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A $3,000 Purse? Why We Splurge

Louis Vuitton   / Credit: Louis Vuitton Store image via Shutterstock

What would make a woman spend $3,000 on a purse? Or $800 on a pair of shoes? It depends on where she lives.

That’s the finding of a study by the University of Delaware's Jaehee Jung, who collaborated with researchers in nine other countries to figure out what motivates consumers to buy luxury goods .

Jung, an associate professor of fashion and apparel studies, and the others found that consumers in different countries purchase luxury goods for different reasons. For makers of luxury goods, it is critical to consider these motivations, Jung said. 

In the U.S. it’s about hedonism, she said.

“American consumers generally buy goods for self-fulfillment, rather than to please others,” Jung said.

To conduct her research, Jung surveyed American college students. Many responded positively to statements such as “pleasure is all that matters.” Factors including the quality of luxury items were not a driving concern for the students. Jung said this preference isn’t surprising; it is cultural.

“In Western cultures where individualism is valued there is generally less pressure to fit in with groups, such as peers and co-workers, than in Eastern cultures where collectivism is valued,” she said. 

Hedonistic tendencies also seemed to drive the desire for luxury goods in countries with developing economies, the researchers found. Brazilian and Indian students perceived luxury in the same way.

However, French students perceived owning luxury goods differently.

Surveys of students in France indicated they value luxury items because they are expensive and exclusive. French consumers responded positively to statements including “true luxury products cannot be mass-produced” and “few people own a true luxury product.” 

“Many luxury goods originate in France,” Jung said. “Cultural heritage and pride might have made them feel luxury is not for everyone.” 

Meanwhile, Germans focused on function, emphasizing quality standards over prestige, as did Italians, Hungarians and Slovakians. 

Jung and her collaborators intend to keep exploring what drives luxury purchases, saying it has consequences for marketers, as demand increases and their target consumer base widens. A growing number of customers, college students included, now have a taste for luxury goods, but are not necessarily financially able to buy them.

The researchers’ findings were published in the journal Psychology & Marketing.

Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.