NEW YORK — The luxury customer is digging in this year — literally.

The forecast for luxury goods business this year may be cloudy, but the one sector that is expected to boom is luxury garden goods. This sector will be followed by linens and bedding, and then apparel and accessories.

The outlook is offered in a new study, Luxury Market Report: Who Buys Luxury, What They Buy & Why They Buy. The results are slated to be presented here Tuesday at the National Retail Federation’s 92nd annual convention, by market researcher Pamela N. Danziger, who previewed her findings exclusively for WWD.

"Except for purchases for the garden, most luxury consumers expect to spend less this year on luxuries," Danziger said of her findings. The research showed 57 percent of those polled plan to spend "more or the same" on luxury garden goods in 2003 than they did in 2002. After that, 47 percent of consumers anticipated spending more or the same this year on linens and bedding, and 43 percent aimed to allocate more or the same for apparel and accessories.

Noting the recent emergence of luxury consumers who are leaving their self-indulgent cocoon and engaging more in the outside world, Danziger predicted members of that group will place a rising priority on their personal appearance — and products such as apparel, accessories, fragrance, cosmetics, watches, and jewelry will benefit over the next few years. Further, she projected the rapidly growing number of empty nesters will shift some of the dollars they once devoted to home and family goods, to fashion and beauty purchases.

But affluent consumers leaving their cocoons, dubbed butterflies by Danziger, currently account for only 27 percent of the country’s luxury consumers. Those still enveloped in their self-indulgent lifestyles, or cocooners, represent 44 percent of the luxe crowd, while the aspiring luxury class accounts for 29 percent.

The butterflies increasingly are looking for new meaning in their lives, beyond expressing themselves through conspicuous consumption, unlike the cocooners, who are content to express themselves through their luxurious lifestyles and purchases. The aspiring class, in contrast, is still striving to achieve the level of luxury they’d like to enjoy.At the same time, butterflies are more highly influenced by the reputation of a brand and store, and by word of mouth from their social circle, than are the other two groups. But butterflies also are the least motivated by the status or exclusivity of a product. They also possess a democratic sensibility about luxury, believing everyone is entitled to it and helping to redefine a category once defined, in part, by its availability to a relative few. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is an archetypical butterfly, Danziger said, as he has balanced personal indulgences with contributions to charities and endowments, which reflects a sense of social responsibility.

Butterflies have the highest annual income of the three luxury groups, averaging $172,000 annually, compared with average income of $151,000 among the cocooners, and $135,000 among the aspiring class. Women account for 68 percent of the butterflies; 71 percent of cocooners, and 63 percent of the aspirants. More than half of each group is 49 years old or younger: 55 percent of the butterflies; 56 percent of cocooners, and 56 percent of the aspirants.

The Luxury Market Report is based on a national sample of 866 randomly selected affluent households, and seven focus groups of high-income female homeowners, whose house values ranked in the top 20 percent here and in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago. Women represent roughly 70 percent of the sample. The survey’s typical respondent was a highly educated, married woman with one child and annual household income of $152,000, living in a suburban home valued at $250,000.

During 2002, electronics sparked the most luxury purchases, Danziger found, with 51 percent of those surveyed saying they’d bought those products. Electronics was followed by luxury purchases of garden goods, with 45 percent reporting such transactions; fragrance and beauty, 44 percent; apparel and accessories, 41 percent; furniture and floor coverings, 35 percent; linens and bedding, 34 percent; jewelry and watches, 32 percent; fabrics, wall coverings and window treatments, 29 percent; kitchen appliances, bath and building materials, 29 percent; kitchenware and cookware, 29 percent; automobiles, 24 percent; art and antiques, 19 percent; tabletop, 8 percent, and recreational vehicles, 8 percent.

Annual spending on luxury goods averages approximately $9,000 per luxury consumer. Households with annual income exceeding $100,000 spend $12,300 a year, on average, for luxuries, while households with annual income under $100,000 spend $3,000, on average, for such items. Not surprisingly, automobiles capture the biggest luxe dollar volume, followed by recreational vehicles, and art and antiques.

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