Byline: Ira P. Schneiderman

Retailers have long known how to use language as a weapon to win customers. The word “sale,” for example, can be a powerhouse — although lately, it’s been so overused that much of the punch is gone.
Not so luxury. It still connotes pleasure and indulgence. It commands attention. It’s sexy. It’s ageless. And luxury has always been linked to fashion.
In the past, luxury merchandising has meant selling high-priced items to a wealthy, but extremely limited clientele. That’s not quite so true today. Now, luxury merchandising is far more widespread. There’s a larger group of affluent people, and the Internet has made luxury goods available in markets previously untouched. Add to that a cultural climate that reinforces and even emphasizes indulgence and you get people of sometimes moderate means willing to spring for that pricy accessory. And even if they don’t own a particular brand, chances are high they’re aware it exists.
WWD decided to delve into the attitudes that affluent women have toward luxury brands in general and fashion in particular, both as consumers and style leaders. It has been monitoring consumer awareness with biennial surveys of highly recognizable names in fashion since 1993. This is the fifth survey measuring consumer familiarity and attitudes toward a wide range of brands. As in the past, brands are ranked against each other to create a listing of the top 100 names. This year’s list focuses on the luxury category.
Every consumer study has its own set of challenges, and this was no exception. We chose not to define the term “luxury” for respondents. Rather, we believed a representative sample of “upper income” women would have their own understanding of the term.
We defined “upper income” as $100,000 or more annual household income for multiperson households with a female head, or $75,000 or more annual household income for single person households with female head. The target upper income group in the study represents 9.9 percent of total U.S. households based on Census statistics.
WWD commissioned the custom services division of The NPD Group, an independent research firm in Port Washington, N.Y., to conduct the national survey.
The sample for the study was selected from the NPD Online Panel, an Internet-based consumer group, to reflect a nationally representative cross section of upper-income women over 18. Panelists were sent letters that invited them to the NPD survey site. Participants in the study filled out an onscreen questionnaire containing 180 prelisted brands of designer fashion/ accessories, fine jewelry/watches, beauty/fragrances and lingerie.
NPD has conducted extensive side-by-side parallel testing of the online and mail methodologies. Conclusions from these tests have indicated that for basic awareness-, attitude- and usage-tracking measures, similar responses are observed across methodologies.
Respondents were asked their responses to the following:
What is your degree of familiarity with individual brands: very familiar, somewhat familiar, not at all familiar?
Which brands do you consider luxury brands?
Have you ever purchased any of these brands?
Which one brand that you currently own do you consider to be your most luxurious item?
If you could buy one fashion outfit, and money was no object, what brand would you buy?
The survey also sought to establish the respondent’s concept of nonfashion luxury by asking, “Which one brand outside of the fine jewelry and watches, fashion, beauty and lingerie spheres defines luxury to you?”
Finally, in order to find out the luxury items that ranked high on wish fulfillment, the survey asked respondents how they would spend an unexpected windfall or inheritance.
To offset the problems of brands that had low “familiarity,” but register a high “considered a luxury brand” rating, a weighting system was applied. This weighting system gave each brand 5 points for the “very familiar” rating and 5 points for a “considered a luxury” rating. When the two ratings are combined, this gave brands with both high “familiarity” and high “considered luxury” ratings a higher overall ranking.
Of the 1,700 respondents selected, 809 returned completed questionnaires, a 48 percent response rate. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.5 percent.

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