We are constantly bombarded with images of luxury items and experiences in our daily life. Turn on the TV, the internet, walk down the street, ride a bus or a subway, listen to the radio or pick up a magazine. Advertising is everywhere and more often than not the products or experiences being promoted will fall into the category of a Luxury product. So let us briefly explore how we define luxury in this versatile and ever changing world.
What is Luxury?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “luxury” as:
“a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense”
• [count noun] an inessential, desirable item which is expensive or difficult to obtain:
luxuries like chocolate, scent, and fizzy wine
• [in singular] a pleasure obtained only rarely:
they actually had the luxury of a whole day together
From what we can gather through the literal definition of Luxury, it includes things that are desirable, that are non-essential, have some value or expense, and generate a state of comfort or elegance. As the world changes, so does the concept of luxury. For example, before the universality of the internet existed, the norm for communication was mail delivered by postal service, and then over time this expanded to include communication by fax. As regular people may not have seen the need to communicate immediately with someone in a written sense, the idea of email could have been viewed as a luxury. In that time, email was not essential, it was definitely expensive, difficult to obtain and really was for the elite. As the cost of computers became more within reach if the masses and the internet proliferated and became more openly accessible, email was transformed from a luxury available to only a select few, to its current state with individuals having many different email accounts which are in constant use.
We can see the same trends occur with the developments of new products, new technologies, new production and manufacturing methods and global competition. New products are released every day that can be classified as luxury products, such as Tablet PCs, jet boats, massage chairs, steam showers, etc. with the associated price tag allotted to the luxury category. Over time, as the exclusivity of the product becomes diminished and other manufacturers from around the world can replicate the item to the same quality level, production costs can be reduced and the items can become available to the consumer for a reasonable price. Access to these products becomes easier and more affordable.
The question becomes, if the price of a product classified as a luxury item becomes lower without compromising the quality of the product and access to the product is easier to eliminate the scarcity of rarity of the product, can we still define the product as a “Luxury” item?
Perhaps it is necessary to redefine the concept of luxury within the current environment of global commerce, open markets, international logistics and communication, and mature modern manufacturing and technological advancements. Of course we must take into account the reality that there remain areas of the world in which such extreme hunger and poverty exists that even clothing and food would be considered luxuries. This reality is not only a stark reminder but should remain a poignant message to countries in the developed world, that much more can and must be done to work toward a universal standard of living for the betterment of mankind. With greater access to manufacturing materials and technology at a global level, access to skilled labour at wage scales that vary from region to region, and global channels to promote and connect products to retailers and consumers, any product that can be mass produced with anything less than groundbreaking new technological advancements, can be delivered to the consumer markets at accessible costs within a short amount of time. As long as it takes for a competitor to reproduce or reverse engineer a product, is all it takes for the price to the consumer to start dropping.
The concept of affordability of course is different for everyone, as wages vary from person to person, however like anyone who has wanted an item slightly more expensive than they can afford, they save for that special purchase, hold out for that sale, or compare pricing and negotiate with several different stores until they get that product at a price they can afford. Never has this been so easy than at the current time, with access to information available equally to most of us. When we extend our theory to experiences such as travel, arts and entertainment, does it still hold water? As is evident by the surge of new entrants to the discount travel arena, competition in the event and life experience industries has run rampant to the extreme benefit of the consumer. Cheap flights can be found at different times of the year for almost anywhere on the planet, vacant hotel rooms are blown out at huge discounts, last minute tickets are discounted to keep the seats filled, and more. Services with low fixed costs can always be discounted by the supplier and is easier depending on the proximity to the nearest competitor. So our theory seems to hold true for products and services equally.
Looking back to our definition of Luxury, we still crave products that are non-essential and desirable, produce a state of comfort or elegance, but which now have become affordable. Does this mean that the core element of a luxury product is the expense of that product? If other people cannot afford something but you can, does that distinction make it a luxury? We have also argued that if a person were to wait to buy a product, so that the price can normalize, most products become affordable to the general public. What we can derive from our arguments is that the nature of luxury has changed significantly over the decades to allow much more access by the general public, should they choose to value an item and plan for the purchase. Luxury travel