Fflur Roberts of Euromonitor explains why the United States luxury market is set to turn in one of its best performances in 2015.
Valued at an estimated US$77 billion in 2014, the US market for luxury goods is by far the largest global market in the World. It ranks 2.6 times higher in value sales than second largest market Japan, which has an estimated value of US$30 million for the same year.
2015 should see the US luxury goods turn in one of its best performances in years. Consumer spending will be a key factor with consumer confidence boosted by the availability of more jobs and by lower energy prices.
After revelling in double-digit growth in 2011, the US luxury market slowed down somewhat as pent-up demand from the recession began to fade and the market began to revert to a more organic growth by 2013.
“ Consumer confidence has been boosted by the availability of more jobs ”
However, spending improved in 2014, thanks to robust demand from domestic consumers as well as wealthy international tourists shopping for luxury in the US. The market also significantly benefits from recent increases in women’s spending power which is on the rise. This is clearly helping to drive sales growth in luxury goods, especially in categories such as luxury bags and luxury accessories.
The US employed female population totalled 69 million in 2014 and is expected to reach 55 million by 2030. Average female annual disposable incomes are at their highest levels yet for the US (US$3.8 thousand in 2014), although women earn less on average than their male counterparts.
Indeed the American female consumer is growing in power driven by rising participation in the global workforce, better education and the delay of marriage and childbirth. Whilst these trends are prominent in advanced economies such as the US, female empowerment in emerging markets is also improving, translating into higher incomes and luxury goods spending power across the world.
“ Women’s spending power is on the rise in the United States ”
The US recession which ended in 2009 ultimately proved to be the longest-lasting since the Great Depression. Growth resumed in 2010 but the rebound made only a modest dent in luxury spending and unused capacity. The economy grew somewhat slower than the historical trend in 2009-2013.
More encouraging is that a series of headwinds which held back the economy for several years (for example, households paying down their debt) have receded.
The government continues to work on several different fronts to strengthen the economy. Stabilisation of the country’s financial institutions has been achieved. Other initiatives involving improvements in energy, infrastructure and technology development are also underway, but these will have an impact only in the longer term.
Income distribution has however become a serious problem. According to the Congressional Budget Office, after-tax income of the top 1% of the population has been rising exponentially over the past two decades. This spells good news for luxury sales but may act as a drag on overall spending.
Nevertheless, the US economy should also turn in one of its best performances in years in 2015 with real GDP is expected to grow by 3.3% this year after gains of 2.4% in 2014. Inflation was 1.6% in 2014 and prices will rise by 1.4% in 2015. The central bank has apparently decided to ease its process of quantitative lending but the timing of the move is still unclear. Inflationary pressures could build as excess capacity is reduced.
The housing market continues to improve slowly as does the pace of job creation with around three million new jobs expected in 2015. Employment already exceeds its pre-recession peak. The jobless rate was 6.2% in 2014 and it will fall to 5.4% in 2015. Meanwhile, household debt has fallen to its lowest level since the middle of 2006. All these factors should support luxury goods consumption in the medium term.
“ The housing market continues to improve slowly as does the pace of job creation ”
As well as being the world biggest luxury goods market, the USA boasts the largest high-income population in the world with 21.3 million people with an annual gross income over US$150,000 in 2014. This is significantly ahead of other top 5 countries with the largest high-income populations (China with 2.9 million; Japan and Germany with 2.5 million each; and France and the United Kingdom with 1.9 million each).
Baby Boomers or those people aged 50 and over (born between 1946 and 1964) are dominant among the top income earners accounting for 49.4% of the US population with an annual gross income over US$150,000.
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 this demographic building up significant assets.
“ By 2030 the greatest wealth will have shifted up the age axis ”
Those holding high office in politics and top-ranking positions in companies often fall into this age cohort and are a key target for today luxury brands and retailers. However, widening socioeconomic inequality, which is squeezing the middle class, is adversely affecting the consumer market potential and acting as a drag on mid-priced aspiration luxury brands.
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%.
Luxury businesses looking to target America’s high earners will therefore need to pay greater attention to this consumer segment over the coming years.
Coach Campaign, starring Kylie Kloss
The more accessible portion of the luxury market, also known as affordable luxury, grew rapidly over the 2009-2014 review period as the industry democratised somewhat and mainstream American consumers became increasingly interested in luxury brands as well luxury lifestyles – this interest was encouraged further by the growing media attention given to these new trends.
There is no doubting that “affordable luxury” has been a key linchpin of the luxury goods industry in the last ten years. Accessible brands, most notably Coach and Michael Kors, significantly expanded their business by capitalizing on this newfound demand, and consequently changed the luxury landscape.
However, for the first time, accessible luxury began to show signs of rapid market maturation in 2014, with major brands struggling to eke out new growth as their luxury brand value deteriorates due to overexposure. Similarly, during the recession, luxury products from many mid-priced or aspirational brands were sold at discount to clear inventory, effectively damaging brand value.
“ Affordable luxury has been a key linchpin of the luxury goods industry in the last decade ”
Consequently, in order to separate themselves from the growing business in accessible luxury and as a means of realigning their prices with those of China, Russia and Brazil, brands in the aspirational and absolute segment of the market raised their prices, which unfortunately led to further declines in sales value.
Fortunately, 2014 saw a renewed focus on the more aspirational and absolute segments of the market as some consumers became tired of the affordable luxury brands and sought exclusivity over price. High-end French luxury goods group Hermès is already showing resurgent momentum in the Americas and the US in particular, a region where just six months ago it appeared to be losing ground.
“ Hermès is already showing resurgent momentum in the Americas ”
Since the late 1960s the US has been a magnet for wealthy overseas consumers and has been as a key shopping destination ever since. Over time however, the shopping interests of these consumers has changed dramatically: in the 1960s and 1970s, wealthy consumers from Europe were most enamoured by American jeans.
In the 1980s, economic growth in Japan brought an influx of wealthy Japanese tourists to the US. Whilst these tourists were still interested in homespun American products, they also had a strong interest in European luxury goods that were available to buy in the US, but not readily accessible in their own domestic market.
However the last ten years has seen luxury shopping tourism in America has surge far beyond expectation, thanks to the incoming tourism from China which has been the prime market for growth.
New York’s Plaza Hotel
According to Euromonitor International’s Travel and Tourism research database, the number of international travellers from China increased by 749% between 2005 and 2014. Moreover, there is a clear link between the resilience of American luxury sales following the downturn and the growth in tourism.
Indeed Chinese tourists have been key drivers of luxury goods sales for more than a decade. Last year, the Chinese made around two million trips to the US, for example. And many of those trips included shopping excursions to prestigious luxury retailers.
The Chinese are especially important revenue-drivers for iconic department stores such as Barneys in New York. In addition to China, there has been an influx of wealthy international consumers from Brazil, Argentina and Columbia. Travel from Japan, which has been at a slight teeter in recent years, also brings a significant flow of capital into luxury markets in the US.
“ The Chinese are especially important revenue-drivers for iconic department stores such as Barneys ”
The number of international visitors to the US is expected to grow further in the short to medium term. According to Euromonitor International’s Travel and Tourism research database, the number of inbound tourists is expected to grow from 69 million trips in 2013 to nearly 85 million trips in 2018 with the number of international trips to the US from China is expected to increase by double digits over the same growth period.
International affluence in the US will become increasingly significant and a major source of consumption for luxury sales in the short term. Although home-grown local luxury brands such as Michael Kors and Coach may be seeing their brand value deteriorate somewhat amongst domestic consumers, these brands are still firmly viewed as aspirational brands and continue to be highly sought after.
“ The number of inbound tourists is expected to grow to nearly 85 million trips in 2018 ”
Although neimanmarcus.com opened its “door” in 1999, the dominant players in online sales of luxury during the late 2000s and early 2010s were start-ups such as Gilt. Founded in 2007, Gilt built its business during the recession by offering the exclusive feel of luxury through an online portal with an “invitation-only” premise but sold luxury at significantly discounted prices. The website’s sales allegedly grew by 194% from 2009 to 2012.
However competition form similar start-ups and efforts by major retailers and luxury houses to replicate Gilt’s model drove luxury prices further down making the whole “invitation-only” model lose its exclusive feel. On the other hand, traditional retailers have seen their online platforms grow dramatically.
Neiman Marcus eCommerce Boutique
With consumers no longer enamoured by the “invitation-only” feel, they are starting to place special value on selection, quality and reliability and above all customer service. These are strong suits for traditional retailers. In Neiman Marcus’s case, online sales grew by 31% from 2012 to 2014.
Nevertheless internet retailing continues to be the fastest growing channel overall for luxury goods, and the biggest disrupter to channel distribution shares. E-commerce is being used by manufacturers and retailers alike to reach consumers at all times, and allows luxury brands and retailers to cater their offerings to individual shoppers and get closer to their consumers.
“ Internet retailing continues to be the fastest growing channel overall for luxury goods ”
The US market for luxury goods is expected to continue growing in the short to medium term, building momentum in conjunction with the slowly improving economy. Growth will be driven by increases in disposable incomes from both domestic as well as international consumers, whilst prices are expected to remain fairly static.
Foreign luxury retailers will increasingly look to the US as a source of growth, and the increasing competition will benefit shoppers. In addition, online options will allow consumers to compare product selections across outlets, and retailers will be forced to compete on price
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