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The Evolution of Luxury Consumerism

March 3, 2017

Accumulate billions or give them away? Cruise to your private island or be the first to practice an ancient form of yoga previously known only in a remote Tibetan village? Which choices will luxury consumers opt for in the future?


Trendwatching, the company that helps businesses understand the new consumer via its network of 3,000 trend spotters and analysts around the world, has identified the ways in which it believes luxury consumerism will be changing in 2017 and beyond.


“Luxury is no longer simply about the supercar, the designer handbag and the expensive holiday (as desirable as they remain to many),” Trendwatching reports.


“We need to understand one fundamental truth: At its heart, luxury has always been about status.”


So understanding the new luxury consumer means comprehending the new definition of status. Whereas it once was about physical possessions, now it’s all about intangibles.


Here are four of those intangibles identified by Trendwatching that seem relevant to the kitchen and bath industry: 

  1. The Quintessential Self or the quest for self-actualization.

  2. Very Important Data or the need to safeguard personal data.

  3. Premium Redeemed or luxury that makes the world a better place.

  4. The Extravagance Economy or luxury on demand.

While these may seem a bit blue sky at the moment for our business, it’s important to recognize that these trends are already in motion around the world.  And big companies are already acting on them.


Look at what some major global players are doing in response to these trends and then brainstorm how you might integrate some of these new aspects of the luxury mindset into your kitchen and bath firm.


Status used to be about the possession of certain objects. Now, so many people have so much. The result? Status has become less about ‘what I have’ and much more about ‘who I am’: namely, more ethical, creative, connected and tasteful than the masses. That’s how consumers arrive at their Quintessential Self,” Trendwatching explains.


In other words, bragging rights come from being  “in the know” about experiences or products no one else has heard about yet. Luxury consumers want to be able to demonstrate “my self-actualization is faster, smarter and more exclusive than yours.” But this has nothing to do with putting on a hair shirt and renouncing the world.


“In 2017, then, high-end consumers will look to move – and be seen to have moved – to a higher plane. One way? Innovative products, services and experiences that combine supercharged self-actualization with true luxury indulgence. Because for those seeking the Quintessential Self, the quest for self-improvement should never mean compromising on self-indulgence,” Trendwatching notes.


All the better if these products, services and experiences can be tweeted or posted on social media, with the attitude “I’m doing this, you probably haven’t heard of it yet.”


One example of this trend: luxury cruises with spa and wellness programs like the one Seabourn launched recently with holistic health practitioner Dr. Andrew Weil. The program will integrate physical, social, environmental and spiritual wellbeing with seminars on happiness, healing, nutrition and introspection. Luxury cruise meets self-actualization.


“So luxury Quintessential Selfers will seek out rare and shareable experiences or exciting and storied products that supercharge their self-improvement and wellbeing. Start by asking: What aspect of the self will customers trust your brand to help them improve?” Trendwatching suggests.


Some possible takeaways for showrooms: Don’t be afraid to present stealth brands or products people haven’t yet heard of. Luxury consumers may be enticed and intrigued.


It’s more important than ever for them to feel they are on top of the newest developments. Luxury consumers pride themselves on being in the know, being the first to discover a new product, especially if it adds to their wellbeing. 


Are you up on sous vide cooking (see related story, New Cooking Appliances) or molecular cuisine? Can you bring in an expert? Can you invite the newest chef in town to give a preview of their unopened but soon-to-be-hot new restaurant?


Can you appeal to the luxury consumer’s desire to appear more sophisticated and creative by inviting them to share photos of parties… table settings and food…served from their new kitchen?


Can you bring in experts on wellness to talk about the latest products and techniques they are using?


High net worth individuals are especially worried today about the security of their personal data. So much so that luxury jeweler Bvlgari has partnered with a Swiss security company to safeguard not its customers’ jewelry but their data. The information is stored by an app in a high-security bunker in the Swiss Alps.


Given all of the publicity about security risks related to the internet of things, luxury consumers may well have similar concerns about the privacy of their personal data when using connected devices in their home. Can you partner with a tech firm to advise your customers about digital security and these devices? This way you are providing what Trendwatching calls “the luxury of peace of mind when it comes to their data and their privacy.”


This trend is all about luxury that makes the world a better place.


“One sign of the epic shift in the nature of status…[is] the way we talk about billionaires,” Trendwatching observes.

“Sure, Mark Zuckerberg has changed the world. But today, his personal status story doesn’t just center on how he made his money, but how he’s giving almost all of it away. For the ultra-ultra-rich, philanthropy is the status story. And where their status trail goes, the rest of us follow.”


Fortune Magazine reported last year that 17 new billionaires had joined The Giving Pledge, a group started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates that requires its ultra-rich members to commit to give the majority of their wealth to good causes. The group includes Richard Branson, Ted Turner and Sheryl Sandberg, and now has 154 members from 16 countries.


“Millions of affluent consumers feel trapped in a guilt spiral when it comes to the negative impacts – on the environment, society and their health – of their consumption,” notes Trendwatching. “The real luxury for these consumers? Indulgence without the guilt.”


To “redeem” a luxury purchase, talk about the contributions your firm and your suppliers make to worthy causes. Where are your products made? In environmentally responsible facilities? With sustainable materials? Who are the factory workers? How are they treated? How well are they paid?


Consumers often judge a company by how it treats its employees. Do you feature them on your website and on social media? Do they have an opportunity to tell their stories and talk about causes that are important to them?


Take away the guilt of purchasing by donating and/or recycling materials from tear-outs. Make a contribution to a safe-water fund for each faucet, shower, tub or toilet sold. Donate to a soup kitchen for each range or refrigerator sold.


Forget Uber. True, it’s quick, on demand and for some it has removed the need for car ownership. But for real luxury, how about a private jet on demand?


“Consumers will push their on-demand mindset to new highs, and into entirely new domains of consumerism. Think a move beyond on-demand functionality (taxis, laundry, haircuts, etc.) and towards on-demand extravagance,” Trendwatching predicts.


“The very real benefits that on demand and access bring – freedom from the hassle of ownership, instant gratification and more – are universal,” notes Trendwatching.


In an era of on-demand luxury, our industry falls woefully short. Backorders, long lead times and months of waiting won’t cut it in the future. Why should a consumer have to settle for inexpensive but readily available faucets or cabinets if time is of the essence, when in their heart of hearts they want something much better? Seems like on-demand lower-end not on-demand luxury.


Our processes are arduously slow and out of touch with today’s consumer. Suppliers, designers and showrooms should begin to figure out how to streamline them in order to meet the anticipated rise of luxury-on-demand.


In the meantime, how can you bring freedom from the hassle of ownership of a kitchen or bath? A program of regular maintenance and tweaking? Guaranteed 24/7 service for plumbing and appliances? On-site training for housecleaning staff?


Getting inside the mindset of the new luxury consumer won’t be easy, but it’s well worth the effort to consider what intangibles your business can offer.


Leslie Hart, based in New York, NY, is a partner with O'Reilly/DePalma, a full-service marketing communications agency serving the kitchen, bath and building industries.


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