Defining luxury in a world of flattened privilege

Fjord Australia director Bronwyn van der Merwe
By Fjord Australia director Bronwyn van der Merwe | 5 May 2016
Bronwyn van der Merwe

As you arrive home you thank your personal chauffeur as you get out of the car. Your laundry is clean, folded and placed within a neat package at the foot of your door. Your home is clean and the new shelf you needed to put together has been fully assembled. Pretty soon the scent of the gourmet food you ordered begins to waft through the house, and when it’s time to head out for the evening, you put on the outfit that was handpicked for you by a personal stylist.

Experiences like these are no longer reserved just for the wealthy. Nowadays, they are readily available to medium wage earning households across Australia and around the world.

New technologies are making luxury services mainstream. Scalable, universal digital experiences have democratised experiences and elevated our standard of living, making tailored services that were once reserved for the privileged now available to the masses.

For instance, online Australian startup AirTasker provides everyday Australians with access to thousands of people who can perform tasks around their home, such as the delivery of goods, assembly of furniture, computer and IT support, garden maintenance and more. Foodora, another Australian service provider, delivers premium dishes from gourmet restaurants straight to customer’s homes. Washio is a laundry service provider that picks up, cleans and delivers laundry to customers the very next day, and Trunk Club connects users with online personal stylists who send them outfits to suit their style preferences.

Even prestigious education is no longer reserved for the financially privileged. Harvard University is one of many universities that publishes its lectures online for the public to view. Similarly, Coursera is an online platform that provides the general public with universal access to a range of courses from top universities around the world.

While this environment of mainstream luxury flattens privilege, it also provides organisations with the opportunity to define prestige. In order to capitalise on the new generation of luxury, organisations and designers need to understand the processes by which luxury is produced and reproduced, as well as the ways it becomes attached to different goods and services. For instance, Selfridges has found a new way to make products personalised. By using an algorithm to profile customers, Selfridges’ Fragrance Lab aims to identify and match signature scents for individual customers based on their personality and preferences.

In order to define a new level of prestige, organisations need to build multi-disciplinary teams. Collaborative and diverse work environments will soon become intangible assets that will help them to understand the users of the future. Organisations should also seek to transform one-directional business models into scalable platforms that will empower future users to not just consume services but also find solutions to their problems.

Lastly, in an era of digital democratisation, organisations should question what it takes to remain a true ‘luxury’ brand. Luxury is defined by social and cultural meaning, and made visible through the work of designers, marketers, advertising and consumer buying habits. With luxury now more accessible than ever, organisations have the opportunity to redefine what constitutes luxury by disrupting traditional service models.

For instance, luxury fashion brand Maison Martin Margiela saw the best results when it released luxury products sparingly to the market. To capitalise on this trend of ‘slow luxury’, the brand designed The Line 13 homeware collection, releasing just one product per year to emphasise the exclusivity of the brand.

Experiences like chauffeurs, personal assistants and stylists are now all accessible to anyone thanks to ubiquitous digital experiences, creating exciting opportunities for both customers and brands. Customers can now experience luxury at the push of a button, and forward thinking brands have the chance to push the boundaries of traditional luxury and develop whole new strands of prestige.

By Bronwyn van der Merwe - director of Fjord Australia - part of Accenture Interactive.

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