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Shoppers Seeking Comfort and Self-Expression Will Smash the Piggy Bank for a Splurge Purchase

A male customer browses a rack of shirts, picking out a black one.

Shoppers are cutting back in the aggregate as they brace themselves for economic headwinds, so the conventional wisdom is that unnecessary “splurge” purchases are on hold. But Deloitte’s For Consumers, Splurges Aren’t Just Lipstick report found that 77% of global consumers say they made a splurge purchase in the last month, with an even higher number (81%) in the U.S.

Lupine Skelly, Retail Research Leader at Deloitte, noted that when you dive into the findings, the reasoning behind this seemingly counterintuitive trend becomes clear: people are treating themselves to the pleasure of a mildly frivolous purchase. And despite the common practice of calling splurge purchases the “lipstick index,” so named for beauty products’ stereotype as inexpensive treats, men actually splurge more than women across generations and product categories.

“We had over three in four consumers globally say that they were making a splurge, but only 42% said that they could afford to spend on something that brings them joy,” said Skelly in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “I think that really just shows how fatigued people are from having to budget and economize. This is an important outlet for them to be able to take some of that money and do something for themselves, to have a little splurge to treat themselves.”

Shoppers are showing themselves willing to go a bit above and beyond their usual budget to find some relief from the constant grind of inflation and other negative economic news, which makes emotions an important element of these purchases. This provides opportunities for retailers to position their products and services as potential splurge purchases, but doing so requires a deeper understanding of the who, what and why of shoppers aiming to treat themselves:

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  • Men are splurging at higher levels than women: Men spend 40% more on splurge purchases than women — and their choices almost make the nickname “bourbon barometer” a more accurate title, but don’t discount their diversity;
  • Types of splurge purchases shift with income: Shoppers are treating themselves across all income levels, but those who can afford to spend $100 or more on an apparel splurge purchase care much more about self-expression than their less wealthy counterparts; and
  • Splurges are all about comfort: No matter who is making the purchase or what they plan on buying, the modern splurge is all about emotion, chiefly comfort, and marketers need to build their efforts around the idea of stress relief during a difficult time.

Men Splurge More Than Women Across Categories

Deloitte found that 57% of global splurges by men are spent on food and drink, and that they’re willing to spend 60% more than women. While small snacks and specialty coffees were popular, the firm also noted that premium spirits volumes were up 13% in 2022. Marketers should be keeping all these facts in mind as they craft their campaigns.

“The conventional wisdom around splurging assumes women are probably more prone to doing this and treating themselves,” said Skelly. “So I think that the idea is that if men are spending more, but perhaps in marketers’ minds [men are] not participating, there’s really an opportunity to target this demographic.”

However, retailers shouldn’t fall into stereotyping men’s habits any more than they can afford to do so for women. Men outspend their female counterparts in splurges for everything from personal care to pets, so marketing material shouldn’t focus strictly on “manly” purchases.

We tracked nine categories, and men spend more in all nine categories,” said Skelly. “So this wasn’t, ‘Oh yeah, it’s because they’re buying their steaks and their bourbon.’ This was every single category we tracked. The other point that we really thought was interesting is that millennial men in particular are spending about $20 more on the splurges than their female counterparts. The point we’re trying to make is that yeah, it’s great to target women, but there’s also a huge, probably untapped demographic here with these younger males.”

Splurgers on Expensive Clothing Value Self-Expression

Shoppers are buying for themselves across all demographics, but people in better economic condition are looking for something different than other customers. Once a purchase of clothing or accessories tops $100, Deloitte found that demand for “a way to express myself” rises while the need for practicality drops. Again, the customer’s emotional state is critical to understanding their behaviors.

 “This idea that I want to express myself — that is a very strong emotion, and it’s what consumers are saying at those higher price points, so the utility of that apparel item changes,” said Skelly. “They’re using that apparel and those accessories to message to the world who they really are, whether that’s by the bag they carry or whatever their fashion choices are. I think that’s super interesting.”

Luxury marketers in particular should be paying close attention to this dynamic. The kind of messaging that resonates with shoppers looking to proudly show off their purchases to the world is very different than communicating with someone who’s decided now is the time to buy a new but basic work outfit even if they can’t quite afford it.

“This is an opportunity to market using personalized messaging around self-expression and tap into that emotion,” Skelly added.

Benefit From Splurge Purchases by Looking Beyond Life Events

Retailers that want to capture these splurge purchases need to fully understand why shoppers are looking to treat themselves in the first place, regardless of what demographic they serve. Interests are wide enough that pretty much every company sells something splurge-worthy, making it a matter of aligning marketing to messages that will appeal to your specific customer base.

“There are probably opportunities for retailers to widen the aperture a little bit and understand who is participating in these splurge occasions and why they’re doing it,” said Skelly. “It’s not just about women buying lipstick. The data shows this is happening across almost all the demographics, and it’s happening at a higher rate. It really is a matter of homing in on the drivers of those splurge purchases, and examining what you have that might be fitting in those categories. What drivers can you highlight to encourage those splurge purchases?”

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