Q&A: Getting to Know the Luxury Customer

The luxury customer is someone that many higher-end and aspirational middle-market retailers want to attract, but they can be somewhat elusive. They don’t shop like regular consumers, and they expect a level of service that is a step above what most retailers offer. So what should you know about the luxury customer if you want to drive their business into your store?

Steve Pruitt

Steve Pruitt

We sat down with Blacks Founder and Senior Consultant Steve Pruitt, who has specialized in the luxury market for more than 30 years, to help us get better acquainted with this demanding and in demand customer.

What is the general profile of a luxury shopper?

There are two types of luxury consumers: Fashion enthusiasts who want the latest trends, and wealthy customers who are looking for quality pieces that they can add to their wardrobes. Most luxury shoppers fall into the second category.

It’s also important to keep in mind that what the luxury customer spends on apparel is generally a smaller part of their discretionary income than what the middle-market customer spends. They are buying clothes to stay looking fresh and up-to-date. This is not need-based shopping. They usually have a large wardrobe at home, including clothes that still have the tags on them since it may take a while for the customer to really embrace the style or garment. They are shopping to keep up with expectations, even though the majority of them are not that interested in luxury apparel.

That seems surprising because when we think luxury, we think fashion, but what you’re saying is that fashion is just a small part of this market.

That’s correct, and many luxury consumers don’t want to flash their wealth. That’s why brands like Brunello Cucinelli are so popular with this type of customer. They offer very subtle, high-end pieces that can cost you anywhere from $2,500-$5,000 for an outfit (depending on the fabric), but unless you know what you’re looking at you don’t necessarily realize how luxurious these garments really are.

The fashion industry is geared toward seasons. Do luxury shoppers buy on a seasonal basis, or year-round like everyone else?

The fashion enthusiasts definitely shop by season because they want to buy as soon as the new, hot items hit the stores. However, the luxury customer that’s not that into fashion will often have a budget for each season to keep their wardrobes up-to-date. They usually depend on salespeople to manage their wardrobes and suggest pieces to add each season.

So, it sounds like the luxury salesperson is important piece in the puzzle. What kind of qualities should they have to succeed?

Not only should they understand fashion and their own inventory, they also need to understand the luxury customer and be comfortable with their lifestyle. One of the biggest challenges we see among our luxury operations is finding salespeople who feel comfortable recommending that their clients purchase wildly expensive garments. What often happens is that the salesperson will down-sell their customers because they can’t imagine paying $4,000 for a suit themselves, not to mention buying multiple units.

In addition to a great salesperson, what level of service do luxury customers expect?

They expect the highest level of service possible. In the world of luxury, the carmaker Lexus set the benchmarks for what it means to be a luxury service provider. So, if you buy a Lexus and you need your oil changed you expect them to come to your house and change the oil in your driveway. Imagine that the luxury consumer feels the same way about buying apparel. They expect their salesperson to send them garments that they may like sight unseen, be able to return them or have them altered effortlessly, and generally be treated like kings and queens. If you really want to operate the luxury market, you have to be prepared to offer this level of service.

Being in the luxury apparel business sounds like a challenge. Is it worth it?

If you love the clothes, are service-oriented and like customers who can spend $10,000 to $20,000 a season, sure! But you have to love it, otherwise, why do it?