30 October 2022


Signalling intent, long queues as detractors and bottomless desire

A few Saturdays ago, there was something that struck me as very odd from observing people patiently queuing themselves up to enter a Louis Vuitton boutique.

This phenomena was not limited to just this one store either, there were many other brands along the high street that had something similar going on that warm and cloudless day.

One of the things that piqued my interest from observing that scene was in noting how the people who lined up in the queue were dressed. There were no black tuxedos or high heels in sight, and the majority were dressed casually (perhaps too casually) for such an occasion — of visiting a luxury goods store in-person.

It was odd, because it looked as if the same scene could be replicated for a downtown everyday-ramen restaurant as opposed to a globally established, high end luxury boutique.

Casual appearances and accessibility are not two words I would typically use to associate with luxury brands — by design, they are not intended to be avenues for trivial window shopping.

In my opinion, the sight of a lengthy queue outside a venue plays the detractor role, of acting against the favour of the venue, far more strongly than playing the role of advocate.

The most common context in which this plays out is in going out for a meal during peak hours. With the exception of my favourite places, a long line at the entrance would immediately pose as a deterrent and the default mode of action would be to turn away and discover other options rather than burning time while standing in the queue.

Knowing this, I could never see myself waiting in line to get into a luxury goods store store — which is coming from the point of view that waiting in line would just be an unnecessary tax to the already eye-watering prices of the retailed goods. But this clearly was not the case for the people in the original scenario — with the assumption that all of them were actually committed and paying customers.

Another aspect of luxury brands that has intrigued me for awhile is in the common practice of displaying items in-store without any explicit indications of price. This strikes me as unusual as it contrasts against the expected customer experience of entering a store — in person or online — and looking at items, with full knowledge of exactly what the prices of exchange are.

The boutique mentioned at the very beginning

But nothing is accidental in a luxury goods store — from the pristine and minimalistic layout of the physical space to the heavy and locked front door.

My hypothesis on the game of omitted price tags is this: the more accessible the goods and services of a brand are, the more likely that prices are used as a mechanism to appeal to customer desire. Lower prices would lead to lower customer inhibitions to purchase from the brand, which ultimately generates more sales. This makes sense, right?

An example of where explicit and “low” prices make headline marketing

The mode of operation of luxury brands, it seems, is the opposite to this. Higher, less transparent prices while simultaneously generating much deeper depths of desire. What does this mean?

A heuristic: the harder we have to work for something that we strongly desire, the more emotionally invested we become during the process of achieving it. For example, the longer a customer has to be disciplined with her expenses and to save up in order to purchase the object of her desire, the more likely she would be able to take pride in saying, “I achieved this.”

There are many aspects of life where it is ideal to have high convenience and low prices, where one can transact and exchange to satisfy desires immediately, but there seems to be these niche pockets where we long for low convenience and eye watering prices.

Higher prices, by definition, demand a more costly exchange of money — as equivalent to stored effort and time — for the thing that we desire. One way to look at this is with an objective perspective of material wealth — that luxury goods are reserved for those who have access to more money, and therefore, a greater capacity to exchange for material goods that sit at higher price points.

Another way to look at high end luxury goods is in the form of the question: “how much am I willing to work to get what I really, really want?

With this mindset, the price is set aside as a pre-determined fixed point. There is no room for haggling, compromise or searching for the optimal price match, and the focus shifts to individual agency.

How much of my time am I willing to exchange for this object that I so desire?

Not everyone has access to the same amount of financial resources but we are all given some allocation of time.

Luxury brands must know all of this in order to reach the decision point of retailing their goods and services without explicit indications of prices, for they are in the game of appealing to the depths of desire of their customers, and not strictly to the depths of their wallets. This is an extremely compelling play because the first is an infinite resource pool to pillage while the other is not.

The ultimate show of abundance and prosperity is through an ambivalence to waste.