Malinda Sanna

A Los Angeles vineyard owner says, “I’ve definitely been thinking about pop-up businesses. My idea is to have a wine truck, [like an] ice cream truck, ringing a bell up and down the street,” beckoning cabernet and merlot lovers to buy a bottle or two.

A Miami product designer thinks it’s “classy” that Chanel e-mailed invitations to a virtual concert as “a creative way to remind people about their brand.”

“Great lounge (wear) gets my attention. Obsessed with Rick Owens,” said a Chicago philanthropist.

Those are some thoughts from female luxury consumers on spending and brand engagement in the health crisis, from a study in April by Spark Ideas, a New York-based luxury market research company. Through “mobile ethnography,” Spark Ideas examined the mind-set of female luxury consumers, identified brands capturing their attention, and looked at how spending has shifted amid the pandemic.

“Beauty overall is doing very well among luxury buyers because it brings women instant gratification, whether it’s applying a facial mask for skin care, or experimenting with color. Women are having fun with this,” said Malinda Sanna, founder and chief executive officer of Spark Ideas, summarizing the findings of the research.

“They dye their own roots. They do their own manicures. There is a strong do-it-yourself movement even at the luxury level. The luxury buyer is experimenting with brands she hasn’t tried before and engaging with promotional e-mails at a much higher rate. Drunk Elephant skin care and Hanacure skin care are examples of brands that are buzzy.”

Among other findings:

• OCD is in full force, though younger affluents are less freaked out.

• Simple luxuries like flowers and facials count more; there is wariness over pricy purchases.

• Messaging that companies care about employees and shoppers is good but repetitive and boring.

• There’s frustration over the abundance of out-of-stocks and canceled orders.

• Expect a backlash against sweats, post-COVID-19.

Spark Ideas uses LookLook, a proprietary, qualitative multimedia market research app enabling interaction and learning from its panel of 1,500 luxury shoppers, via e-mail, texting, chat, phone calls, photos and video. It’s in real time, creating what Sanna calls a “rich set of data and observations.” Participants in the panel (called The Collective) are “carefully vetted, active luxury shoppers” representing different ages, occupations and geographies.
With social distancing, LookLook has greater relevance and feasibility compared to other research methods. “There are a lot of people who have more time on their hands,” and are eager to communicate and connect, Sanna said.

Spark Ideas’ clients are typically brands or retailers requesting insights on online shopping habits, purchase funnel decisions, package designs, creative ideas, outfitting, new store formats, product introductions, and other areas. Past clients include Google, Intermix, McDonald’s, Lululemon, Veronica Beard and Claudio Riaz, a high-end color cosmetics brand

Participants download the app, log on, and answer questions, often supplemented with video and screen shots. The interface is intuitive, Sanna said, and avoids “group think” to facilitate probing on an individual basis. “We even follow people into stores. Our app lets them screen record their shopping experience and discuss their thoughts while recording. This allows brands to see firsthand the path to product discovery and purchase.”

Panelists are paid $150 to $500 or receive a gift, and feel like “insiders” with “valued” opinions, Sanna added.

Participants are identified by only their first names, occupation and the city where they live, for a degree of anonymity. “We are very careful that before we upload their pictures or videos for our clients, we get their permission.” From LookLook’s visual and verbal set of narratives from luxury consumers, Spark Ideas creates reports for clients with “actionable, innovative recommendations.”  

LookLook can also be a tool for customer relationship management, enabling vendors like Riaz to directly interact online with a select group of panelists who have an interest in the brand’s products.

For the April study, 26 panelists from around the U.S. were selected. That seems like a small number, but according to Sanna, “It’s a pretty typical sample size. The nature of qualitative research is small samples, and you go deep. It’s not meant to be representative.”

Several identified jewelry as a “justifiable” purchase during these difficult times. As one Dallas interior designer said, “Maybe there is something about jewelry that seems more enduring and timeless…and a better investment than handbags and certainly clothing.”
The LookLook app.

The LookLook app.