SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English
Xie Zhihai “Luxury brand articles are in trouble with capricious consumers”
It is not as easy as the present for enterprises which have luxury brands to forecast consumers’ behaviors. Everybody has a smartphone and access to internet every day. In such circumstances, it seems to be easy for such enterprises to analyze customers’ tastes from purchase records or search history. But, actually this analysis is not so easy to do.. I have a feeling that world-wide long-established brand companies, whose brands are easily recognized merely by their logos, are being tossed around by capricious consumers’ behavior.
When we look at both sides, luxury brands companies and consumers, we note that there has been a relation that the companies which produce high-grade brand articles which have strong or outspoken impact and consumers’ demand for them. The rich customers could get them easily. People who cannot afford to buy hankered for the articles and yearned for the rich. Images of high-grade brands were getting higher valuation. Recently, however, when I see SNS (Social Networking Service) or “YouTube”, it seems to me that people do not admire the brand as before.
Where have their interests gone ?
I found an interesting research in Harvard Business Review (the November 2015 issue of Japanese version). The title was “High-grade brand article which copes with “inconspicuous consumption”. Consumers, as shown by a recent trend, do not like such articles to be conspicuous as before. Such trend started from Europe and America and became stronger. In China too, sales of clothes and bags which have famous logos dropped recently. The research about consumers’ behavior points out that there is a trend which avoids luxury brand article in the world. And, according to this analysis, there are three factors which support such trend. The first factor is high-grade brand articles became popular to middle class people and their logos are no longer mark or proof of being rich. This is because high-grade imitation goods by “fast-fashion” and diffusion-line (popular products of high-grade brand articles) of brands. (For example, diffusion line of “Armani” is “Armani-Exchange”.) The second is blatant status-symbols do not fascinate the upper class consumers any more. The third is the niche brand articles went in for the boom owing to promotion in the social media. For example, in the case of handbags, Bottega Veneta which has less brand logo is becoming more popular than the Gucci brand. In the case of coffee, Blue Bottle Coffee is preferred rather than Starbucks
This research analyze mainly how upper class people trend away from brand logos. And those three factors mentioned above are related also to middle class consumers who are the most important customers. First of all, the rise of “fast-fashion” is unavoidable. And, everybody can enjoy their dressing up now. Besides, owing to popularization of internet and smartphone, everybody can access any information which they like to get and they can use their information by themselves. It is now in fashion in the world that people introduce their clothes by themselves using “Selfie” (picture taken of yourself mainly for SNS) or “Instagram”. If they do such introduction every day, they prefer to have many variations of dress and accessories which they purchase at “fast fashion” as much as possible, rather than having only one high-class brand handbag. Actually, popular “fashionista” in “Instagram” is the one who wears a dress stylishly not the one who has a lot of high-class brand articles.
According to the research, niche-brand boom made by social media, the third factor mentioned above, is explained as exchange of “subtle signal” among people regardless of socio-economics classes. In other words, there is no wall on the internet among social classes. Everybody can communicate freely from site to site. By doing so, like-minded people of tastes or purposes get together naturally. A fashion is created by attracting people’s attention. As an example, when Chinese tourists came to Japan in the past, they usually bought SKII (high-class cosmetics) . But, nowadays, they buy facial packs at drug stores in town. Why? It is because those facial packs have been used and guaranteed as good by the people who have visited Japan and have written “good” in their blogs. Consumers enjoy shopping using information from like-minded (visiting Japan and enjoy shopping) people rather than enterprises that invest big money for advertisement.
Not all the Chinese tourists stopped buying luxury brand articles. If you go to Ginza, you can see many Chinese tourists in luxury brand shops. We can say that consumers have many options now. They go to luxury brand shops, drug stores and Don Quixote. Now, it is not a status symbol for the people who have luxury brand articles. I think an experience becomes a status by popularization of SNS rather than possessing luxury brand articles. It is easy for people who can share “experience” on SNS saying “good!”rather than showing off luxury brand articles which they have bought.
The existence of social media has changed consumers’ behavior and tastes. Did marketing people of luxury brand enterprises presume such changes? As the conclusion of the Harvard Business Review, a trend of high-quality image which does not show their brand logomark becomes very personal not social. In other words, a bag whose design is refined and has brand-logo mark inside symbolizes higher status than a bag which has conspicuous logo mark outside. Yes, the key-word is “personal”! On the internet now, there is a page like “Facebook” or “Instagram” which consumers can open by themselves. This “personal whereabouts” page spreads out to friends or to hobby pages.
There is another site “Pinterest”, not SNS, which can preserve favorite pictures and specializes for enjoying “possessing” those pictures personally,. We can book-mark on our personal board our favorite pictures from the internet. We can classify such pictures by categories like clothes, interior etc. and it is possible for somebody else to access those “Pinterest”. It is a good chance to show our sense. By collecting our favorite pictures, we can build up world view by our own and can get our feelings that we possess. For example, when we bookmark a picture of watch which we could not possess before we can enjoy a feeling that the watch comes near now. It is a show of “personal” hobby of middle-class enjoying our “whereabouts” on internet without possessing.
Rich consumers are enjoying casual (or nonchalant) luxury now. Other consumers are also enjoying their own luxury not sticking to possessing. It is not easy to forecast such bipolarization hereafter. It is said that there are enterprises which correspond properly to such customers’ changes restraining from exposing their logo marks. Marketing of enterprises which have luxury brand articles will be forced to face hardships hereafter.
(Full-time Lecturer of Maebashi Kyoai Gakuen University)
Translated by Kazuo Kawamura
English checked by Mac Maquito