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Luxury Brands Follow Shoppers to Digital

Affluents spending more time, money than ever online

December 3, 2013

For many luxury consumers, the appeal of buying luxury goods goes beyond owning the actual item—it’s the experience surrounding the purchase of an expensive item. And what separates the luxury buying experience from the mass experience is the personal approach.

The exclusivity a brand offers a customer—whether it’s limited-edition merchandise, a first look at a product or personalized service—is a key element of the luxury experience, according to a new eMarketer report, “The Luxury Consumer: Shoppers Lead Brands to Digital Channels.” Translating that experience to the digital realm is one reason luxury marketers initially balked at the idea of creating virtual spaces for their goods. How could a brand duplicate the connection between a trusted sales associate and loyal clientele? How could a brand possibly communicate the attributes of a premium product without letting the client touch it, smell it or try it on?

So what’s changed? Why are luxury brands reconsidering their aversion to digital marketing? There are a few developments that are pushing them to increase online marketing efforts.

One major factor is an increase in the amount of time affluent consumers spend online. Ipsos MediaCT found that among US affluents with household income of more than $100,000 per year, the amount of time spent online grew nearly one-quarter from 2011 to 2013, at 32.8 hours per week to 41.6 hours per week, respectively.

Weekly Time Spent Online by US Affluents*, by Generation, 2011-2013 (hours)

“These aren’t the idle rich,” said Skip Brand, CEO of affluents-focused digital advertising and content platform provider Martini Media. “These are people who use online resources to save time. And they will spend money to save time.”

Along with an increase in affluents’ time spent online is an increase in their spending online. Martini Media reported that among affluent shoppers, the average spending on luxury sites was up 20% year over year in Q2 2013.

In a Q1 2013 survey by American Express Publishing and Harrison Group, 48% of US affluents with income of more than $100,000 said they discovered new luxury products while shopping online, a rate almost equal to the 50% who said they discovered new products while shopping in-store. Even though consumers are still making more purchases in a physical store, they are discovering products, and therefore being exposed to more marketing messages, online.

Ways that US Affluent* Consumers Discover New Luxury Products, Q1 2013 (% of respondents)

That’s not to say buyers of luxury items no longer favor making in-store purchases (the same is true of buyers of mass items, it should be noted). In an April 2013 Luxury Institute study on the multichannel purchasing habits of US internet users with incomes of at least $150,000, 48% of respondents sourced information about luxury fashion online via a computer. Yet only about a quarter actually completed the purchase online. Meanwhile, 72% of affluents said they went to brick-and-mortar stores to get information on luxury fashion items, and 62% said they went to a store to complete a purchase.

The full report, “The Luxury Consumer: Shoppers Lead Brands to Digital Channels,” also answers these key questions:

  • What digital experiences do luxury consumers value?
  • What digital tools do consumers use to connect with luxury brands? How often are they actually purchasing luxury products online?
  • How have luxury brands responded to consumers’ increased use of digital channels?
  • How are luxury brands personalizing the digital shopping experience?

This report is available to eMarketer corporate subscription clients only. eMarketer clients, log in and view the report now.


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