Consumers are increasingly turning to the Internet to research their luxury purchases. Not surprisingly, brands and marketeers have taken note and are scouring those searches for insight into purchasing behaviour. The latest analysis of the kind to be released is authored by Geneva-based consulting group Digital Luxury Group. Dubbed "World Luxury Index Handbags", the report offers a ranking and analysis of the most searched-for handbag brands based on consumer search inputs using major Internet search engines. The report examines over 130 brands and over 130 million searches in eight countries.
Taken at face value, what does the World Luxury Index Handbags' brand ranking tell me about the current state of the luxury handbag market? When a mid-range fashion brand like Coach (and to a lesser extent Longchamp) ranks well above Hermes in a report of consumers' Internet searches, I can only come to two conclusions. First, consumers are not able to distinguish between a mid-range fashion product and a luxury product. Second and more importantly, consumers are unable to distinguish between a mid-range brand and a luxury brand.
A third possible conclusion relates to the report's methodology. I mean no disrespect to either the Coach brand or the authors of the survey, Digital Luxury Group (a group of professionals I know personally and have a great deal of respect for) but I simply don't believe Coach can be legitimately considered a luxury brand and therefore lumped in with the likes of Chanel and Hermes. Labeling brands and products "premium" or "affordable luxury" does not change the reality of materials, craftsmanship and production techniques. Moreover, I think it does consumers a huge disservice as it legitimizes what is little more than a marketing claim.
While there is absolutely no shame in producing a good quality mid-range fashion accessory, there is considerable shame in trying to dress it up as something it is not which is precisely what Coach and many other brands are doing. To me, it is both a matter of legitimacy and credibility vis a vis consumers. It doesn't help that Coach's creative director, Reed Krakoff, produces his own eponymous line of clothing and accessories which can in fact be credibly considered luxury goods with materials and production to match the marketing claim. Compare a Reed Krakoff "Boxer" bag and a typical Coach bag and you'll see what I mean. The contrast between the two brands is stark. It also speaks volumes.
To a certain extent, I blame large luxury brands themselves for having so thoroughly (and opportunistically) muddied the waters throughout the 90's with product categories dubbed "masstige" and "affordable luxury". By steadily eroding the traditional boundaries between fashion and luxury, they have managed to eviscerate the term "luxury" and strip it of any intrinsic meaning. Viewed in this light, the fact that Coach outranks Louis Vuitton and Gucci in a survey of "luxury" handbags, two brands at the forefront of the "masstige" movement prior to the crash of 2008, might be considered just desserts. Reap what you sow. In the meantime, if you happen to be a consumer, caveat emptor.
The full report is available online at: dlgr.com/handbags. More detailed data and analysis is available upon request.
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