By  on September 29, 2008

A survey of luxury consumers reveals unexpected insights about how the monied guy shops.

The male luxury consumer is often thought to be a relatively simple beast. He exhibits a Pavlovian response to quality as well as a preference for exclusivity; he has a keen eye for fabrics and construction, holds retailers to a higher standard and is fiercely committed to brands—or so conventional wisdom suggests. It seems all a retailer has to do is wave cashmere out the store window and luxury consumers will flock, Louis Vuitton wallets wide open. 

But DNR’s proprietary research on the habits of the male luxury consumer paints a more complicated picture. In fact, not only is the luxury consumer ambivalent about shopping, but he is also a bit less loyal to retailers than other men. His purchasing decisions are informed by a confluence of factors—including, most significantly, his spouse. And despite the dizzying sums that major luxury companies spend on marketing, the luxury consumer is not as married to brands as much as the market generally assumes. 

The DNR survey, conducted by the Global Strategy Group, reveals an apparent paradox about male luxury consumers: Only 56 percent of respondents say they enjoy shopping, the lowest of any segment in the study. But the same group is also less likely to associate a stigma with men who like to shop. So luxury consumers don’t like to shop per se, but they don’t have negative feelings about shopping either.

“This is a consumer who is extremely focused on time and convenience,” observes Paulette Garafalo, president of Hartmarx’s luxury group, which includes the Hickey Freeman brand. “Although he may not see a stigma, it’s not something he has time to do.” She notes that the Hickey Freeman store often opens early or closes late to accommodate the time-crunched businessmen who buy its high-end suits.

Such ambivalence toward shopping likely explains this consumer’s expectations for a more refined retail experience. Nearly a third of this segment cite crowds as the worst part of shopping. Another quarter say lack of service is the primary deterrent. 

Mario Bisio, proprietor of the three famed Mario’s specialty stores on the West Coast, suggests this consumer is accustomed to the hands-off service in many department stores, which creates an opportunity for stores, like his, which emphasize customer service. “Greeting customers, making them feel comfortable—that’s in our favor with this guy,” Bisio says. 

Getting this customer’s wife to accompany him into the store can be a boon for retailers too. Nearly half of male luxury consumers say they receive information about clothing trends from their spouse or partner. “The woman is the driver of purchasing,” says Bob Mitchell, co-president of Forum Group shops Mitchells, Richards and Marshs. “A lot of guys don’t want to change; she motivates him to buy new things.” 

But paradoxically the survey shows that luxury shoppers also have a strong desire to make purchasing decisions independently. More than 3/4 of luxury men say they pick out their own clothes. Bisio explains that a lot of women get their guys to come in, but once they are in the door, let them shop alone.

When it comes to retail and brand loyalty, this consumer acts more independently than the market assumes. More than a third of luxury shoppers say they do not buy the majority of their clothes from the same one or two stores—the most of any segment. “These guys are connoisseurs,” says Garafalo. “The more they learn, the more they want to shop around.” 

Brands, which rule the luxury segment via splashy advertising and big marketing budgets, may not be as powerful as price for this consumer. In a surprising finding, only 37 percent of these respondents agree that brand matters more than price. “I think people don’t realize how influenced they are by brands,” says Mitchell, adding that the numbers don’t agree with his understanding of modern retail. “The luxury consumer may have a ceiling, but he is buying brands.” The survey did show that luxury shoppers were twice as likely to choose brand over price as compared to the general population. 

The DNR survey included a sample of 200 luxury shoppers, defined as men with household incomes of $250,000 or more. 

As for splurge items, 23 percent of respondents named shoes as their top guilty pleasure, beating out suits and watches. That doesn’t surprise Garafalo, who worked at Bally and Ferragamo before joining Hickey. “Men feel that when they are buying shoes, that they are supporting their physical well-being,” she says. 

But that finding doesn’t line up with sales at either Mitchells or Mario’s, where shoes are not a top splurge category. Bisio did concede that good shoes are a requirement of a luxury wardrobe. “You can’t have a nice car with really ugly wheels,” he says. 

The DNR study also confirmed long-held assumptions about the luxury consumer. Fit is far more important than style when it comes to apparel. Luxury consumers are also less likely to set a budget before shopping and are more willing to pay for quality when it comes to apparel.

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