Research: Science of Sales
The study of luxury marketing has provided a rich subject for Lubin assistant professor Charles A. Lawry.
Charles A. Lawry, PhD, lives a life of luxury—at least as far as his research is concerned.
Lawry, who goes by his middle name of Aaron, joined the Lubin School of Business last fall as an assistant professor of marketing. He says he first became intrigued by luxury goods as a graduate student at Columbia University, while doing a project on ballet dancers’ pointe shoes, which are often handmade and surprisingly expensive—two common traits of luxury items. By the time he went to the University of Arizona for his PhD in Retailing and Consumer Sciences, luxury and its intersection with technology had become his principal research interests.
Although the luxury sector is huge, with more than $1 trillion spent worldwide, according to Forbes, it has not drawn the academic attention long accorded to the mass market. That may be changing, however, Lawry notes, in part because spending at luxury retailers was one of the few bright spots during the recent economic gloom.
Conventional wisdom attributed that to the invulnerability of the rich and their willingness to spend no matter what, but Lawry sees more complex forces at work. For one, many luxury retailers changed their strategy, introducing new, factory-made lines—sometimes referred to as “bridge” products—that were within the reach of the average consumer, or those who were willing to stretch a little.
For their part, many consumers spent on luxury as a way of coping with the downturn and symbolically reinforcing their self-worth. At least that’s one explanation, rooted in a well-known psychological theory called symbolic self-completion.
While that strategy helped keep the luxury makers in business, Lawry says, it created problems of its own. When every other woman on the subway is toting a “luxury” handbag, how does the brand continue to make its wares seem special?
One way the luxury industry has responded to this latest challenge, Lawry says, is by forming relationships with famous artists, architects, and art museums in an attempt to cash in on their cachet. Though it may be too early to tell how successful they’ll be, it’s a shrewd move. After all, Lawry says, “What is art, but the ultimate luxury good?”
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