Research on the psychology behind luxury purchases has always been fascinating to me. A while ago, a study found that men would spend more on an engagement ring if they perceived there was a scarcity of women in the local area.
Now, we have a new study from The Journal of Consumer Research that looks at why women seek out expensive luxury items.
The study begins by listing the familiar reasons given for why people buy luxuries: They boost self-esteem, signal status, and express a person’s identity. But the study’s authors, Yajin Wang and Vladas Griskevicius, have developed another theory: Women buy luxuries due to the evolutionary practice of “mate guarding”—i.e. making sure your mate doesn’t stray. They write:
We propose that women use luxury products to signal to other women that their romantic partner is especially devoted to them. We hypothesize that women’s ?aunting of luxury possessions therefore functions as an intrasexual signaling system: women use luxury products to send signals to other women in order to deter those other women from poaching their romantic partner.
To prove this, the authors ran a series of tests on 700 women. They found:
– More than half of the women believed luxury products can be a sign to other women of their partner’s devotion.
– A woman wearing luxury items was perceived by other women as having a more devoted partner. Women willing to pursue a man in a relationship said they would be less likely to do so if they saw the man’s mate wearing luxury goods.
– Women who felt their romantic relationship was threatened had a greater desire for luxury products. On top of that, those women wanted luxury products they could display publicly instead of privately. They were less interested in obtaining the items if they felt other women could not see them.
What’s interesting about this system, the authors say, is it’s kind of a female-to-female code. After all, many men—including the one writing this blog—can’t tell the difference between a $10,000 handbag and a $50 one. But many women can.
The authors conclude with the following:
A recent American survey found that there is one gift that women want to receive more than any other, topping the wish list of fully two-thirds of women.… The gift is not jewelry, clothing, ?owers, or anything that is considered romantic. Instead, the most coveted present is a gift card to a luxury store. Why would so many women want this particular gift?
…[M]en are often clueless about which products, brands, or styles women want. The gift card provides an elegant solution to this problem by essentially allowing women to choose their own presents and ensure that such “gifts” send the right message to other women.
People interested in exploring this further should purchase the whole study. Regardless, this research certainly holds implications for our industry. The next time you sell a really nice piece of jewelry, you may not just be making a transaction. You might be keeping a marraige together.