But there's no denying the changes wrought by the economic downturn: 65% of Affluents, for example, agree that "the definition of luxury today is not the same as it was five years ago." The desire for luxury experiences has not disappeared but has been redefined for a new era. The bar has been lowered in terms of what constitutes a luxury, and expressions of luxury have become smaller, more personal and intimate. Fully 92% of Affluents agree with the statement, "To me, small indulgences can be just as meaningful as purchasing a high-end luxury product." "Treats" are a growing subcategory -- more frequent, lower priced, less dramatic, but in many ways just as satisfying. Value continues to play a crucial role in today's conception of luxury, with 89% of Affluents saying that "when I decide to purchase a luxury item, I go out of my way to find the best price possible." In contrast, less than one in four say that "if a luxury product goes on sale, it lessens the perception of luxury."
The definition as luxury has always subjective -- 89% of Affluents agree that "luxury is in the eye of the beholder." When we asked respondents to describe their most recent luxury purchase, we were struck by the tremendous range and revealing nature of responses.
- Luxury is often intertwined with brands and their meanings, but not always the brands one would expect. While many cited a Mercedes, BMW or Lexus as their most recent luxury purchase, luxury for others meant a new Mini Cooper, Corvette or Prius.
- Luxury choices are often highly emotional. Many cited watches or jewelry from "traditional" prestige brands such as Cartier, Tiffany or Louis Vuitton, but others cited artistic upgrades and repairs to their existing wedding and engagement rings.
- Travel was often cited, both as a personal indulgence and an opportunity to bring family together.
- Whether it was a traditional luxury purchase or a treat such as a manicure-pedicure or spa treatment, consumers were ultimately seeking a self-reward to satisfy their feeling of "I deserve."
Looking ahead, luxury purveyors have reason to be optimistic. Across a variety of categories, we asked Affluents if their interest in luxury, high-end, premium brands would increase or decrease over the next six months. For every category we measured, "increasers" outnumbered "decreasers," by an average of nearly 6 percentage points, suggesting a net increase. Among those with $250,000 or more in annual household income -- that point on the household income curve where luxury interest and spending really begin to accelerate -- luxury spending "increasers" outnumber "decreasers" by an average of more than 17 percentage points. For example, 30% of those with annual household income of $250K+ will become more interested in luxury autos in the next six months, compared with 6% who will become less interested. Similar figures are found in categories as diverse as travel, dining and electronics.