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- 3 May 2016
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USA: Still The Land Of Luxury Opportunity?

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While the US is still by far the largest luxury hub in the world, recent times have seen it losing its lustre. Here, Euromonitor provides an overview and investigates whether the land of opportunity is on track for a comeback.

Valued at an estimated US$79 billion in 2015, the US market for luxury goods is by far the largest global market in the world and three times higher in value sales than second largest market Japan, which has an estimated value of US$26 million for the same year. 2016 should see the US luxury goods turn in one of its best performances since 2012 at just under 5% in real terms. Consumer spending will be a key factor with consumer confidence boosted by the availability of more jobs and by lower energy prices.

The USA is an enticing luxury goods market as it boasts the world’s highest total spending overall and the highest level of discretionary spending as a share of consumer expenditure. However, the US luxury goods market is also highly fragmented due to high and rising inequality, which poses a significant challenge to luxury businesses looking to enter and/or expand in the USA.


 Between 2010 and 2015, nowhere else in the Americas apart from the USA did the richest 10% of households enjoy a real income gain 


Population ageing is boosting the number of affluent “baby boomers” as well as frugal seniors. Whilst this represents opportunities at high end of the US income spectrum is poses further challenges to the middle income groups who has been both targets and drivers of the success of “affordable” luxury goods.


Income Inequality Increases The Most In The Americas

Between 2010 and 2015, nowhere else in the Americas apart from the USA did the richest 10% of households enjoy a real income gain in their average household annual disposable income while the poorest 10% suffered a real income decline. As inequality sharply worsens in the USA, luxury goods companies will find it more difficult to penetrate the country’s increasingly fragmented market where the middle class as a proportion of total households is already one of the smallest in the region

The US economy is likely to continue a modest recovery from the lingering effects of the 2008 financial crisis. Annual real GDP growth should stay at 2.2-2.4% per year over 2016-2017 (compared with a 2% long-term potential growth rate), mainly supported by strong consumption and business investment growth.


 Financial market volatility could slow down the economy and the pace of luxury spending growth 


Consumer confidence has declined recently, but is still high compared to the historical average. In fact average consumer confidence in 2015 was the highest since 2004. According to the latest University of Michigan survey, expectations of future real income growth were the best since 2002 due to a combination of improving labour markets and low inflation.

However, heightened stock market volatility made households more pessimistic about their future wealth. The strong decline in stock market prices in early 2016 should further dampen confidence in 2016 if it continues.
Contrary to expectations – lower oil prices appear to be hurting the economy rather than helping.

This is partly due to the rapid expansion in domestic oil and gas drilling in recent years. A larger share of the dollars consumers save as a result of cheaper energy prices comes at the expense of domestic oil and gas producers. Economic conditions are however good enough to justify a gradual increase in short-term interest rates by the Federal Reserve.

However, the worsening conditions in many emerging markets and heightened financial market volatility could slow down the economy and the pace of luxury spending growth.


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Older Generation To Account For The Biggest Share Of The High-Income Population By 2030

Baby boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – are prominent among the country’s top income earners. In 2015, the 50-54 and 55-59 age bands accounted for the two largest segments of the population earning an annual gross income of US$150,000+.

These are also today’s main consumers of luxury goods. The affluence of baby boomers is a much-documented phenomenon: not only are they a sizeable generation, but social revolutions (such as greater numbers of women entering education and the workforce) have also helped these American fifty-somethings build up significant assets.

By 2030, the greatest wealth will have shifted up the age axis, as the tail end of the baby boomer generation crosses into the 65+ cohort. As a result, the over-65s will become the most prominent cohort among high earners, making up 15.2% of the population in receipt of annual gross income of US$150,000+ in 2030, with no other demographic reaching 12.0%. Those holding high office in politics and top-ranking positions in companies often fall into these age bands. This demographic factor proves a huge opportunity to target the wealthy baby boomer generation, as they have money to spend on luxury goods.


 There has been a clear shift in the last three years as male consumers have become increasingly interested in luxury 


Demographic Changes Fuel Growth In Men’s Luxury Goods

Traditionally, female consumers have clearly dominated consumption of luxury goods in the US. However, there has been a clear shift in the last three years as male consumers have become increasingly interested in luxury goods, fashion and their appearance.

Indeed Euromonitor International’s latest data confirms the significant growth of men’s luxury goods. In the last year men’s designer footwear witnessed a real sales growth of 5% surpassing that of women’s footwear at a real 4% in the same year. Similarly men’s luxury bags and small leather good also showed strong growth over the same period. Greater availability, changing attitudes towards work attire, demographic shifts and new societal norms on grooming are all key factors behind this trend.

Moving forward male consumers are expected to become key drivers of luxury goods sales in the US with millennials being of particular note. 75 million people, or roughly 23% of the total US population are “millennials” (age 18-34). As millennials enter the workforce and increase their purchasing power, their spending power on luxury goods also increases.


 Internet retailing accounted for 10% of all luxury goods sales in 2015 


These young aspirational men put a lot of stock in their personal appearance– as part of the “selfie generation” they are used to sharing images of themselves through social media which is also helping to fuel this trend.

Luxury retailers similarly see social media as a great marketing tool with luxury department stores like, Barneys in New York launching an Instagram account to target millennial men. Dedicated to men’s collections only, the account has been strongly hit with Instagram users, as of 2015 it had 59,700+ followers.


Luxury Brands Sharpen Their Focus On Social Media & Digital Technology

Internet retailing accounted for 10% of all luxury goods sales in 2015. However, whilst this may seem quite small the channel registered the strongest current retail value CAGR of 20% over the review period, outpacing luxury goods overall which registered a current retail value CAGR of 7%. As more consumers take to shopping online an increasing number of luxury brands are picking up on e-commerce trends. Some luxury brands, especially in the more affordable space, have found selling their products through flash-sales sites such as Gilt, Rue La La and MyHabit to be very effective in the US.


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Internet retailing in the US is expected to continue its speedy trajectory and set to account for 15% of all sales by 2020. Luxury brands will continue to invest in building their presence in internet retailing and improving websites to enable consumers to make their purchasing decisions with ease and confidence.

With the rapid rise of smartphone use, US consumers are also being encouraged to engage in more m-commerce. To appeal to such tech-savvy consumers, luxury brands will however need to focus more on the expansion of m-commerce opportunities.

Similarly luxury brands are actively moving into social media marketing as well as s-commerce. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube are some of the key social media platforms that are frequently used by US consumers of luxury fashion.


 Luxury brands are increasingly collaborating with fashion models and well-known celebrities from Hollywood films to sports and music to promote their brands 


Luxury brands are increasingly collaborating with fashion models and well-known celebrities from Hollywood films to sports and music to promote their brands through social media.

For example, in 2015, Estée Lauder collaborated with American fashion model and television personality, Kendall Jenner. She was one of the most popular models on Instagram in 2015 with her Instagram account totalling over 44 million followers (as of 2015). In addition to Estée Lauder, Kendall Jenner promoted other luxury brands such as Balmain, Calvin Klein and Fendi, and was recognised as one of the most wanted celebrity ambassadors of 2015.

Similarly British fashion model Cara Delevingne and US musician Pharrell Williams starred in Chanel’s short film titled Reincarnation and singer Rihanna, was featured in Christian Dior’s short film titled Secret Garden IV. We expect social media to remain a powerful marketing tool in the luxury fashion industry over the forecast period with brands actively using social media to communicate their brand message.


 It is estimated that Chinese tourists spent as much as US$117 billion on personal luxury goods in 2015 


Chinese Tourists’ Big Spenders On Luxury Goods In The US

Over the last five years, almost one in 10 international tourists worldwide has been Chinese. Crucially, they spend more on their travels than any other nation.

It is estimated that Chinese tourists spent as much as US$117 billion on personal luxury goods in 2015, accounting for a third of all purchases globally. Of this US$117 billion the US alone accounted for 78% of total overseas consumption by Chinese consumers. High import taxes within China were a big incentive – the same luxury handbag can cost a third more in Beijing than in Paris. Also, vacations encourage more extravagant spending habits. There is little doubt that China’s outbound tourism helped luxury goods markets in the US stay buoyant during periods of lacklustre domestic interest.

In the 5 years to 2015 the number of Chinese tourists visiting the US grew precipitously. The number of arrivals from China reached over two million trips in 2014, more than double the number that visited in 2010.


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The growth was largely driven by the China’s robust economic growth, particularly over the last two decades, which fuelled a growing middle class with increased disposable income and many newly wealthy Chinese chose to travel overseas. Other factors behind the growth include government initiatives for relaxing visa requirements, and the increasing Chinese population, including the number of Chinese students studying in the US.

The growing number of wealthy Chinese tourists in the US helped to fuel higher spending on luxury goods overall. Drawn in by the guarantee of authenticity, lower prices (compared to those in mainland China) and greater product availability, the luxury retail landscape in the US has a lot to offer these wealthy tourists. To capitalise on the growth in the number of Chinese visitors travelling to the US, luxury retailers and department stores strengthened their efforts and customer service to make shopping more comfortable and convenient for Chinese visitors.

For example, luxury brands including Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel placed great emphasis on hiring multilingual sales staff as well as luxury department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York and Nordstrom accepting China UnionPay credit cards for the ease and convenience. Real estate companies that own outlet malls are working with Chinese tour operators to schedule organised visit to their outlet malls in group tours, where they go the full length to welcome these Chinese tourists.


 Luxury brands in the US have been busy focusing on developing online marketing to further attract Chinese luxury shoppers 


With the rising number of internet users in China and their love of social media, luxury brands in the US have been busy focusing on developing online marketing to further attract Chinese luxury shoppers. Instead of waiting for tourists to arrive in the US they have been concentration their efforts in interacting with them before they depart for the US.

Sina Weibo and WeChat are among the most influential social media platforms in China, and many luxury brands have accounts to communicate with Chinese users. Luxury department stores such as Bergdorf Goodman that do not have store presence in China have created a Sina Weibo account to increase brand awareness and promote their retail stores.

Chinese tourism is expected to continue growing, albeit at a reduced pace in the short to medium term. Arrivals from China are expected to see a CAGR of 6% growth or by 0.7 million trips in the next 5 years, compared with CAGR of 31% or by 1.5 million trips in the last 5 years. The slower growth is largely attributable to the strong US dollar and a slowing Chinese economy.


 Luxury retailers will need to make a continued effort to attract Chinese luxury shoppers and continue to design tailored shopping experiences 


As the US dollar strengthened against foreign currencies, prices in the US became more expensive for foreign travellers, including those from China. Chinese tourists are still willing to visit the US, and so they may shorten their stay or spend less at retail stores during their trips to manage exchange rate fluctuations.

Luxury retailers will need to make a continued effort to attract Chinese luxury shoppers and continue to design tailored shopping experiences for these highly-coveted, sophisticated and savvy tourists.

Retailers will continue hiring multilingual staff and accepting UnionPay cards to allow Chinese tourists to shop with ease and convenience. Offering exclusive luxury brands that are only available in the US will also help to attract Chinese luxury shoppers who are looking for something new, different but above all exclusive.





To further investigate luxury markets on Luxury Society, we invite your to explore the related materials as follows:

- Emerging Luxury Markets: Is India The Best Of BRICS?
- Asian Luxury Markets: Where Is The New Focus?
- Switzerland: Land Of Luxury Or Sinking Ship?


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Fflur Roberts manages the research programme for the global Luxury Goods industry at Euromonitor International, which provides strategic analysis of the global market as well as in-depth coverage of 32 countries worldwide.

Euromonitor is a Luxury Society Knowledge Partner.

euromonitor.com/luxury-goods