Luxury research attracts increasing attention from practitioners and researchers. Much of the academic research focuses on luxury goods whereas luxury services are still under-researched. The pivotal differences between luxury goods and luxury services marketing remain to be explored to understanding what luxury services mean for customers and how managers can sell and deliver luxury consumption experiences.
Experiences as the pivotal object of luxury have become more important in recent years (Miller and Mills 2012). Given the increasing importance of experiences there is no luxury without service anymore. As Atwal & Williams (2008, p. 338) put it “the experience is everything” in luxury marketing and determines individual luxury perceptions. However, the analysis of luxury services is underrepresented in current luxury research, with only a few studies exploring contextual differences between luxury goods and services (e.g. Yang & Mattila, 2016; Yang & Mattila, 2017). Extant knowledge still relies heavily on a goods-centric view on luxury (Cristini et al., 2017) although pivotal differences of goods and services marketing have long been acknowledged in marketing literature (e.g. Bateson, 1979; Beaven & Scotti, 1990; Wirtz & Lovelock, 2016).
Addressing this situation, we here focus on the research question ‘what constitutes a luxury service experience’? First, we review extant luxury research to provide an integrated view of what is known about luxury services to date, as well as the various theoretical frameworks for luxury goods research to provide a contrast with luxury services. Second, we report results from exploratory interviews conducted with luxury service consumers to understand how they perceive differences between luxury and non-luxury services. Our qualitative study aims to enhance current theoretical insights on luxury services. Accordingly, we conducted semi-structured interviews, using a set of pre-determined, open-ended questions to explore specific themes. This approach provides flexibility to explore various personal opinions and views (Edwards and Holland 2013). We cooperated with a German luxury restaurant and approached customers at a summer party. Guided by our open-ended questions related to luxury services in general and this specific luxury restaurant, the interviewees broadly discussed their motives and their customer experiences. Finally, we conclude with a proposed framework that differentiates luxury services from ordinary services, and luxury services from luxury goods along key consumer behavior dimensions in the search, decision, consumption and post-consumption states. This framework provides important insights for both academics and practitioners, and research propositions with concrete direction for further investigations.
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