Affluent U.S. women haven’t let up on their luxury shopping and are getting more optimistic about returning to stores later this year.

And a higher percentage of the demographic are inclined to resume traveling and socializing in the second half, though a vast majority remain inclined to continue to lay low.

Those are among the takeaways from the IFOP North America 2021 Affluent Consumer Insights Study, obtained exclusively by WWD.

“Typically, affluent women shop luxury for a social occasion or a special event but even with the absence of those during the pandemic, by and large they haven’t held off on their purchases. People are still buying, and jewelry in particular is doing very, very well,” said Stephanie Sandler, president of IFOP North America, the recently launched New York-based arm of the Paris-based IFOP market research and public opinion polling company.

IFOP NA was launched last month and Sandler, a former Compagnie Financière Richemont and Chanel executive, was appointed its president. IFOP is the acronym for l’Institut Français d’Opinion Publique.

For the study, conducted online from Jan. 6 to 12, IFOP NA surveyed 500 women in the U.S., ages 25 to 59, with a household income of at least $150,000, and a mean household income of $231,000. The participating women were all shoppers of luxury, whether it was premium skin care, fine fragrances, fine jewelry, luxury fashion, watches, handbags or footwear.

“Eighty-seven percent of the respondents claimed not to delay purchasing luxury items. That’s a surprisingly large number and may be driven by the affluence of this demographic and their reductions in spending in other areas like travel and social events,” Sandler said. Of the 13 percent who did delay, 10 percent did so because of the pandemic, and 3 percent had other reasons.

Thirty-eight percent of those surveyed indicated being”very optimistic” about shopping in stores during the second half of 2021, a significant jump from 25 percent who said they are “very optimistic” about shopping in stores during the first half of 2021.

Seventy-seven percent of the affluent women surveyed indicated they are either “somewhat optimistic” or “very optimistic” about shopping in stores in the second half of 2021, which is when many more Americans are expected to have received COVID-19 vaccinations and the economy is expected to pick up. Even so, the survey’s findings suggest that affluent women aren’t any more optimistic about the state of their personal finances or the U.S. economy from the first to second halves.

With traffic in stores improving, “Brands and retail should prepare for this with inventory, and a differentiated experience/heightened engagement from online, as the internet fills most needs,” Sandler said.

According to the study’s findings, optimism about travel and socializing is growing, but most affluent women will still likely stay home. Thirty-five percent of the respondents indicated they’re “very optimistic” about traveling domestically in the second half, versus 20 percent in the first half, and 25 percent said they’re very optimistic about traveling abroad in the second half, versus 18 percent in the first half.

More women will be ready to socialize later this year, but it’s still only a minority. Of the 500 surveyed, 28 percent feel very optimistic about socializing in the second half, up from 18 percent in the first half.

Among other key IFOP NA findings: affluent shoppers prefer to shop fine jewelry, fine fragrances and luxury watches in stores. Not surprisingly, those who prefer in-store shopping for these categories tend to be older. While online shopping skews younger, increasingly older women are online, too, but websites should continue to strive to bring in older shoppers.

Affluent women shoppers are most comfortable shopping online for athleisure, workout wear, outerwear, jackets and luxury handbags — all categories where sizing and fit are usually less an issue versus dresses, suits and sportswear.

Online shoppers for fine jewelry, luxury watches and luxury handbags prefer to shop the brand’s own website, rather than a department store’s or multibrand website, the study indicates. But they are generally comfortable shopping department store websites for fine fragrances and designer clothing.

With shopping for cosmetics and skin care online, luxury shoppers are split almost evenly on preferring brand websites, department store websites or multibrand websites like Sephora. Online, “Makeup and skin care is anyone’s game,” Sandler said. “That means there is an opportunity to capture the customer, whether a department store, a brand or Ulta.”

In other key findings in the study:

  • Livestream shopping events and online tutorials are of low interest to luxury shoppers.
  • The affluent demographic has been very active on social media during the pandemic. YouTube, Netflix, Instagram and Facebook saw the greatest usage gains.
  • 37 percent of affluent women will use TikTok this year — it’s not just for teens anymore.

Stephanie Sandler. Photo by Nancy Borowick  Nancy Borowick/Coutesy Photo

On the launch of IFOP’s North American office, Sandler said, “We are building out our full-time team and taking advantage of the gig economy, curating a group of experts,” to limit overhead. “The staff will be slim and lean.”

Sandler’s career in luxury started in 2002 as an in-house lawyer at Chanel, specializing in intellectual property, protecting trademarks and nabbing counterfeiters. Later, she built up Chanel’s U.S. department for customer insights, shifted to skin care marketing, and then marketing and client experience for Chanel watches and fine jewelry. In 2017, she joined Richemont to help revitalize Piaget as vice president of marketing and communications.

“The marketing world has changed so much,” Sandler said. “Everybody is being overwhelmed with so much data. But I don’t want to provide clients with just information. I want to give insights on what the data means for the brands and their products. I want to help brands identify white space, distill consumer trends, and to be able to tell the story. No one has cracked conversion — how you really recruit true new customers.”

The New York office will focus on market research for luxury, beauty and wellness companies. Sandler declined to name any clients, citing confidentiality. The company has offices in Shanghai and Hong Kong as well as Paris and New York.

“Opening this new hub bears witness to IFOP’s growth strategy and positive dynamics. It will reinforce our position in the luxury, beauty and wellness sectors in the U.S.A. — the biggest market worldwide,” said Stéphane Truchi, chief executive officer of IFOP Group.

“Furthermore, the hub will enable us to ascertain that we provide our clients with comprehensive coverage of their key markets: North America, Europe and Asia,” added Turchi. “Stephanie will be a vital asset for our group thanks to her local and international experience and her in-depth understanding of brand and communication strategies acquired at Chanel and Richemont n New York and Paris.”

IFOP Group was founded in 1938 by George Stoetzel, a Sorbonne professor, after he met George Gallup, the American pioneer of survey sampling.