Millennials may be more conscious about sustainability, but it does not go hand-in-hand with luxury for them, according to a study co-authored by Anne Michaut, associate professor of marketing, and Jean-Noel Kapferer, emeritus professor of marketing at HEC Paris, an international business school. They surveyed 3,000 multigenerational consumers across borders, using sample results from an ‘affluent Internet panel’ in each home country. The findings were published in a paper titled ‘Are millennials really more sensitive to sustainable luxury? A cross-generational international comparison of sustainability consciousness when buying luxury’.
“People are under the impression that millennials would be more sustainability oriented in their attitudes, selves and behaviours, and also in terms of expectations towards brands to be more sustainable. The truth is it's not the case; they're contrary to what our predictions were. They are no more sensitive than other generations,” says Michaut.
Abhay Gupta, founder and CEO of Luxury Connect, a business school for luxury brand management, says, “When it’s a luxury product, I don’t think [sustainability] is high up in their decision to purchase. For a non-luxury product, it plays a big role.” Shankar Prasad, founder of Pureplay Skin Sciences (India), a premium beauty and grooming company, concurs, “People don’t look for sustainability as a core feature.”
Michaut says there are three drivers behind this. The first: Luxury is considered provisional and consumers accept that luxury products may not be sustainable. The second is the impression that sustainability in the luxury sector will not make a difference. The last is that the consumers believe the brand will take care of sustainability. “We found that for millennials, the concept of sustainable luxury seems more contradictory than other generations. Sustainability and luxury don’t go hand-in-hand,” says Michaut.
So, while sustainability is an important factor, a non-sustainable product does not stop millennials from buying luxury. But consumers do have some basic expectations of sustainability and business ethics. A brand which does not include them will have a negative value for a luxury consumer. Prasad says, “People are actively helping us push our sustainability initiatives forward. My guesstimate is not more than 10-15 percent are expressive about luxury while 80-90 percent are indifferent,” he says.
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(This story appears in the 06 December, 2019 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)