than consumed.
Arthur was interviewed for the research he said, “Luxury makes me feel comfortable, happy, feel good. It puts a smile on my face, but you know it doesn't have to be something expensive. For me it could be a lovely dinner with my wife or to go on holiday.”
It is clear that also saw more luxury than just materiality. Other informants felt that conspicuous luxury was wasteful if it had nothing to do with happiness through pleasurable experiences.
Yet another respondent said luxury has nothing to do with the price tag, “it is a state of being. Life must not only be lived it must be enjoyed. It must be wholeheartedly embraced.”
Inconspicuous consumers search for exceptional interactions and environments in store to complete their buying experience. But the experience does not end, it continues to create an emotional bond with possessions.
Feeling It - The Emotional Connection
The fourth and final theme includes emotional factors associated with what understanding needing experiencing and owning luxury means to rich people. Informants describe the journey they take with the luxury possessions and revealed symbolic meanings behind luxury the resonated with them.
Inconspicuous consumers create emotional connections with their luxury possessions because they offer sentimental values linked to memories or experiences such as those attach a special gift.
Inconspicuous luxury consumers compared to conspicuous luxury consumers perceive luxury as a means to reach life comfort and self-fulfilment. The more involved they are with search and attainment of perfect luxury the more rewarding they perceive consequences of achieving them which gives them an emotional connection.
The value of possessions is linked to creating a sense of identity. Rich people value private meanings ascribed to their possessions, as these form and reflect the inner self. They appreciate inconspicuous luxury because it expresses their personal values of uniqueness.
Implications For Luxury Brands
The researchers assert that luxury fashion brands should evaluate whether inconspicuous consumers fit within their brand image. To offer luxury design that appeals to inconspicuous lottery consumers, they must abide by luxury meanings found it in the study. It must be subtle and identifiable only to the few. It must offer both hedonistic and utilitarian values and display a symbolic story that rich people can relate to and enjoy experiencing. The more emotionally involved inconspicuous consumers are with the luxury possessions, the greater the chances of them finding congruence with the brand symbols.
The findings demonstrate that:
- Rich people value their inconspicuous luxury based on their investment and accumulation of feelings.
- Inconspicuous luxury is not directly related to wealth or status but is motivated by the needs of identity signals to others and the buyer.
- Buying luxury Is not only based on the need to associate with the brand but includes a combination of understanding the product and needing to relate to it emotionally.
This blog draws information from this paper:
The anatomy of the inconspicuous luxury fashion experience
Makkar, Marian; Yap, Sheau-Fen
Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, Volume 22 (1): 28 – Mar 12, 2018