October 7, 2011
Take walk down Fifth Avenue, Michigan Avenue or Rodeo Drive, and you might think Louis Vuitton had finally had a sale. Block by block, the signature brown bags fill the streets. Never mind that the bags in the Spring 2011 collection start at $2,930 for a small clutch, and go up to a whopping $35,500.
With sales up 23 percent from last year to $23.4 billion, Louis Vuitton is setting the tone of growth for the wider luxury industry. In 2011, spending on premium items and services is expected to rise 8 percent over last year to $359 billion, according to an annual survey by American Express Publishing and Harrison Group.
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But the big players are not just the barons of Wall Street, sports, and entertainment.
“America’s top one percent – a little over one million households with a net worth of six million plus – are spending on luxuries,” says Ron Kurtz, president of the American Affluence Research Center. “But the bigger growth has come from the BRIC markets – Brazil, Russia, India and particularly China.”
China, the deus ex machina of the luxury market, is expected to account for 20 percent (roughly $27 billion) of global luxury sales by 2015, according to research by McKinsey, as the Chinese shift their consumption preferences from generic goods and materials to the status of internationally well-known brands. China’s unprecedented wealth has bolstered consumer confidence throughout the country; the fifth annual China Luxury Summit in December 2010 was aptly titled “China Luxury Market: An Oasis of Hope and Possibility.”
In the U.S., despite the belt-tightening across most of the country, wealthy Americans are starting to enjoy the good life once again, buying high-status items and services they had cut out of their 2009 and 2010 budgets. Indeed, rich Americans’ expenditures on luxury are set to rise $26.6 billion this year.
Whether such optimism will trickle down to the middle class is to be seen. Overall spending is still at a standstill, with consumer confidence declining sharply in August. Online shopping and social media may be the key to bringing up luxury sales in the United States as well as abroad. A recent study by Italian luxury foundation Altagamma found online sales (now only 2.6 percent of the market) growing at a rate of 20 percent a year as luxury brands multiply their friends on Facebook and activity on other social media sites.
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