Luxury consumption can spark feelings of inauthenticity, study finds

Bentley Luxury car

While luxury consumption can yield status benefits for some, for others it can spark feelings of inauthenticity, according to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Boston College researchers found that luxury purchases can sometimes fail to affirm buyers’ sense of status and instead fuel feelings of inauthenticity — researchers labeled this the “impostor syndrome” from luxury consumption.

Consumers that feel inauthentic after a luxury purchase actually feel less confident using the product than if they were using a non-luxury alternative.

Feelings of inauthenticity from buying luxury goods may be due to consumers perceiving luxury as an undue privilege.

“Luxury can be a double-edged sword,” write Boston College Carroll School of Management Associate Professor of Marketing Nailya Ordabayeva and her co-authors, Harvard Business School doctoral student Dafna Goor, Boston University professor Anat Keinan, and Hult International Business School professor Sandrine Crener. “While luxury consumption holds the promise of elevated status, it can backfire and make consumers feel inauthentic, producing what we call the ‘impostor syndrome from luxury consumption.’”

Unlike other studies in the area, ”we find that many consumers perceive luxury products as a privilege which is undue and undeserved,” according to Ordabayeva and her co-authors.

According to the researchers, the effects are robust across studies conducted in the lab and in field settings such as the Metropolitan Opera, Martha’s Vineyard, a luxury shopping center, and the Upper East Side in New York.

The researchers say the effect is less apparent among consumers with an inherently high sense of entitlement as well as non-entitled consumers on special occasions, such as their birthday.

“Luxury marketers and shoppers need to be aware of this psychological cost of luxury, as impostor feelings resulting from purchases reduce consumer enjoyment and happiness,” said Ordabayeva. “But boosting consumers’ feelings of deservingness through sales tactics and marketing messages can help. Ultimately, in today’s age that prioritizes authenticity and authentic living, creating experiences and narratives that boost people’s personal connection with products and possessions can yield lasting benefits for consumers and marketers alike.”

Journal Citation

“The Impostor Syndrome from Luxury Consumption”
Dafna Goor, Nailya Ordabayeva, Anat Keinan, Sandrine Crener
Journal of Consumer Research, ucz044,
Published: 27 September 2019

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