Luxury beauty brands have a lot to learn about modern consumer expectations

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

Claire Hobson, EVP, Global Business Director of The Future Laboratory speaking at the CEW Re-Coding Beauty event  (photo courtesy of JF Productions)
Claire Hobson, EVP, Global Business Director of The Future Laboratory speaking at the CEW Re-Coding Beauty event (photo courtesy of JF Productions)

Related tags Luxury

At a CEW event earlier this week in New York City, Claire Hobson, EVP of The Future Laboratory, presented the consultancy’s insights on the Five Stages of Luxury consumer expectations and notes on how cosmetics and personal care brands can best adapt.

The Five Stages of Luxury help explain consumer motivation, emotion, and phycology as it matters today. “Global luxury is entering another age of exciting transformation as a new generation of consumers takes control,” ​says Hobson. “Understanding this new fragmented reality is paramount to the success for luxury beauty brands.”

Luxury in stages

Silvia He, manager of vendor management for Amazon Beauty, framed up the evening well with opening remarks which made it quite clear that luxury today is about something beyond quality, sensibility, artistry, and price.Her company is striving to “bring the luxury of time to…consumers.”

Luxury today is less rational and more emotional, affirms Hobson. And, it’s important to understand that the Five Stages of Luxury are not necessarily sequential or linear. A consumer doesn’t move from one to another as if up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Each stage opens a window into the messaging, brand story, and aesthetic that will appeal to today’s divergent luxury beauty consumers.

Single digits

Here are the Five Stages of Luxury as determined by Hobson and her team at The Future Laboratory. (The following is taken verbatim from her insights.)

  • Stage One – Acquisition and Value: When Luxury is used to demonstrate social position and visibly separate the buyer from the mass market.
  • Stage Two – Discernment and Worth: “Luxurians” use their wealth to buy brands, products and services that enable them to articulate higher levels of taste, discernment and discrimination.
  • Stage Three – Emotion and Experience: Purchasers are less concerned with brand and value, and more with experiences and the emotional impact they can deliver.
  • Stage Four – Responsible and Aware: Consumers are concerned with a brand’s experiential value, especially around sustainability.
  • Stage Five – Intellectual and Poetic: Shoppers are driven by adventures and meaningful experiences, where brands, products and services play a secondary role.

Beauty by number

In a panel discussion following Hobson’s presentation Marc Rey, Shiseido Americas’ president and CEO, acknowledged that beauty (as an industry) is best at reaching consumers in stages 2 and 3. And, he went on to say that stage 4 is where beauty is growing the most.

Responding to questions from Pete Born, WWD’s executive beauty editor, Rey stuck to two key points: luxury is relative and promotional pricing is undermining business in this segment.

 He was sure to distinguish between the luxury buyer and the luxury moment, which he explains is the “moment when you make a deliciously unreasonable spend,” ​a moment that combines “guilt and passion.”  

“The concept of luxury is being redefined and the consumer’s perception of luxury is driving the evolution,”​ says Rey.

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