Luxury spending under pressure in US

29 July 2011

NEW YORK: Affluent consumers in the US are reducing their outlay on luxury goods, reflecting widespread concern about the country's economy, new figures show.

Unity Marketing, the specialist research firm, polled 1,272 shoppers boasting an average annual income of $301,800, and a median net worth of $856,000.

This group thus represents the opinions displayed by the top 20% of households across America, which deliver over 40% of domestic expenditure.

In all, the organisation's Luxury Consumption Index, determining perceptions of the financial climate, stood at 66 points for the last quarter.

This constituted a contraction of more than 16 points measured against the total of 82.8 points recorded in an equivalent survey conducted three months earlier.

More broadly, the extent of this decrease proved to be the highest since that witnessed between Q4 2007 and Q1 2008, when the downturn was beginning to exert a profound impact on popular attitudes.

Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, argued the decline in confidence among the panel, described as the "economy's heavy lifter segment", was a worrying development.

"If those at the top income levels feel stressed and unwilling to spend imagine what it says about people living in middle-income households," she said.

"We stand on the precipice of a double-dip recession, if the affluent consumer's confidence doesn't turn up in the next quarter."

In a correlative trend, the amount of money interviewees spent on luxury products and services tumbled by 8.4% quarter on quarter, a rate of depreciation reaching 18.4% year on year.

Looking specifically at high-net worth (HNW) consumers – possessing minimum investible assets of $1m, and making up 47% of the sample - overall sentiment appeared to be more positive.

Indeed, 42% of this demographic expected to boost their outlay on premium goods during the coming year, as was the case for just 14% of the remaining contributors, Unity Marketing's study revealed.

"For luxury marketers, identifying and targeting the HNW customers will be key for success in the second half of 2011," Danziger said.

"Increasingly, income alone is not an accurate measure of a household's spending power."

"In the current economy many high-earning households are living pay check to pay check just like those in the middle-income brackets."

"Once the monthly expenses are met, the LNW [low net worth] affluents don't have much left over with which to indulge in luxury."

The average age of respondents to the Unity Marketing survey was 45.3 years old. Some 46% of participants were male, and 54% were female.

Data sourced from Unity Marketing; additional content by Warc staff