Health and Wellness

Buying luxury items makes you feel less confident and authentic, study says

@therealhbmedia | Twenty20

While a little bit of retail therapy can occasionally be just what you need to lift your spirits, a study out of Boston College and Harvard Business School suggests that splurging on luxury items can sometimes "backfire" and make you feel worse.

From an emotional perspective, acquiring luxury goods typically feels good because it raises your self-esteem, confidence, satisfaction and social standing, Nailya Ordabayeva, study author and associate professor of marketing at Boston College Carroll School of Management, tells CNBC Make It in an email.

"Studies show that consumers are particularly attracted to luxury when they feel less confident and less powerful compared to others, and they anticipate to experience a boost in confidence and power by buying and consuming luxury," Ordabayeva says.

However, not everyone gets a boost.

Some people act less confidently when they have a luxury item simply because they don't feel like themselves, the study authors wrote. For example, someone might feel shy, embarrassed or out of their element wearing a high-end watch or flashy jewelry item.

The researchers named this uncomfortable phenomenon "the impostor syndrome from luxury consumption."

The "psychological cost of luxury" takes away any happiness and enjoyment that someone would otherwise get from purchases, the study authors wrote. "So, in the end, luxury may end up inadvertently backfiring on consumers and undermining their confidence and power, counter to what consumers expect," Ordabayeva says.

The researchers found these feelings to be prevalent among all kinds of consumers, from those considered the "luxury target market" to middle-class consumers.

For the study, researchers reviewed nine other studies about luxury shopping, then surveyed people in locations where wealthy consumers frequent, for example the Upper East Side and the Metropolitan Opera, both in New York City, as well as Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.

So what makes certain people feel weird about their opulence? Some people have no qualms flaunting luxury clothing or accessories because they believe they are entitled to them, or they think that it's appropriate given a special occasion. (In the study, this was about 30% of people.)

But others are uncomfortable possessing luxury items because they believe they are "a privilege which is undue and undeserved," even if they can afford to have these things, the study authors wrote.

Interestingly, these bad feelings subsided in instances where shoppers received marketing messaging that suggested they deserved the products.

The solution for anyone with their eye on high-end products, who don't want to feel like impostors? Connecting your luxury purchases to personal events (for example, buying souvenirs on a trip or jewelry to mark an engagement), or convincing yourself that you're worth it helps, Ordabayeva suggests.

Another option: change your expectations.

Even though it might be fun to imagine yourself wearing a fancy clothing item or driving a luxury car, "this aspirational image of consuming luxury may not materialize and yield the psychological benefits that consumers think it will bring," she adds.

"[I]t is important for consumers to honestly reflect on whether the item will represent who they truly are. If not, the item will end up in unused, in the back of one's closet or garage, because it feels inauthentic and untrue."

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