Is There a Euro Consumer For Luxury Goods?

ABSTRACT - On the basis of a major European survey of 12,500 consumers and their attitudes towards 30 international luxury brands, the present research investigates the segmenting power of various geographic and socio-economic indicators in explaining luxury purchase. Although some differences among the various European countries can be observed, results indicate that income, education and occupation differentiate consumers to a far greater extent than country affiliation. To that extent, one can conclude to the existence of a Euro-consumer whose profile can be precisely delineated.



Citation:

Bernard Dubois and Gilles Laurent (1993) ,"Is There a Euro Consumer For Luxury Goods?", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. W. Fred Van Raaij and Gary J. Bamossy, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 58-69.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1993      Pages 58-69

IS THERE A EURO CONSUMER FOR LUXURY GOODS?

Bernard Dubois, Groupe H.E.C., France

Gilles Laurent, Groupe H.E.C., France

ABSTRACT -

On the basis of a major European survey of 12,500 consumers and their attitudes towards 30 international luxury brands, the present research investigates the segmenting power of various geographic and socio-economic indicators in explaining luxury purchase. Although some differences among the various European countries can be observed, results indicate that income, education and occupation differentiate consumers to a far greater extent than country affiliation. To that extent, one can conclude to the existence of a Euro-consumer whose profile can be precisely delineated.

INTRODUCTION

Is there a Euroconsumer for luxury goods? Such a question seems timely and legitimate. It is timely since, as we approach the official date of the opening of the Single European Market, a number of companies in many luxury markets are trying to anticipate the consequences of such an event for their activities and to see how they could take advantage of foreseen opportunities as well as protect themselves against potential threats.

Since the luxury industry is a highly diversified one (McKinsey, 1990, recently identified fourteen major sectors in which "luxury" companies operate), it is difficult to assess the overall impact of 1993. However, it seems that, in a number of areas, "turbulences" are to be expected. In the perfume and alcoholic beverage category for example, a sizable percentage of sales are made in duty-free shops. Identifying the exact conditions under which the duty free market will operate after 1992 is far from obvious. In the gold jewelry sector, to take another example, even more severe "disturbances" are to be expected since, in this case, the product definition itself will undergo substantial change. At the moment, eleven different definitions of gold are used in Europe (World Gold Council, 1990).

For luxury goods, the Euroconsumer question is also legitimate since many luxury companies have been operating until now with minimal adaptation of their strategy to the various European markets. In most cases, the products offered are identical as well as the advertising campaigns (at least in terms of the message, if not the media). Furthermore, a visible effort is made to harmonize as much as possible prices as well as distribution policies. The explicit, or implicit, assumption is that there is a relatively homogeneous European segment of affluent consumers which, whether a cause or a consequence of homogeneous marketing for luxury goods, represents the primary market for such items.

At the same time, many differences still exist among European consumers as can be observed from European statistics reports and paneuropean consumer surveys. For example, GNP per capita in Spain is still expected to be about one half of what it is in Germany or France in year 2000 (OECD). Similarly, the value systems are far from identical. For example, fifty-seven percent of the French people believe in God while they are 64% in Germany, 71% in the U.K., 81% in Spain and 89% in Italy (European Values, 1991). Since luxury goods consumption is usually considered to be strongly affected by economic and cultural determinants, differences among European consumers can be anticipated.

In addition, the luxury goods market has experienced considerable growth over the last fifteen years. To a large extent, such a growth can be attributed to a powerful current of democratization according to which products which used to be considered as exclusive (such as perfumes) are now widely consumed by the public. It could be argued that, with the broadening of the consuming public, the market homogeneity which once characterized the international "jet set" society will progressively vanish. In such a case, one could anticipate that the profile of the consumer of luxury goods would increase in diversity, since it would become more dependent upon national characteristics as more and more consumers enter this market.

Thus, the question of the identity of the Euroconsumer is left wide open. In the absence of past research on this topic, the present article offers some preliminary, and sometimes exploratory, answers.

RESEARCH DATA AND METHODS

The results to be presented have been obtained from a recent major paneuropean survey undertaken by the International Research Institute for Social Change (RISC). RISC is a consultancy group based in Switzerland and active since 1978 in seventeen of the world major developed markets. In 1990, RISC decided to launch a specific research program for luxury goods. A representative quota sample of 12,500 consumers was established in the five major European luxury markets (Germany, France, U.K., Italy and Spain) and interviewed, through a self-administered questionnaire, about their acquisition and consumption habits relative to a set of thirty luxury brands (see the list in Table 1). The list contained as many French brands as foreign brands, which is not inconsistent with the estimated 50% market share of French products in the luxury market (Joly, 1991).

Specifically, three measures were taken in relation to each brand :

-Aided awareness measured through the following question: "Here is a list of luxury brands. Please indicate which ones you know (at least by name)?"

-Recent Purchase: "Among the ones you have selected, please indicate which of them you have bought during the past two years?"

-"Dream Value": Imagine that you win a contest and the possibility of choosing a beautiful present. Among all the brands you know, which are the five you would like the best?"

It should be noted that all measures were taken at the brand level rather than for any particular product category. Although the product category has an obvious impact on purchase levels, and possibly dream levels, working with brand names only is in line with the view, widely shared in the luxury sector, that whatever their nature and price, all products sold under the same brand name belong to the same "universe".

In addition to the brand-related measures, a full socio-demographic profile was obtained from each respondent over 7 variables. Table 2 gives the list of socio-demographic indicators as well as their different levels.

RESULTS

In order ot establish the profile of European luxury consumers, the total number of brands bought during the last two years, was selected as the primary luxury consumption indicator (i.e. the dependent variable). Three factors justified such a choice. First, among the three available brand-related measures (awareness, dream, purchase), purchase is the most discriminating factor. While 97% of European consumers know at least one of the 30 brands and 89% "dream" of at least one, only 68% have bought at least one of them. The second reason is linked to the method selected for analyzing the data. A series of one-way analyses of variance were conducted for all the socio-demographic indicators and, as a consequence, results are reported as subgroup means. Such means can be interpreted in a straightforward manner : They simply correspond to the number of brands bought over the last two years. Third, given our interest in the behavior of European consumers, we felt that purchase was a more interesting variable than sheer awareness.

TABLE 1

LIST OF LUXURY BRANDS

TABLE 2

RESPONDENT

SOCIO-DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS

FIGURE 1

SEX AND LUXURY BRAND PURCHASE

Figures 1 to 10 present the results obtained for the five countries and the seven socio-demographic indicators. Each one is analyzed in turn in the following sections.

Sex

As can be observed in Figure 1, the number of brands bought by European male and female consumers is basically the same (slightly more than 2 on average). In other words, the European luxury goods purchaser has an equal chance of being male or female (R2 = 0.006 on average in Europe). This unexpected and rather surprising result somewhat questions the current advertising practice of many luxury companies primarily directed at women.

Since many luxury goods are offered as gifts, it could be argued that the balanced purchasing results observed in Figure 1 do not adequately portray a much often taken for granted difference of involvement in luxury goods among men and women. Figures 2 and 3 destroy this argument since they reveal that men and women know and dream about the same number of brands. On such a basis, the levels of interest in luxury among men and women can hardly be differentiated, even though there always is a slight, but statistically non significant, advantage for women (a sign test would have been highly significant).

If the preceding conclusion holds true for the five European countries (as evidenced by the quasi-parallel lines in Figures 1, 2, 3), some clear differences appear in terms of levels. As far as purchase is concerned, France appears as the N¦ 1 market while Germany, interestingly enough given its economic power, is somewhat left behind and U.K., Italy and Spain occupy intermediate (and rather close) positions. Figure 2 confirms the pole position of France and the "German gap" but Spain is this time even further behind. Finally, Italy, the U.K and France are countries where the dream is maximum, followed by Spain and Germany.

In other words, it would appear that :

1. France, U.K. and Italy are rather close countries in terms of their "luxury maturity", the major difference being that the Italians and the British dream about a larger number of brands while the French buy more, possibly because of economic factors.

2. Germany seems less "knowledgeable" about luxury goods and may be because of that buys less. Since the lower level of purchase can hardly be explained by economic determinants, it would thus reflect a lower level of interest.

3. Spain would occupy the reverse position. Being relative "newcomers" in the luxury market, the Spaniards would still know fewer brands than the Germans but would buy more of them already. The limiting factor would not be cultural but economic.

Age

Five rather similar age patterns emerge from Figure 4. In all European countries, the purchase level of luxury brands follows a bell-shaped curve. It should be noted however that the right-hand (decline) part of the curve is much more regular than the left-hand (growth) side. This could reveal different "introduction to luxury" patterns in the various European countries (while, on the reverse, the level of interest in luxury goods would regularly decline for people over 49). In Italy and Spain, the maximum level of purchase is observed for the 25-34 year group vs the 35-49 group for the three other countries, thus revealing a quicker diffusion of the luxury concept even though these two countries also are the less wealthy ones in the group.

FIGURE 2

SEX AND LUXURY BRAND AWARENESS

FIGURE 3

SEX AND LUXURY BRAND DREAM

FIGURE 4

AGE AND LUXURY BRAND PURCHASE

Otherwise, the various levels differences between the European countries, already detected when analyzing gender effects, are confirmed.

Income

For the purposes of the present study, income was articulated in four levels with equal boundaries in the five european countries. As a result, the percentage of the population in the upper groups is bigger for the relatively richer countries, (e.g. Germany) as opposed to the less wealthy ones (e.g. Spain). Figure 5 clearly demonstrates that income has a significant impact on the purchase level of luxury brands, (average R2 = 8.38%), slightly more pronounced in Spain and Italy, the two poorest countries. Figure 5 also confirms that the lower level of luxury purchase in Germany is not due to economic reasons but to a lower interest in the higher income groups: the purchase level is the same for the lowest income group in Spain, Italy and Germany, while Germany is left significantly behind for the highest one.

Occupation

Figure 6 also reveals a very strong effect of occupation on the purchase of luxury brands. This, of course, could had been expected, given the result obtained for income. From Figure 6, it would also appear that the "drop" in terms of luxury consumption from white collar to blue collar workers is more dramatic for Spain and Italy than for the other countries, thus revealing a more fragmented society, one in which blue collars and white collars are strongly differentiated. This result has significant managerial implications. The segmenting power of occupation is much higher in the two lowest economic level countries than in the other three where the boundaries (especially in Germany) could be more of a cultural nature.

Education

Figure 7 clearly demonstrates a positive effect of education upon luxury purchase. It would however appear that in the three Latin countries, France, Spain and Italy, the effect is strictly linear while there is a very limited additional impact of university education in the anglo-saxon world (U.K. and Germany). One possible explanation for this interesting result is cultural. While buying luxury brands is well accepted by the cultural elite in the Latin world, it would be much less so in puritan cultures. Figure 8 would tend to support that hypothesis since the number of brands known by university educated people compared with the middle-education group does not increase significantly in anglo-saxon countries while it does so in France, Spain and Italy.

Town Size

Figure 9 reveals a significant impact of habitat upon the purchasing level of luxury brands, except in the U.K. where the curve is remarkably flat (no data were available for Germany). Could it be that in a country where luxury has a long tradition, the boundaries between rural and urban areas have completely disappeared ?

Civil Status

Finally, Figure 10 indicates the complex relationship between civil status and luxury purchase. By and large, people living in couples tend to purchase more than people either divorced or widowed. This should not be very surprising given that many luxury goods are bought as gifts and symbols of love. However the pattern is not the same all over Europe. While France, Germany and the U.K. exhibit relatively similar behavior, although at different level, Spain and Italy show a low level of purchase for "regular" couples or couples which have been broken "naturally" while the record levels are observed for people living together or divorced. Are luxury brands used to compensate for less permanent affective links ?

FIGURE 5

INCOME AND LUXURY BRAND PURCHASE

FIGURE 6

OCCUPATION AND LUXURY BRAND PURCHASE

FIGURE 7

EDUCATION AND LUXURY BRAND PURCHASE

FIGURE 8

EDUCATION AND LUXURY BRAND AWARENESS

FIGURE 9

HABITAT AND LUXURY BRAND PURCHASE

FIGURE 10

CIVIL STATUS AND LUXURY BRAND PURCHASE

TABLE 3

SEGMENTING POWER OF VARIOUS SOCIO-DEMOGRAPHIC INDICATORS IN EUROPE (R2 VALUES)

TABLE 4

SEGMENTING POWER OF VARIOUS COMBINATIONS OF SOCIO-DEMOGRAPHIC INDICATORS IN EUROPE

One could summarize the main results obtained in this investigation through the following two conclusions:

1. By and large, the luxury market seems to operate in the same manner in the various European countries. This is evidenced by the rather similar patterns obtained when the level of luxury consumption is analyzed through the standard socio-economic indicators. To that extent, it can be said that there is a European consumer whose profile can be defined as follows: 1) Between 35 and 49 years of age ; 2) Relatively high economic status ; 3) University educated ; 4) Holding a management-like occupation ; 5) living in big towns and more specifically the country capital and 6) living in couple, whether officially married or not.

2. At the same time, it is also clear that there are differences among European customers. One is in terms of levels of purchase. In France and the U.K, consumers buy more than in Italy, Spain and, above all, Germany. The other one is in terms of the segmenting power of the various socio-economic indicators. Table 3 summarizes the R2 obtained for the various indicators in the five countries. The last column ("Europe") gives a "quick and dirty" indicator: the average R2 over the five countries. From such data, it is obvious that Italy and Spain are more strongly differentiated countries than the remaining three.

By and large, Income, Education and Occupation have the biggest impact on luxury purchase. It should be noted that country only comes in 4th position. To this extent, the European consumer is a reality.

In order to explore the interactions between the most powerful socio-economic indicators, a series of two-way analyses of variance were performed. The results appear in Table 4. Without surprise, Income and Occupation, considered jointly, offer the highest explanatory power among all the 2x2 combinations. More than 12% of the variance is now accounted for. The results concerning the more fragmented nature of Italian and Spanish Societies are further confirmed. Finally, Table 5 reveals that the three key socio-indicators, taken into account jointly, explain about 17% of the overall variance in purchase data, with the same R2 for Income, Occupation and Age, taken into account jointly. When one considers the four variables jointly (Income, Education, Occupation, Age), the R2 increases above 25% (above 30% in Spain), but this should be taken with caution, given the large number of degrees of freedom (above 240 for 2500 observations per country).

TABLE 5

SEGMENTING POWER OF HIGHER ORDER COMBINATIONS OF SOCIO-DEMOGRAPHIC INDICATORS IN EUROPE

FIGURE 11

INCOME IMPACT CONTROLLING FOR EDUCATION

Another way of exploring interactions is though homogeneous sub samples. We will illustrate this by considering the separate effect of income and education on luxury purchase.

Obviously, Income and Education are linked. When one finds that both of them are predictors of luxury purchase, one has to wonder whether one of the two effects could be spurious (Cook and Campbell, 1979). The results already presented give a powerful argument against such spuriousness. In France, for example, Income explains 6.41% of the variance, and Education 4.63%. If one of the two relationships was spurious, the variance explained by both variables together would not be much above 6.41%. In fact, it is 8.52%. This indicates that, although the two variables are somewhat redundant, each of them explains a specific part of the variance. One cannot be content with an analysis limited to one of the two explanatory variables.

To explore further this point, we analyzed homogeneous sub-groups of the French sample. We computed the R2's explained by Education for the full French sample, as well as for the four homogeneous sub-samples defined by their income level. The percentage of variance explained by Education is 4.63% for the full French sample, 1.83% for the high income group, 0.97% for median high, 2.98% for median low, 4.26% for the low income group. Figure 11 shows the corresponding means. Conversely, we computed the R2's explained by Income for the full French sample, as well as for the three homogeneous sub-samples defined by education level. The percentage of variance explained by Income is 6.41% for the full French sample, 2.74% for higher educated people, 3.69% for the group with median education, 6.22% for the group with low education. Figure 12 indicates the corresponding means. This confirms that both variables have an impact on luxury purchase.

FIGURE 12

EDUCATION IMPACT CONTROLLING FOR INCOME

FIGURE 13

THE LUXURY MATURITY LEVEL IN EUROPE

CONCLUSION

On the basis of the results obtained in this research, it can be concluded that European consumers are a reality for luxury brands. Of course, future research should be conducted to confirm this conclusion. Other countries as well as other brands (and other purchase measures taking into account the volume of goods purchased) should be considered in future studies. As far as the differences among European countries are concerned, they can be summarized in a matrix such as the one reproduced in Figure 13. U.K. and France appear as "mature" luxury market while in Spain the luxury tradition is less widely diffused. Germany and Italy occupy intermediate positions. The Italians would like to buy more but lack the money ; the Germans have the money but lack the motivation.

REFERENCES

Cook, Thomas D. and Donald T. Campbell (1979), Quasi-Experimentation: Design and Analysis Issues for Field Settings, Chicago: Rand-McNally.

European Values, (1991), Survey quoted in "The World in 1992", The Economist, Special Publication, December 1991, p. 81.

Joly, Hubert, (1991), "Industrie du Luxe : "Rebondir" sur la Crise. Leviers pour le SuccFs dans les AnnTes 1990", Revue Frantaise du Marketing, n¦ 132-133, pp. 97-109.

Mc Kinsey, (1990), "L'Industrie du Luxe, un Atout pour la France", Colloque du ComitT Colbert, Paris, June.

O.E.C.D. (1991), Economic Forecast.

World Gold Council (1990), "L'Or, c'est la FOte", Working paper, Paris : World Gold Council, December.

----------------------------------------

Authors

Bernard Dubois, Groupe H.E.C., France
Gilles Laurent, Groupe H.E.C., France



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1993



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