The marketplace for lifestyle services is growing. But, what do these services offer and how prestigious are they?
Recently, I was caught in one of those waiting moments, when you desperately reach out for whatever literature is at hand in order to pass the time. In this case it was a local Hong Kong publication called BC Magazine, with an article entitled “Pampering the Prosperous‚” catching my eye.
Apparently lifestyle services are becoming a hit in Hong Kong, with the article pointing to one called Quintessentially. These are companies set up to provide what are, in effect, concierge out-services for the wealthy. Buying tickets, recommendations on holidays or restaurants, ideas for entertaining and so on.
I participated in a trial for such a service in London. They helped me obtain tickets to a sold-out Prince concert, arrange a very memorable birthday gift and find some good new places to eat. However, they were unable to help me with several requests and all their solutions were expensive, often excessively so. Still, I’m thankful for the vivid and joyful experiences they helped facilitate.
Attending the feedback research session for that trial it was clear many found that the service was not offering anything they could not do for themselves. What people in that trial were saying did not square up with the part of the BC article’s speculation about this trend being tied to status. The people in the trial that were getting the most from the service were not the ones saving time, or differentiating themselves from their peers. Rather, it was the ones racking up memorable experiences, different from the ones they were already having or finding.
I didn’t tell many of my friends at the time about the trial and had I chosen to join permanently, that I probably wouldn’t have changed that position. In the end, how many of us really need another marker of status? What we crave are better and more meaningful experiences, for ourselves and to share with our loved ones (OK, some do need to boast, I suppose).
Experience and relationship are the essence, both of the new-wave of luxury and of these lifestyle services. That is why this quote from the BC article stood out.
“Luxury is more than a brand. It’s a about understanding and being in touch with what is basic – the craft, quality or story behind the luxury. for instance, if I go to buy a carpet, I can go to Central at the Afghan store and buy one out of 1,000 carpets. Or, I can travel to Afghanistan, meet the weaver and learn about the weaving technique that makes the rug unique. It’s much more satisfying to go to Afghanistan, learn about it and then choose.”
OK, like me you probably doubt how many people really are going to Afghanistan to choose rugs, but the point is still valid. Luxury, meaningful luxury is not just about how much you spend on a thing, but about consumption for the privilege to have a connection with the thing, its maker and its craft. It is a marker of lifestyle and taste.
That’s why people who try to define luxury in terms of financial cost get it wrong and why people whose first move in trying to improve their lifestyle is spending more always get it tragically wrong.