Yesterday’s luxury products are passé. Many of us would rather show off our pricey yoga pants than an Armani suit. One reason is that we’re getting jaded; many of us take it for granted that the next exotic product awaits us around the corner.
The place we see when we turn that counter could well be Whole Foods. One advertising executive argues that today an upscale grocery store like Whole Foods in its own way sells luxury products, but with a different twist. In his words, “Instead of cold, intimidating retail vaults awash in tastefully, restrained colors, Whole Foods provides a hip, eclectic sort of vibe that feels like a Berkeley revival with no credit limit. Funky music blares, dreadlocked associates staff checkout aisles, and shoppers are a mix of artsy-looking moms, retirees in pricey but well-cushioned running shoes, and a constant stream of suits taking a quick break from corporate America while awaiting a $15 turkey sub and some curried sweet potato couscous.”
That means today we still obsess about what we buy but we’re more interested in where it came from than what celebrity endorsed it. One important dimension today is provenance: Shoppers are willing to pay more for an item when they know its exact heritage, and they are assured that “real people” have thoughtfully selected the things from which they choose. This process of curation, which used to refer to an expert who carefully chooses pieces to include in a museum exhibit, now applies to a range of consumer products such as food, clothing, and travel. Whole Foods personalizes its inventory as it features the names of store employees on chalkboards throughout the store and often specifies the farms that grew the products. You can’t buy authenticity – or can you?