Status, finally, is the least recognized justifier for discretionary purchases. In this politically correct era, less than one-third of consumers are willing to own up to status as important in making discretionary purchase decisions. Harvard University's Juliet Schor views America's pre-occupation with shopping and buying as "competitive consumption." For her, buying things is all about status and class distinctions. I will not go that far, but our research clearly shows that the consumers surveyed understated status as a justifier in buying discretionary products. In focus groups, respondents describe status as feelings of envy that arise when someone else has something they desire. Consumers also express status through friends, family, neighbors, and associates whom they recognize as individuals who have "made it."
Status plays a more important role as a justifier in purchasing products that are visible to others, such as clothes, watches, cars, coats, and patio furniture. Status is of lesser importance for products that are less visible, such as mattresses, bedding, washing machines, and dryers. So the more visible the product is to the outside world, the more important, overall, the role of status in the purchase.
One consumer explained the role of status: "I collect Longaberger baskets. I must have a 100 or more. I just love them. For me, having Longaberger baskets is about making me feel good, not necessarily status. But when people come into my home and see how many baskets I have displayed, they say, 'Wow! Look at that.'" Another explains her passion for gardening as partly related to showing the garden off to her neighbors and friends: "I just spent $400 on plants, including six baskets for the front porch and more baskets for the fence. We have a huge yard and all the neighbors come to see the garden. From now until frost, there is always something new coming up. It is gorgeous. I love showing off my yard. It's not really status, but it is so cool to have people come around and see all the different plants. I like to spread my passion for gardening."
Status in a Robin's-Egg-Blue Box
Today's ultimate gift comes wrapped in a robin's-egg-blue box with a white ribbon. What is inside? It doesn't really matter because the package says, "It's from Tiffany's," arguably the United States' most prestigious home-grown luxury brand, which has served the carriage trade since 1837. In fact, so much of the Tiffany brand's identity is tied up in its box that the company has registered trademarks for TIFFANY BLUE BOX and the color TIFFANY BLUE.
The company's stated mission is "about things that last," reflecting its timeless delivery of superior-quality products and service. With over three-fourths of the company's sales represented by jewelry, the company also offers a broad-based mix of luxury lifestyle products, notably timepieces, sterling silver, china, crystal, stationery, fragrances, and accessories. Its reputation as a premier luxury brand has been nurtured for over 165 years, when the company opened its first retail store in down-town Manhattan. Today, about 10 percent of the company's $1.2 billion in 2002 sales are credited to Tiffany's Fifth Avenue flagship store. Besides the company's flagship store, it operates about 50 other U.S.-based retail establishments and has been undergoing worldwide expansion through over 75 international stores. Not satisfied to wait for the customer to come to them, Tiffany's also maintains an active direct-marketing program through the Internet and catalogs and mailed out 24 million catalogs in 2002. Tiffany views its brand expansively. The brand means more than simply products. It is about the experience of shopping in a wonderful environment "where exceptional products can be touched and where extraordinary service can be fully experienced," explains its 2000 annual report. While the company's hallmark is superior products and service, its strategies "have never been about fashion or luxury or excess," says the shareholders' letter from Chairman William Chaney and President/CEO Michael Kowalski. While brand identity is often thought of as a marketing concept, it also represents significant financial equity. BusinessWeek magazine valued the Tiffany brand at $3.48 billion in 2001, placing it among the top 75 of the world's most valuable brands. That is a lot of money riding on a simple cardboard box of robin's-egg blue.
Status is a gender-neutral justifier, impacting men and women equally. Younger consumers aged 18 to 34 are more likely than other age groups to say status is important in their discretionary purchasing. Black consumers view status as more important than do white or Hispanic consumers. Lower-to-moderate-income households are more involved with status as a motivator than higher-income households. Households with two or more individuals rate status as a more important motivator for their discretionary purchases.