During my frequent travels and especially during the wait at the airport luggage belt, I have often wondered why luggage is so drab. Why does functionality trip design and style so much in this category? Why do women who have multiple handbags and totes co-ordinated with their wardrobe carry dull black or brown 20″strollers as carry-on luggage?
After all, luggage is one of the few mass categories of true conspicuous consumption. These are categories where in most cases the brand is clearly identifiable to others during use e.g. mobiles, cigarettes, cars, watches, specs. These are all relatively low cost badges (except cars) for the middle class (interestingly cigarettes are the only FMCG category in this list. No wonder it is often called the the cheapest status symbol, espl in developing countries). These categories allow individuals to make a statement of status and quality by buying an authentic (not counterfeit) designer/premium brand , without breaking the bank. You will see plenty of young executives with the latest mobile, a swish watch, designer glasses and a LVMH/GUCCI handbag (in the case of girls), while being in debt and living with their parents. I have seen many during my years in Russia and China.
So, why has the luggage category not been able to sell “stand-out value” or “aspiration” successfully? Why is the luggage carousel in the airport not a beauty parade? Why is the economy class traveller wearing Oakley glasses not strutting as he takes out his bag from the overhead cabin? Is it the absence of insightful communication (which pitches aspiration and style to the consumer) or is it the lack of mass distributed and well designed products from the leading brands in the category, which can deliver the desired “badge” value? I think it is both.
One can argue that check-in baggage undergoes rough handling and it would not be heart warming to see your pretty bag being tossed around . However for cabin/carry-on baggage the point holds.
None of the leading luggage (or retail) brands have offered products which can be genuinely associated with the designer-ish/aspirational lifestyle.
Now with the availability of Samsonite Black Label (SBL), hopefully this will change. A brand with high awareness and strong category credentials has launched a premium plus range which offers genuine stand-out value (although they have missed a trick because the most affordable collection within black label , the PRO-DLX is still quite drab). I wonder what took Samsonite so long. The “mass luxury” market has boomed across categories over the last 4 years with the growth in global wealth. HBR talked about it in 2003 in this article. Anyway, better late than never.
If they communicate and retail it (SBL) smartly, the category will grow because the creation of aspiration and designer ethic in the category will prompt the entry of aggressively priced offerings from other brands, including retail brands like TARGET, M&S (recently I saw Jasper Conran luggage for the first time in the Designers at Debenhams section). Infact, if Samsonite doesn’t upgrade the aesthetics in its mainstream range it might lose out on volumes to these new entrants. Imagine ZARA with its retail and brand strength entering the category (they have already extended into Homeware).
Either way, hopefully baggage watching at the airport lounges will be a bit more entertaining. Incidentally, the baggage carousel (and the trolley) is a great media vehicle for luggage brands. Wake up guys. Which trip are you on ?