Conspicuous Consumption of Luxury Goods

Subject: Sociology
Type: Informative Essay
Pages: 10
Word count: 2520
Topics: Social Studies, Social Psychology


Especially with the heightening financial challenges, scholars have become increasingly interested in understanding why some people prefer to spend their money on non-basic goods. In most cases, such spending habits focus on the acquisition of goods and services for comfort (Han, Nunes & Drèze, 2010). Scholars have often deemed these habits as conspicuous consumption. Wang and Griskevicius (2013) define conspicuous consumption of sumptuous goods as the consumer’s willingness to spend money in order to acquire luxurious goods for the sake of public display. Additional studies also indicate that this kind of spending meant to act as a display of economic prowess but is also geared towards achieving or sustaining a desired social status (Nunes, Drèze & Han, 2011). When it comes to determining the reasons behind conspicuous consumption tendencies, it is expedient to foster a clear understanding of conspicuous goods. According to Hudders and Pandelaere (2012), goods qualify as conspicuous only if the characteristics therein and the amount consumed is observable publicly. Although most studies have focused on conspicuous consumption and the entrenched patterns with the aim of educating consumers on making economically sound choices, few studies have been carried out to help understand why people insist on using luxury brands for the sake of showing off. As Durvasula and Lysonski (2010) suggest, although such brands are only affordable by a few, the reasons for involvement in conspicuous consumption reach far beyond social prestige. This paper focuses on conspicuous consumption to help understand why people tend to use luxury brand to show off.

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Research problem and research questions

Although numerous research activities have focused on conspicuous consumption, there is insufficient scholarly literature on to help understand why consumers still engage in the usage of sumptuous goods for the sake of showing off. The existence of this gap in literature has caused modern day organizations to invest much in designing such goods only to be disappointed by customers unwilling to purchase the availed products. Thus, the research problem this study seeks to solve is the inability of previous research attempts to provide explanations for consumers using conspicuous luxury brands for show off. 

In order to foster a clear understanding of why people use luxury brands to show off, this study will take into consideration the following research questions.

  • Does conspicuous consumption for show off have anything to do with materialism?
  • How are show off, conspicuous consumption, and social status related?

Literature review 

Findings from review of literature indicate that scholars have seemingly ignored the need to establish a link between materialism and conspicuous spending tendencies. This is mainly because very few studies have been conducted to help comprehend why people have the tendency of using luxury brands as a way of public show off. Since Kim and Jang (2014) argue that showing off has everything to do with social status, it is vital to dig deeper and show how show off, conspicuous consumption, and social status related. According to Hudders and Pandelaere (2012), people that engage in conspicuous consumption of luxury brands for the sake of showing off are not merely after the show off but are rather much more concerned with pursuing or maintaining a particular status in the society. It therefore makes sense asserting that it is almost impossible to understand these consumer tendencies by considering a single reason behind the show offs. Although most scholars have conceded that people use these brands in such a manner to brag to the public concerning accumulated wealth, Bevan-Dye, Garnett and De Klerk (2012) goes beyond such reasoning to suggest that if bragging was all there was to conspicuous spending then consumers would prefer cheaper ways of bragging. 

On the other hand, arguing that conspicuous consumption is not geared towards public show offs would negate the reality of materialism and its impact on modern spending habits. Materialism according to a definition by Sun, D’Alessandro and Johnson (2014) is the human inclination to overvaluing worldly possessions over spiritual and economic values. Considering the fact that the world is currently characterized by high and increasing value for material wealth, it is, only logical to suggest that materialism is intertwined to show offs. As Jiang and Cova (2012) observe, the fact that luxurious possessions are highly coveted makes them a perfect platform for people to brag about their capacity to own expensive and luxurious brands. This means that if the society was not as attached to materialism as is the case, people would have to consider other means of showing off other than the use of luxury brands. It therefore follows that materialism is one of the reasons why people use these kinds of products and brands to show off. As Nwankwo, Hamelin and Khaled (2014) point out; materialism has created a society where social status is determined by the ability to own expensive possessions.

This would suggest that show off, conspicuous consumption, and social status are related in such a way that a closer analysis of their interactions can help understand why people through conspicuous consumption choose to show off using luxurious brands. In attempting to establish a correlation among these three factors, Truong, McColl and Kitchen (2010) suggested that people derive utility of sumptuous brands from the mere fact that ownership of conspicuous goods grants individuals a certain class in the society. It is thus logical to assume that for one to attain a specific echelon of class in the society the individual will have to pursue ownership of luxurious brands. In addition, it is important to consider that bragging or showing off after acquiring sumptuous goods is necessary for the society to take notice and award the social status to the person currently owning such luxurious brands. However, the establishment of the relationship among these three aspects is only possible after thorough research on scholarly sources concerned with conspicuous consumption. This is because there is hardly any literature seeking to explain why people use luxury brands to show off. In the light of the established relationship, it is essential to note that people engage to use sumptuous brands to show off because these brands being expensive and unaffordable to the masses are a sure way of attaining to a particular status in the society (Kastanakis & Balabanis, 2014). 

Although a few studies touching on the topic of conspicuous consumption appreciate social impact as being a chief determinant in matters touching luxury items spending habits, literature fails to establish the correlation between such patterns of consumption and the desire to show off. Apparently, previous studies have overlooked the need to establish the relationship between conspicuous spending on luxury goods for the sake of show off and materialism. Although most of these still identify the influence of a materialistic society on the consumers spending habits, they fail to link materialism to the bragging aspect raised in the research questions. According to Truong, McColl and Kitchen (2010), materialism is often viewed by scholars as a necessary evil but few consider its impact on the consumers purchasing decisions especially on luxurious brands.     

Methodology and data collection 

This study has been tailored to depend entirely on primary sources/data. Notably, the scholarly articles used in this study had research carried out from a qualitative approach. According to Williams (2011), qualitative research makes it possible for researchers to generate diverse and new ideas especially in fields and topics of study previously neglected in previous studies. Thus, the study is based on reviewed scholarly articles that encapsulate research activities relating to reasons behind conspicuous consumption giving special attention to articles that explore the relationships mentioned in the two research questions. The reason for selecting specific articles inclined to qualitative research is that such articles often deploy qualitative research techniques to unearth particular trends encapsulated in conspicuous consumption. However, the study is limited by the limited availability of literature covering the reasons why people use luxury brands to show off. Since the study has not incorporated formulated hypotheses, the inductive scientific approach will come in handy. According to Christensen et al (2011), the inductive method is often rewarding in cases where instead of relying on hypotheses a study is structured in a way that it relies on research question/s to provide a guideline. In order to ensure that the primary sources were both reliable and appropriate, searches were made in the library for articles with conspicuous consumption as the chief phrase. After that, the articles were sorted out based on their capacity to relate conspicuous consumption to social class, materialism, and show off.

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Analysis of collected data and findings 

After completing the process of collecting data, gathered information was analyzed by first linking the information therein to the various aspects mentioned in the research questions. This means that the questions posed not only determined acquisition of the primary sources needed for the study but also provided direction for the entire study. Analysis of acquired data considered trends in conspicuous consumption as relates to materialism, social status, and show off so that by establishing such relationships conclusions could be made as touching reasons why people use luxury brands to show off. 

Findings from the study suggested that there is a strong correlation between conspicuous consumption and materialism. Primary sources used in the study indicated that although materialism has not been cited previously as being one of the reasons for conspicuous consumption of sumptuous brands, materialism is actually the modern motivator for wealth acquisition. This helped establish a close relationship between materialism and conspicuous consumption. Consequently, the findings about this relationship made it possible to conclude that people show off after acquiring sumptuous brands because they need to prove to the world that they own possessions that put them in a separate class. The findings also indicated that conspicuous consumption of luxury good with the intention of showing off is closely related to social status. Due to the limited availability of literature on the topic of study, these relationships were established by considering multiple articles mentioning or discussing each of the aspects in detail. The established relationship implies that people use luxury brands for showing off in order to attain to a particular status in the society.       

Conclusion and implications

The research problem entrenched in the failure of previous research efforts to determine why people use sumptuous brands to show off was resolved in this study by relating three variables (social status, materialism, and show off) to the subject of study. This particular approach was used because of inadequate literature concerning conspicuous consumption and the use of luxurious brands to brag. The findings helped resolve the problem of research by establishing a close relationship between conspicuous consumption and materialism. As indicated by a closer look on the relationship, consumers use such products to show off as proof of their material success to a society that places high value on materialism. Additionally, by using primary sources, this study produced the findings that there is a close association between social status, show offs, and conspicuous consumption. This helped resolve the second research question as the findings indicate that people show off using luxurious brands to claim their place in society.  

The findings made in the course of this study contribute immensely to the body of knowledge surrounding conspicuous consumption especially in the light of the highlighted literature gap. Through working to establish correlations between conspicuous spending and materialism, social status, and showing off the study introduced a new perspective to researching the phenomenon. Further, the research paved way for future research activities to consider multiple factors when trying to explore why people have a tendency of using luxurious brands to show off. The existing body of knowledge emphasizes much on exploring conspicuous consumption based on the need to enlighten consumers. Consequently, previous studies have negated or assumed the need to understand such consumption patterns from the consumer’s perspective (Podoshen, Andrzejewski & Hunt, 2014). Therefore, by introducing the relationships between and among the variables with the aim of uncovering the reasons behind consumer usage of luxurious brands for show off this study has opened up a new avenue of study. As Hudders (2012) suggests, opening up new avenues and study strategies is vital for the uncovering of explanations and reasons underlying specific phenomena. Thus, this study has made it possible for future research into the conspicuous spending phenomenon to be carried out through analysis of factors motivating purchase of luxurious brands. One of the reasons why research in this particular topic may have been avoided by previous researchers is the lack of open mindedness in approaching the subject. Reading through this study will open up the minds of other scholars on the innumerable possibilities of approaching conspicuous consumption from multi-faceted perspectives.  

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There is however, a major limitation to the mode of analysis used in this study. Bearing in mind that the inductive scientific approach was used in analysis, there is a great possibility that the findings of this study are flawed by personal inclinations. According to Williams (2011), this technique of analysis requires researchers to use available information to build abstractions and concepts. In the course of their formation, possibilities are that the researcher twists information to suit a personal point of view. It is therefore highly advisable that future research efforts consider merging the inductive approach with deductive reasoning in analysis. As Christensen et al (2011) opine, this helps eliminate the possibilities of biased findings through the inclusion of a diversity of premises in the course of analyzing data. In addition, this study was limited in its credibility because techniques used in gathering and analysis of information was not backed up by statistical methods and evidence. This would suggest that the findings are purely theoretical. The mode of analysis also made it harder to come up with systematic comparisons of information gathered from the select articles. As such, it is vital that future research efforts consider combining theoretical and statistical data in the course of analysis both to reduce contamination of data by researcher’s opinions and to provide enough support for theoretical findings (Williams, 2011). Owing to the lack of scholarly literature concerning the topic of study, it is almost impossible to determine the levels of convergence and divergence of the findings in this study with previous research. However, based on the relationships it is important to note that the study coincides with previous research studies via the appreciation of close ties between the three aforementioned variables and conspicuous consumption of luxury goods for the purposes of showing off. Although previous scholars do not handle the topic from the standpoint of establishing such relationships, this study goes further to incorporate such details. 

In conclusion, understanding the reasons why individuals use luxurious brands in order to show off requires that scholars establish the link between the motive to show off and the outcome of such bragging on the person’s social status. It is after establishing such correlations that reasons like materialism and pursuit for social class come into perspective. 

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