Luxury for oneself or luxury for others? Exploring the underlying emotions behind inconspicuous luxury consumption
The field of luxury has been widely examined due to the financial advancement the industry has experienced over the last 10 years. Scholars have studied its antecedents by utilising attitude-behavioural models to discover consumers’ motivations to purchase luxury goods. However, research is scarce in understanding the different kinds of luxury brand signals and consumption involved, specifically the inconspicuous and conspicuous kind. This research focuses on inconspicuous luxury consumption with the aim of deepening insights around what related emotions are involved in this consumption preference, why do they experience them and how do they deal with them. Additionally, this study explores non-financial assets such as cultural capital and social capital and how these may emotionally drive inconspicuous consumers to purchase certain levels of luxury brand signals. Utilising an exploratory and qualitative approach, in-depth interviews with 10 luxury consumers in Dubai with inconspicuous preferences were undergone and thematic analysis was used for analysis and interpretation.
Themes uncovered revealed that consumers go through a process of planning their luxury journey by pre-evaluating their choices of luxury conspicuousness. They exercise their active roles in the process and experience the choices they make and finally post-evaluate these choices. Emotions were revealed to have an important role in every part of this process, which dictates their behaviours, moving them on to the next stage of their journey. They experience these emotions because of the non-financial resources (social and/or cultural capital) they deem important to them. As they exercise their consumer choice, they experience positive, negative or mixed experiential emotions depending on whether it met their expectations. If it has, they are then able to enjoy their luxuries because it offers them symbolic schemas that complete their internal and external needs and extensions of themselves. After evaluating their experienced emotions throughout the journey, they begin the cycle once again by choosing inconspicuous luxury brands that positively elevates their emotions.
It is interesting to note that inconspicuous luxury consumers demonstrate several characteristics based on their social and cultural capital, which have not been identified before in past literature. This research uncovers six groupings yielding a typology of inconspicuous luxury consumers: fashion influencers, trendsetters, fashion followers, fashion indifferent, cultural conservatives and habitual buyers. They not only desire inconspicuous luxury brands for its aesthetic beauty, functionality and quality but because it asserts their different roles in society. The usefulness of the typology is demonstrated through links to emotions and levels of social and/or cultural capital and its applications to consumption levels of inconspicuous luxury goods (i.e. highly inconspicuous versus lower inconspicuous levels).
Findings offer theoretical implications in terms of luxury consumption and brand signalling and a deeper understanding into what can only be described as exploratory insights into the lives of inconspicuous luxury consumers. Further research in this line of work is needed to better uncover how emotions have a powerful role in luxury consumers’ decision-making process. Managerial implications for luxury retail management and communications of the brand are also explained to assist in the conception and development process of future luxury brands and designs to better segment and target different desired markets.