Luxury consumption increasingly influenced by sustainability, immersive shopping experiences
How to define the luxury consumer tribes of today? To try to answer the question, the Initiative media agency (owned by IPG Mediabrands) has published a report entitled ‘L'État des Cultures Mode Luxe en France’, which assesses the fashion and luxury consumption culture in France by identifying six consumer types and describing the new ways in which they interact with labels. A relationship influenced by two underlying trends: sustainability and the drive towards an immersive customer experience.
Against the backdrop of the major upheavals affecting the luxury industry, two phenomena have taken centre-stage in the last few years. The first is sustainable development, with its impact on society and the environment. A trend that has picked up speed thanks to the web and social media, with consumers setting new ethical, societal and environmental constraints for labels.
The study's authors think that “sustainability will undoubtedly be the most radical mutation occurring in the luxury industry in the 2020s.” To explain this, they mention a term describing a new consumption attitude which has been circulating in recent months and originates from Sweden, where it is called köpsgkam, meaning ‘shopping shame’. The study also highlights the increasingly strong pressure put by consumers on fashion labels to become more inclusive and promote diversity.
Immersive shopping experiences are also increasingly crucial. “While the reinvention of the physical shopping experience continues, via venues that are inspirational, immersive, personalised and ephemeral, less focused on product purchasing and more on discovering brand values, digital shopping experiences in the luxury sector are undergoing a profound transformation, as they strive to keep pace with consumer needs and behaviour,” said the study, citing various tests carried out by labels, “from virtual shopping to closet accounts, resale options, online raffles, gaming and augmented reality.”
From this starting point, Initiative refined its research by identifying six consumer profiles, in collaboration with Synomia, a specialist in AI applied to semantics, which carried out a semantic analysis of the web ecosystem generated by Google searches in the culture and luxury domains.
These six customer profiles could help the luxury industry gain a clearer insight on consumption trends. Nowadays, brands tend to lose relevance very quickly in a market whose pace and life-cycles have accelerated dizzyingly. It is therefore essential for labels to respond rapidly and to be able to identify the variety of cultural outlooks shared by their audiences, and to navigate through them accordingly. The six profiles identified by the study have been ranked in decreasing order “based on their maturity (amount of content produced, number of links within the eco-system) and social acquisition (search volume and its trend) on an annual basis.”
The first profile is labelled ‘Active Includers’, and consists of consumers who actively favour inclusion. They seek brands that fit with their personal values and that are genuinely engaged when it comes to diversity, equality and inclusion. Active Includers search for fashion products that mirror their needs and tastes.
The second cluster is labelled ‘Carbon Negative’, and includes consumers who favour carbon-negative brands, in their quest to adopt a sustainable lifestyle. To attract these consumers, it is crucial to cater to their personal values in terms of environmental protections and ethics. “In France, an increasing number of people expects brands in general, and luxury labels in particular, to have a positive social impact. If luxury brands want to preserve their status within the market, they need to shift rapidly towards a more ethical, sustainable approach to luxury, deploying a business model that is genuinely sustainable and environmentally friendly,” wrote Initiative in the study.
The third profile is labelled ‘Closet Collective’, and includes consumers who go a little further with their environmental engagement, by buying more and more of their clothes on second-hand websites. The growth of such sites within the luxury market is triggering an in-depth transformation of purchasing behaviour, and is expected to lead to greater cooperation between such retailers and luxury labels.
The study highlights a few examples. Patek Philippe is buying back its watches on the resale market to find out why they are sold there. French footwear brand J.M. Weston, at its Paris and Tokyo stores, is putting up for sale both new models and their vintage equivalent, at half the price. Other labels are more circumspect, and are trying to forge partnerships with the most popular resale sites, for example Joseph with Vestiaire Collective, or Stella McCartney and Burberry with The RealReal.
The fourth profile is that of ‘Virtual Explorers’, consumers who are reinventing the very notion of exclusive luxury by buying virtual clothes, like gamers have been able to do for some time. Clothes that will never be produced nor worn in the physical world, but that can be superimposed on people’s digital pictures, creating looks they can use to bolster their social media reputation.
Norwegian label Carlings is a pioneer in this field. In 2018, it created a first wholly digital collection available on its e-shop. It sold out in less than a week at prices ranging from €10 to €30 per item, opening new horizons in terms of the risks labels take for new styles, and with a zero carbon footprint to boot.
“The idea may seem bizarre, but the fashion industry is lagging behind on this, notably compared to the videogame industry. For years, gamers have been spending money to buy skins, the virtual clothes of videogame characters. This market is currently worth approximately $50 billion, and is forecast to grow by 6% in the next few years, according to a survey by SuperData,” wrote Initiative.
Louis Vuitton is well aware of this trend, and last November it associated itself with the final of the League of Legends world championship. Creative director Nicolas Ghesquière even designed a look for one of the videogame’s characters. Besides, digital technology now makes it possible for customers to try on certain garments virtually, before buying them.
The fifth profile is that of ‘Closet Trailblazers’, chiefly featuring adolescents who are frantically competing to be the first to decipher their favourite celebrities’ looks through their Instagram accounts. They are driven and ultra-competitive, with a simple goal: to reveal a celebrity's wardrobe before anyone else, enabling their followers to buy the same clothes. Their social media accounts are uber-popular as they allow followers to dress like their favourite influencers, clear proof of how devoted some young people are to celebrities and of their capacity to develop a huge amount of content in order to foster a community.
The final profile is the ‘Unwitnessed’, who question the notion of what it means to be wealthy. These are people who have opted for a less materialistic life style, preferring freedom and personal improvement, and seem to be keen to consume less. For them, wealth is immaterial. Real wealth is the ability to untether from technology, to abandon the corporate world and dive into a life whose main motivation is curiosity rather than comfort. Nearly 77% of the Unwitnessed are buying less and less in volume, but making more significant purchases. They are a new brand of consumer, hungry for unusual, exclusive experiences, encounters and explorations.
“Travelling becomes a means for learning and self-realisation, no longer simply a short-cut to pick up a variety of experiences,” said the Initiative study. To address their needs, fashion labels have extended their boundaries to include the world of fine cuisine, opening cafés and restaurants. Like Maison Kitsuné, which operates seven cafés worldwide, Louis Vuitton with its first bar-restaurant, just inaugurated in Japan, and Jacquemus with its two restaurants inside the Galeries Lafayette’s Champs-Élysées flagship in Paris.
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