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From Rolex to Iphone: Millennials and the Meaning of Luxury

How do Millennials view Luxury? We wanted to know. So we launched a study on our platform, and the responses we received were illuminating, capturing the sophistication of this generation and the tech world they know deeply. In many ways, Millennials haven’t redefined Luxury, they’ve expanded the experience.

Research Objective

To understand how Millennials define Luxury versus previous generations.

Target Audience

National US sample

23 cities

Ages 19 – 30

Even Male/Female ratio

HH income > national average

1/3rd had HH incomes > $100,000

Mix of ethnicities

socioeconomic backgrounds

We Learned

Millennials recognize two types of luxury:

Old-Fashioned Luxury or “True Luxury”

  • Millennials equate this with things like private jets, mansions and Rolex watches, which they acknowledge haven’t changed in generations.
  • Highest quality materials are key.

Modern, Millennial Luxury or “My Luxury”

  • They think of this as inclusive personalized experiences, delivered through high-tech digital means that are constantly evolving.
  • Highest quality user experiences/ user interfaces are key

Technology (especially smartphones) changed the Luxury game in 3 ways:

  • From limited access to inclusive & always available.
  • From narrow definition to more expansive, more sophisticated notion.
  • From static, offline products to digitally-connected, ever-evolving experiences.

I think luxury still has the same general meaning. Like people look at it for something that makes them happy, something that relaxes you but now it’s a little more technological.

~ Alexandra R.

So my parent’s generation seem to feel like if their house was the biggest on the block, if their car was [the] newest car…that was luxury for them. But our generation is more like, if our technology is the newest, our smartphone…we are showing that off as luxury…it’s not so much the houses anymore. It’s the technology.

~ Lisa T.

Every generation over time has gotten progressively richer and more sophisticated…for example my parents’ parents may have thought that…a standard car would have been a luxury…But in this day and age, I don’t believe things like a car, or…cell phone (are) considered luxurious in themselves…our (Millennials) definition of luxury differs from previous generations in that it’s (an) evolution.

~ Daniel D.

Let’s dive into each of the ways that luxury has evolved from “True Luxury” to “My Luxury”…

From limited access to inclusive & always available:

  • Millennials see the internet as the equalizer, where it’s not just the 1% who can gain access to Luxury goods.
  • Millennials describe Luxury as having access to anything they want at their fingertips…smartphones have raised their expectations of “Luxury on demand.”
  • Millennials say that many experiences that were once considered Luxury are now attainable in a new way. Town car services like Uber and spa days through Groupon can be obtained seamlessly and effortlessly…where great UX/UI can be a valuable brand equity.
  • An experiential and tech-centric definition of Luxury lends itself to include others, often through social media.

Technology helps us get things, and you can get luxurious things discounted with Living Social, Groupon, these kinds of websites. So I think for me [luxury is] accessible, it’s available.

~ Darcy S.

Feel like my definition of luxury has been changed because of the ease of communication that we have nowadays. Back then you kind of heard stories in the newspaper about luxurious items, maybe like a town car or products that your favorite celebrity wore.Nowadays it’s a matter of this…you look at something on Twitter or Instagram and you kind of get a sense of what people consider to be top items or top brand clothing or devices.

~ George A..

Western brands used to be very exclusive to a select few. Companies like Gucci, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, used to design clothes, bags, leather goods only for the elite class, and it was the norm for this same class to dress in one brand from head to toe.But now, so many fashion brands have merged, and these fashion brands have redefined their marketing strategy to reflect a luxurious appeal of the mass class, such that these fashion brands are now known as luxury fashion brands.Nowadays, it is common to see a celebrity wearing jeans from H&M, a shirt from Sala, earrings from Chanel, or a bag from Louis Vuitton. Luxurious brands now are more diversified and have become more reachable.

~ Mariane V .

Luxury sort of has changed in that a lot of things that are luxurious are more accessible. For instance in the electronics world everyone has an iPhone or an equivalent smartphone. Those are affordable for a whole great mass of people.Certain things that are ultra luxurious always have been like a Rolls Royce that hasn’t changed. But in general things that are considered in the past, say like travel to destinations… a lot of that is more accessible to more people now, to the masses.

~ Andrew K.

We live in a world now where it’s easier to travel than different generations. The cost of flights isn’t as much as different generations. So, we’re able to do different luxurious things, eat out to luxurious restaurants in a way that it’s not such a rich and poor. It’s accessible to everyone.

~ Darcy S.

From narrow definition to more expansive, more sophisticated notion:

  • Luxury is no longer confined to specific status symbols like an ultra-expensive car or a watch. In fact, Luxury has permeated almost all facets of people’s lives – from luxury cupcakes to luxury computers to luxury dog spas and everything else in-between.
  • It’s as if the whole idea of what is Luxury has become more elastic than in years past. Given this, Luxury is open to a broader interpretation – i.e., Luxury is less grounded in concrete examples of wealth, excess and status and more to do with the “luxification” or making of experiences across a wide spectrum of interests and activities more Luxurious.

When they (other generations) think of luxury (it is) like the core luxury brands such as Gucci or Fendi or Channel. The way we’re defining luxury in this generation…it’s more of a broader scale. There’s more brand name designers that are actually available…such as going to Barney’s or Bloomingdale’s.

~ Tiffany C.

And to me, luxury is a matter of a mix of practicality and expense…I consider this phone a little bit luxurious because I went a little bit out of my budget to get it, but at the same time I consider it very useful to myself. Other people consider luxury to be…something completely out of their budget. Not necessarily as practical, but something that is an unneeded expense, but they still buy it.

~ George A..

My definition of luxury…is the idea of less is more given that much more of the world has been explored now and a lot of the things that were luxurious in the past to earlier generations are not really quite so much now. So, a lot of it comes down to finding that kind of Zen “less is more” attitude about finding luxury in simple things and sustainability (e.g., spa treatments that use basic ingredients over chemicals and complex concoctions).

~ Jonathan M.

Previous generations really defined luxury by a price point. Something that was expensive was luxurious whether it was a watch or whether it was a vehicle or a vacation or something like that. I think my generation, which is definitely in kind of the ‘me generation,’ I think really defines luxury by experiences and how personalized something is for us.

~ Jesse G..

From static, offline products to digitally connected, ever-evolving experiences:

  • Seamless, personalized experiences resonate powerfully with Millennials (vs. off-the-grid analog products). No longer about people conforming to luxury products and brands. Now Luxury conforms to Millennials’ needs and desires.
  • Smartphone integration is at the core of personalized experiences, which allows Millennials to create bespoke experiences for themselves that previous generations did not engage in.
  • Millennials see Luxury in experiences that minimize the hassles and barriers in between them and the achievement of what they want.

I think of luxury as more of a service-based experience. It’s more about the experience to me, where I think in the past I just — my perception of what it might have been in the past is that it’s more regarding wealth and your home and how much money you make. And while that’s true, you can make no money but still experience luxury services such as going to a nightclub and receiving bottle services. It’s how the whole experience is so much different than someone who’s coming in general admission. Or if you happen to be invited on a private charter jet, even though you can’t afford it, you’re still getting that luxury experience. It’s service-based, it’s the luxury to not be working all the time and to have time to yourself and time to experience what you want to experience.

~Cait M.

I think my definition is a lot more personalized…people are trying to individualize themselves as opposed to trying to be something that they see…people want experiences that are closer to them and whatever they feel they need; and it’s less so about wealth and extravagance as opposed to something that has meaning.

~ Sharik A.

My definition of luxury is having…a richness of experience, so being able to find out something very quickly. Like what concerts are going on, being able to go there, being able to do everything from your phone…not having to worry about all the logistics, but being able to go do it and share the experience with your friends. I guess it differs from that of previous generations, because there’s not necessarily one material good that is a status thing, like a Rolex…(that) once you have it, you’ve made it. It’s more…to have a nice meal or go to a concert…where it’s seamless…to have the experience.

~ Eugene P.

At the end of the day: Millennials are investing heavily in “making things their own” to have enriched experiences.

  • They’re investing time in personalizing their smartphones (e.g., individually customized interfaces and unique app configurations).
  • This investment of time has created a strong bond with not only their smartphones, but the enriched experiences that result from being digitally connected to an ever-evolving experience.
  • They’re invested emotionally in the positive feelings they get from pampering themselves with luxurious features and experiences across all aspects of their lives.

These enriched experiences are so embedded into their lives that Millennials now have an “Expectation of Luxury.”

Well luxury twenty years ago is a lot different than what it is today…just everything from little things inside of houses like faucets and different technologies as far as the types of TV’s, gaming systems, even cable providers…now it’s just a lot more luxurious than more people had back in the day.

~ Corey L.

The difference is (i.e., the difference between her definition of luxury and luxury as defined by previous generations), is that ease of technology and life…I have a lot of luxuries that I take for granted, like I expect my phone to be fast. I expect to have the newest phone. I want cable to be free because I stream all my TV on my iPad. Those are luxuries that I take for granted…I can watch television wherever I am or this phone tells me how to get somewhere with directions…Also I just took Uber this week and I think that is an ultimate, awesome luxury and I don’t think my parents would even really understand or be interested in it.

~ Vanessa L

Conclusions & Implications

  • Despite high student debt, high unemployment rates and fewer prospects to “one-up” their parents materially, Millennials are finding luxury on their own terms and not feeling sorry for themselves.
  • In fact, Millennials think of themselves as living more luxurious lives than their parents, largely based on the ease of everyday living enhanced through technology.
  • While quality materials or ingredients are still important, things like seamless digital experiences can dramatically enhance Millennials’ perceptions of a brand’s Luxury status.
  • The Internet of Things will create opportunities for brands (that have historically not been digital) to forge new relationships with Millennials.
  • This new version of luxury may seem at odds with the old version but it isn’t: technology has added dimension to the concept of Luxury, rather than completely redefining it.
  • Although Millennials acknowledge that many signifiers of Luxury remain unchanged from the past, experiences form a bigger top-of-mind part of Luxury for them than products.
  • If Luxury itself were a brand, it has been repositioned as more malleable, where Millennials can play an active role in shaping it to their liking (very simply acquiring it).
  • We have entered a new era, where the core tenets of Luxury have shifted; this creates opportunities for brands to literally and emotionally connect with Millennials in profoundly different ways from past generations.
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