Luxury industry: Grow Big or Stay Niche. Upcoming Season Trends

Dagong Europe has published a commentary entitled Luxury Industry: Grow Big or Stay Niche – Upcoming Season Trends. The commentary gives an overview of the main trends and developments in the luxury industry, examining the drivers in its future development. It also considers the comparative positioning, strategies and market approaches of the main luxury players, focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of the changing Chinese market.

The global luxury market grew +3.3% in 2014, the lowest since 2009, underpinned by the subdued European economy, the recent US recovery and changing consumer habits in the Asia-Pacific region”, says Richard Miratsky, Head of the Corporates Analytical Team.

While the luxury sector is dominated, in terms of revenues, by the three major European brand-aggregators, the niche approach of smaller players has proven successful in the super-premium segment. Although very different, both strategies are effective in the current market conditions, if strong brand identity is supported by extraordinary customer experience, excellent service, effective media communication and wise geographic store location – the key drivers of success in luxury”, concludes Mr Miratsky.

Future developments in China’s rapidly slowing luxury market are a major concern for the main players. In 2014 luxury market revenues in China reached EUR 16.8Bn, up by 4.3% year-on-year” adds Marta Bevilacqua, Director of the Corporates Analytical Team. “European players will have to manage the Euro depreciation that is encouraging the Chinese habit of travel-for-luxury shopping and undermining the sector’s margins; and the anti-bribery campaign which has constrained the historically high volumes of absolute-luxury gift-giving”, concludes Ms Bevilacqua.

Dagong Europe expects the European majors to employ new strategies to refocus on personal luxury, relying not only on brands but on quality, and implementing new value propositions to encompass the affordable luxury segment.

Main findings:

  • Luxury sector to sustain mild growth in the medium term, despite the subdued world economy. Emerging markets, led by China, should support industry growth at lower-than-before averages, but volatile macro patterns and political interference poses significant uncertainties.
  • Although size carries weight in the luxury industry, smaller players can defend their niches. Large groups can build on their extensive knowledge and experience in creating and maintaining a strong multi-brand environment. Significant synergies and economies of scale in logistics, marketing, sales channel development and back-office functions can also be achieved. For smaller players, niche strategy has been effective only where product quality and brand perception have justified extra-premium prices.
  • Two crucial attributes emerging behind success in the luxury sector: the combining of history and innovation. Successful brands are able to blend the past, evoking the brand attributes and distinctive style, with new technologies, enhanced services, alternative retail channels and new customer experiences.
  • Although the mega-mergers of the past are unlikely to re-occur, we expect a substantial number of smaller deals in the coming years. The luxury sector is quite fertile ground in terms of deals and M&A transactions, with the majority of deals closed in Europe. 202 acquisitions took place globally in 2000-14.
  • SMEs operating in the luxury sector have been historically reluctant to tap the financial markets. The root causes are historical family ownership of luxury companies that have grown on brand recognition, linked to iconic founders and a view that long-established brand unicity is compromised by ownership dilution. Instead, bank debt, equity injections and strong cash flows have historically been the standard funding sources for investment.
  • Considering the qualitative and quantitative factors, our peer group of European major companies is generally well-positioned within the mid-to-low investment grade range. Although intrinsically different, LVMH and Hermès both position strongly among luxury peers due to their strong financial profiles and successful, divergent strategies. We see Prada as the weaker peer due to its need to streamline the business model and strategy.
  • Chinese luxury spending is unlikely to exceed the traditional spending regions in the short term. Instead, we see it steadily and smoothly increasing, together with growing disposable incomes and general consumer spending. Luxury players need to readjust their strategies to the structural changes in Chinese luxury demand, precipitated by the heavy impact of the anti-bribery and anti-extravaganza campaigns. The shift to personal luxury from gift-spending should further intensify, and the increase in affordable luxury and demand for high quality is pushing companies to develop new value propositions and brand positioning. The widening geographical price differential between China and Europe is motivating the Chinese to buy in Europe. The European luxury majors are tackling this by increasing their prices in Europe.

·         New sales strategies in China need to be implemented to defend market shares. The increasing growth in the middle class is causing all the luxury brands to consider new customer segmentation, shifting the focus from absolute luxury to affordable luxury and value for money.

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