New research paves the way for overcoming consumer resistance to sustainable luxury goods

Rather than appealing to their environmental conscience, luxury goods companies need to focus on consumers’ sense of self-expression if they are to increase sales of eco-friendly products. The finding is made in a new study from an international team, co-authored by Essca School of Management

The luxury goods industry, characterised by brands such as Gucci, Dior, Chanel and Louis Vuitton, is estimated to be worth €353 billion annually. Despite the war in Ukraine and rising prices, a recent forecast by Bain expected it to grow by between six and eight per cent this year.

But according to research from Essca, published in Psychology & Marketing, luxury consumers are less sensitive to ecological issues when it comes to purchasing decisions and some actively reject sustainable goods.  The researchers also found that luxury consumers focus more on attributes such as the superior quality and the design of items, rather than how sustainable they are.

“Previous research has suggested that luxury attitudes are not always compatible with sustainable behaviour, which makes selling eco-luxury goods more challenging,” commented co- author Professor Sihem Dekhili, an expert in responsible consumption and ethical fashion. “We wanted to explore whether there were other ways to help eco-luxury acceptance and consumption.”

Data was collected from a panel of 359 US-based respondents, sampled to match US ethnic makeup and aiming to capture a broad range of luxury attitudes.

The results suggest that sustainability could be driven by other concerns beyond altruistic ones. The research also indicates that how consumers see themselves in terms of being socially responsible influences the relationship between luxury attitudes and desire for unique products.

“Positive sustainability behaviours may increase if consumers see it helps project their personality and meets their desire for unique products,” noted Professor Dekhili.

He continued: “For brands aiming to increase the uptake of eco-luxury goods, the key could be to emphasise product uniqueness and how it aids people with expressing their own uniqueness as sustainable consumers. This is well-illustrated by Stella McCartney, who presents eco-materials, such as vegetarian leather as luxurious, unique and resulting from highly innovative work.”

The researchers concluded that the luxury sector has a key role to play in terms of improving sustainability and acting as an example to other enterprises.

“The luxury sector faces many ecological challenges ranging from use of rare materials to animal welfare, so it is of great importance to move to a more sustainable future. Our findings show that luxury is compatible with sustainability”, affirmed Dekhili.

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