Luxury Eyewear: The Millennial Mindset effect

The luxury Eyewear sector is changing as a new, younger customer demographic takes center stage. Claudia d’Arpizio, a partner in the Milan office of Bain & Company, reveals the profile of these consumers and their approach to Luxury.

Claudia d’Arpizio
Partner in the Milan office of Bain & Company

What have been the main changes in the Eyewear market in recent years?

For Eyewear, as for the luxury market in general, there has been a major generational change in the consumer base with the arrival of Millennials. They accounted for 85% of the luxury market’s growth last year, and they bring different values about luxury consumption across all the product categories. They are also influencing other generations with their values and the kinds of conversations being held between brands and consumers, effectively creating a ‘Millennial Mindset.’

Another change is that Eyewear is no longer seen as a way of making aspirational luxury brands more accessible, in terms of entry price and distribution. Today, consumers with the Millennial Mindset are what we call ‘post-aspirational’ in terms of their shopping in general, and luxury in particular. It means they are no longer buying products as a way of accessing a kind of lifestyle they desire, but as a way of expressing their passions and interests.

What does that mean for Eyewear brands?

It means that they have to convey elements of the brand’s narrative in a sophisticated way. In fact, I believe you need to inject even more creativity and innovation into Eyewear than for the core categories. Eyewear consumers are sophisticated, they are cherry-pickers, and they think they deserve the maximum – at an affordable price. They also see Eyewear as another opportunity for self-expression, which is super-important for Millennials.

What’s the typical profile of these Millennial Mindset buyers?

They share a variety of characteristics – ranging from their attitude to conventions and their views on time and money, to the importance they attach to experience and their concerns for the planet. Firstly, there is a sense of fluidity – that traditional conventions about luxury, linked to usage occasions, gender, and age, are breaking down. In other words, there is a trend toward the casualization of luxury. Secondly, there is a degree of commonality about these consumers. They travel a lot, they use technology and the internet, and they see time as more valuable than money. Spending their time in the right way is more important than spending their money in the right way. Product scarcity no longer has value, or is not necessarily linked to luxury, and neither does patience.

This is also a very experiential generation. Every step of their life is seen as an episode of their own narrative. This is significant for Eyewear, because it has always been a very transactional category – strongly linked with the product and not to a customer experience, partly because the product was not bought in a mono-brand store. So today, Eyewear brands have to build that customer experience outside the distribution channel, most probably through social media.

Another element is mindfulness. This generation is interested in the future of the planet and humanity. They view brands through the lens of Corporate Social Responsibility and may be willing to pay a premium for companies that share their CSR values. Transparency and authenticity are also very important, especially in an age when consumers can find out everything on the internet. Brands need to tell their stories in a very authentic, compelling and unique way – and not just copy and paste what is trending.

What’s the key to success in a market like this?

The good news is that if Millennials feel they are well understood and stimulated by the brand story, they react quite quickly and strongly to the strategies of luxury brands. The successful brands are focusing on the younger generation – talking a different language, enlarging the territory of the conversation, and connecting with their passions and values. For Eyewear, I believe that rethinking the marketing and the communications could be even more important than rethinking the product. Obviously, creativity and innovation have to be at the center. But I think the key is the conversation, the ‘Wow’ effect, and giving people reasons to visit your website or to enter the store.

What role do digital and social media play in this?

Digital and social media enable these brand conversations and experiences to happen every day, and to happen quickly in a customized way – directed straight at the target consumer. Social media is a very powerful enabler, reducing the distance between brands and consumers and increasing the frequency of the dialogue. Of course, if you have nothing to say, it’s useless. So, the challenge for brands is not only to have a very creative product and exquisite quality, but also to provide the right content, a story that people can literally buy into emotionally. Gucci started this, and it was revolutionary. They had beautiful products, but they engaged and communicated with consumers in a different way. And it seemed that consumers were just waiting for something like that to happen.

How do you see the final part of the process – distribution?

It’s an important touchpoint for Eyewear, as many manufacturers do not control their distribution directly, and rely on partners. I think brands need to share these views – about how consumers have changed – with their partners, and it’s probably a key challenge for Kering Eyewear. It’s important to partner in the right way with all the stakeholders in distribution, so that you not only communicate the brand DNA, but you also offer a different experience from the various touchpoints. Buying Eyewear in Milan or New York should feel different to the consumer, even though the brand has to be telling a consistent story. So while the last mile is not totally controlled, it still needs to be part of the customer experience. None of us can forecast the future, but what is absolutely necessary is to have these brand conversations and to fine-tune the strategies step by step.