Two experiments were conducted to test the hypotheses. They both took the form of an online survey of consumers’ perceptions of a luxury personal goods brand, based in France. Aimed at testing the hypotheses in a controlled setting, Study 1 used a fictitious luxury brand, Clodine. As such, Study 1 used the same experimental setting as the research we mainly drew on from a theoretical point of view [8
] and allowed a replication test, while controlling for the influence of the experimental setting. Study 2 referred to the real luxury brand Louis Vuitton and aimed at enhancing the external validity of the findings derived from Study 1. The stimuli for both studies consisted of pictures of one (Study 1) or more (Study 2) handbags on a specific page of the brand website. The reason for choosing handbags was market-driven: the market for personal luxury goods is seen as the “core of the core” by experts, and handbags form the largest accessory segment, accounting for $
44 billion of retail sales [41
To ensure that our respondents matched the target customers for such luxury goods, we only surveyed consumers with a monthly household income of more than €4,500. As it is very costly (both in time and money) to collect data among such affluent consumers, and as women are the buyers in four out of every five luxury purchases [42
], and probably more in the handbag category, we only surveyed females to control for any confounding effect of gender. Although this focus potentially reduced external validity, it was in line with previous research in the literature on luxury goods [8
]. Of note, informed consent was obtained from all individual participants involved in our two experiments. All analyses were conducted using SPSS IBM Statistics 23.
3.1. Study 1
Study 1, which consisted of a between-subjects experiment, involved a fictitious luxury brand making handbags (Clodine). It manipulated fashionization (high vs. low fashion) using a unique real luxury bag that actually exists on the market in two different appearances, either with blue flowers (high fashion) or uniformly black (low fashion). Beyond this difference, the two bags did not differ in terms of their form, size, material, or brand prominence. To ensure that the two bags were perceived as luxury goods despite their fictitious brand, their sale price was shown as €2920. Of note, luxury brands do not price fashion and more classical products lines differently, all things considered (e.g., form, size, material). Figure 2
displays the two experimental treatments.
A pre-test conducted among 68 female consumers (mean age of 41) confirmed that the more frequent ideas that came to mind when exposed to the high-fashion stimulus were “flowers” and “original” vs. “classic” and “elegant” when exposed to the low-fashion stimulus. It also confirmed that the two experimental treatments did not differ in terms of perceived luxury as measured using the items “elitist” and “very expensive”: Mhigh-fashion
= 3.58 vs. Mlow-fashion
= 4.12 out of 5, p
> 0.05. The two experimental treatments also did not differ in terms of consumption conspicuousness as measured using three ad hoc items (i.e., “Clodine’s products signal status/are a sign of distinction/symbolize their owner’s success”): Mhigh-fashion
= 2.84 vs. Mlow-fashion
= 3.12 out of 5, p
> 0.05). Finally, they did not differ in terms of brand conspicuousness as measured using [45
= 1.76 vs. Mlow-fashion
= 1.90 out of 5, p
> 0.05). However, and as expected, the two experimental treatments significantly differed in terms of perceived fashionization, as measured using the items “avant-gardist” and “classic” (Mhigh-fashion
= 3.52 vs. Mlow-fashion
= 1.59 out of 5, p
Next, 92 French women (mean age of 46) were recruited from the online panel of a professional market research institute (Creatests, Lille, France). They were randomly assigned to the two experimental treatments (high vs. low fashion). Respondents were asked to look at the screenshot of the fictitious luxury bag manufacturer Clodine’s website, presenting one of its bags.
To investigate the influence of fashionization on the brand’s CSR image, we invited respondents to answer items borrowed from [8
]. Specifically, respondents were asked to answer questions regarding the brand’s perceived ephemerality (e.g., “This brand’s products can be worn for years”), perceived scarcity (i.e., “This brand’s products are unique and original”), and CSR image (e.g., “This brand’s products seem to follow ethical principles”). Although the focus of this research was on the compatibility between luxury and CSR as measured by CSR image, we also measured purchase intention, using a single item [46
], to check whether the dual-route model captures effects beyond CSR image. Of note, a strong CSR image has been robustly found to influence purchase intention [47
Respondents’ age, monthly household income, involvement in luxury consumption, environmental consciousness, skepticism toward marketing, and familiarity with the Clodine brand were also measured. Respondents were asked to report their monthly household income on a four-item scale (i.e., €4500–€6000, €6000–€7500, €7500–€9000, over €9000). Of the sample, 49% declared a monthly income of less than €7500, and 51% declared more. Involvement in luxury consumption was measured using three items [50
]. Environmental consciousness was measured using three items [51
]. Skepticism toward marketing was measured using three items [52
]. All items were assessed using Likert scales ranging from 1 (= totally agree) to 7 (= totally disagree), as displayed in Table 1
No significant differences were observed between the participants randomly assigned to either condition in terms of age (F(1,90) = 0.001, p > 0.05), monthly household income (χ2(3) = 1.647, p > 0.05), involvement in luxury consumption (F(1,90) = 2.557, p > 0.05), environmental consciousness (F(1,90) = 1.056, p > 0.05), skepticism toward marketing (F(1,90) = 3.619, p > 0.05), and familiarity with the Clodine brand (F(1,90) = 1.075, p > 0.05).
3.2. Study 2
Aimed at replicating Study 1 with a more real luxury setting, Study 2 consisted of a second between-subjects experiment involving a real full page of products from the Louis Vuitton website. It manipulated fashionization (high vs. low fashion) using pairs of real luxury bags that only differed in terms of their appearance, either decorated (high fashion) or uniform (low fashion). Beyond this difference, the pairs of bags did not differ in terms of their form, size, material, or brand prominence. Products were priced between €2150 and €4000 but were strictly controlled over the two stimuli. Figure 3
displays the two experimental treatments.
A pre-test similar to the one conducted for Study 1 involved 98 female consumers (mean age of 41). It confirmed that the more frequent ideas that came to mind when exposed to the high-fashion stimulus were “colorful” and “original” vs. “classic” and “elegant” when exposed to the low-fashion stimulus. It also confirmed that the two experimental treatments did not differ in terms of perceived luxury (Mhigh-fashion = 3.83 vs. Mlow-fashion = 4.18 out of 5, p > 0.05), consumption conspicuousness (Mhigh-fashion = 2.89 vs. Mlow-fashion = 3.10 out of 5, p > 0.05), and brand conspicuousness (Mhigh-fashion = 3.25 vs. Mlow-fashion = 3.05 out of 5, p > 0.05). However, and as expected, the two experimental treatments significantly differed in terms of perceived fashionization: Mhigh-fashion = 3.04 vs. Mlow-fashion = 1.64 out of 5, p < 0.05.
Next, 94 French women (mean age of 47) were recruited from the online panel of the same professional market research institute as for Study 1. They were randomly assigned between the two experimental treatments (high vs. low fashion). They answered the same questions as the respondents in Study 1, plus a specific question about their consumption of Louis Vuitton products. Of the sample, 45% declared a monthly household income ranging between €4500 and €7500, and 55% declared more.
No significant differences were observed between the participants randomly assigned to either condition in terms of age (F(1,92) = 0.623, p > 0.05), monthly household income (χ2(3) = 0.932, p > 0.05), involvement in luxury consumption (F(1,92) = 0.051, p > 0.05), environmental consciousness (F(1,92) = 0.009, p > 0.05), skepticism toward marketing (F(1,92) = 0.002, p < 0.05), familiarity with the Louis Vuitton brand (F(1,92) = 0.003, p > 0.05), and consumption of Louis Vuitton products (χ2(1) = 0.406, p > 0.05). Of note, 54% of the respondents declared that they had purchased a Louis Vuitton product, or received one as a gift, within the last two years.
3.3. Preliminary Analyses
All scales proved to be reliable and valid, as shown by Table 1
(results of the confirmatory analysis using the partial least squares structural equation modeling approach on XLSTAT2019).
Of note, the initial three-item scale used to measure perceived scarcity displayed a poor reliability index, which may be explained by the experimental design used in this study. First, our manipulation used an online website offering products that were immediately and easily available, which disqualifies the limited-supply item of the scale. Second, we controlled for the products’ materials, which limits the relevance of its “rare and precious materials” item. Consequently, scarcity was ultimately measured by a single item focusing on the uniqueness and originality of the brand.
reports the descriptive statistics for the variables used in Studies 1 and 2.