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The sharing economy and luxury items

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The sharing economy and luxury items

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The sharing economy has been an undoubted success, with a wide range of industries seeing a rise in people lending out items that they’re not currently using, be they cars or spare rooms.  One of the more interesting aspects of the industry is in the sharing of luxury items.  There have been a few attempts at fostering the sharing culture in the luxury industry, with Social Flights offering up seats on chartered plans for instance.

A couple of pieces of research that however suggest that the luxury end of the market may struggle to really take off.  The first was published via Ghent University in Belgium and explored the different perceptions of luxury items that were owned vs those that were merely borrowed.

The researchers asked over 300 participants to use either a luxury product or a more standard version.  Participants were split into two groups, with one group allowed to take their luxury product home with them, whilst the other group were only allowed to use the product once before returning it.  All participants were then asked to evaluate the product across a number of dimensions, including quality, exclusivity and luxuriance, whilst also remarking on their own sense of well-being.

It emerged that the respondents who were able to keep their luxury products were much more satisfied with life than their budget limited peers.

“The finding that people are more satisfied with life when they own luxury products than when they only get to use them is in line with prior research that equates consumption with ownership,” says the research. “In contrast, the mere use or mere knowledge of luxury products seems to be detrimental for one’s satisfaction with life.”

The second study, published recently in the Journal of Consumer Research, explored the role sales staff play in our perceptions of luxury items.  The general finding was that the snobbier the sales staff, the more we end up wanting to buy (and show off) our luxury items.

“It appears that snobbiness might actually be a qualification worth considering for luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Gucci,” says Sauder Marketing Professor Darren Dahl. “Our research indicates they can end up having a similar effect to an ‘in-group’ in high school that others aspire to join.”

The research went on to state that the sales rep had to fit in with the brand being sold, and if they didn’t, then it became a major turn-off for the consumer.  So how does this impact the sharing industry?  Well, obviously it’s rare for there to be a salesman involved, but you do engage with the owner of that item.  This research seems to suggest that the owner has to come across as a good representative of the brand for you to consider renting from them, and the closer that representation the better.  It might even be that the very act of renting out your luxury items acts against this perception.

What do you think?  Would you turn to the sharing economy for luxury items?  If you owned a luxury item, would you rent it out?

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