Pandemic Has Stoked Appetite for French Luxury, Survey Finds

·5 min read

PARIS — It will come as no surprise, given the ongoing resilience of some of the industry’s leading players, that demand for French luxury remains buoyant.

But consumer attitudes around luxury in key markets are changing, notably when it comes to secondhand goods, a new study has revealed.

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This was one of the key findings of a recent IFOP survey commissioned by French luxury goods trade association Comité Colbert, assessing perceptions of and appetite for French luxury products at home as well as in the U.S. and China.

“Historically, crises have always revealed a renewed appetite for luxury,” said IFOP president Stéphane Truchi, who revealed the findings.

Among the 1,844 people surveyed, 60 percent of the U.S. consumers, 51 percent of the Chinese and 42 percent of the French said they had more appetite for luxury since the pandemic hit.

“People were traveling less, and local spending became predominant,” Truchi said. “Purchasing luxury products is reassuring; the Americans in particularly are very sensitive to revenge buying.”

The survey questioned luxury consumers, representing the top 20 percent of earners in the three countries, over the summer to see how their perceptions of luxury had changed since the pandemic.

It’s the first time Comité Colbert had commissioned this type of study since 2008, and was one of a range of initiatives implemented under Bénédicte Épinay, who was named chief executive officer of the institution in March last year.

Buying into luxury as an investment came out as a strong driver — for 90 percent of Chinese consumers, 88 percent of Americans and 77 percent of French people.

Some 26 percent of consumers said they often bought luxury goods secondhand; another 35 percent said they sometimes did, while 18 percent said they had not done so in the past, but planned to.

While this was especially the case in the U.S., where 74 percent of consumers were already consumers of resold goods or had resorted to renting luxury products, it was also true in China for 51 percent of those surveyed.

“While the fear of counterfeits is still a concern in China, this still represents more than half of consumers, and we need to remember this is the top 20 percent of the population,” Truchi said.

The growing demand for secondhand products represents “a significant change,” Truchi said. “Luxury houses need to take this on board in their distribution and sales ecosystems.”

While the principal driver of secondhand purchases remained to be price, the need to be seen regularly with new products, galvanized by social media, was also a strong concern for consumers surveyed, especially among younger generations, Truchi said.

“Resale is not endangering luxury houses, on the contrary, it is a way to recruit new consumers. The idea of a product having a second life is particularly important for younger consumers. If a house manages this well, that can be extremely beneficial. The sustainability angle is key. Fifteen years ago, brands did not consider that resale could be part of their distribution ecosystem at all,” he said.

Regarding sustainability, 90 percent of Chinese consumers, 83 percent of Americans and 80 percent of the French said that luxury brands should set an example when it comes to environmental responsibility.

These findings echoed the concerns and actions of the Comité Colbert’s member companies, Épinay said. The body includes 90 French luxury houses and 17 cultural institutions.

“We presented the results to our members last week, and the findings validate the initiatives we have been putting in place,” she said.

The Comité Colbert issued its first sustainability report this summer, and is initiating mentoring sessions so that smaller houses can benefit from the learnings of larger players who are more advanced when it comes to CSR.

It has also revamped its website, adding detailed information on members and pages dedicated to the different crafts that make up the industry aimed at encouraging young people to join artisanal professions. In parallel, it has ramped up its activity on social media; thanks to its launch on WeChat, it now has 50,000 followers in China. “We now have more followers in China than we do in France,” Épinay said.

Among other results from the survey, when asked which countries represent luxury, France came out top for consumers from both France and China, followed by Italy, although U.S. consumers were more patriotic, mentioning the U.S. before both of the European markets.

“Chinese consumers continue to be extremely interested in French luxury houses,” Truchi said.

Overall, fashion and couture, jewelry and fragrance and beauty were the top luxury categories.

When asked about the values they associated with French “art de vivre,” both American and Chinese consumers cited elegance and romanticism. “There is a strong correlation between the French lifestyle and French luxury,” Truchi said.

There were significant differences here between the three countries, however. While French consumers prioritized excellence and tradition, for Americans, pleasure, uniqueness and modernity were high on the list, while among Chinese consumers, creativity and aesthetism stood out, highlighting the importance for brands of tailoring communication to local preferences and considerations, Truchi said.

French luxury products were perceived as offering superior quality in all three countries. “This is reassuring in an era when there is a lot of talk about local products. It proves that French luxury is still seen as a guarantee of quality,” he commented.

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