Tested and effective methods have been used to evaluate the origins of luxury brand perception and its impact on luxury brand strength. A number of people enjoy buying goods from luxury brands, including animal skin products. Although using animal skin to make clothes and fashion accessories is not an eco-friendly practice, consumers keep appreciating and purchasing real hide products. (Tiplady, 2013) In order to investigate how consumers perceive luxury animal skin products, I have decided to use a face-to-face qualitative survey consisting of both closed-ended and open-ended questions. Particular emphasis has been placed on Hermes Birkin handbags, which are all made from real leather and are greatly appreciated by consumers all over the world. In addition we know that Hermes is a luxury brand which specializes in leather and high-fashion luxury goods. Although Birkin handbags are among the most expensive handbags in the world, their prices vary depending on the kind of animal skin that is used to make them. Also, the design and craftsmanship employed to create them are absolutely exquisite and contribute to increasing their value. Birkin handbags are in high demand among all consumer groups, especially high-end consumers. In view of these considerations I have selected Birkin handbags as the main focus of my case study as they can help to understand the reason/s why people appreciate and purchase animal skin products. An analysis of this particular product should also enable the author to draw relevant conclusions about costumers’ attitude.
The reason why a face-to-face qualitative survey has been used to collect data is because this particular research method enables researchers to gather relevant information about the interviewee’s views and opinions about specific phenomena. (Kvale, 1983. P174) In order to collect useful data, the author will travel to London and go to 1 Bruton Street, where one of Hermès largest stores is located. Here I will carry out face-to-face interviews with customers, on the basis of a previously-designed qualitative survey. It should be noted that Bruton Street is one of London’s most glamorous streets where many luxury brands, including Prada, Miumiu and Christian Dior can be found. (The Independent, 2013) The size of Hermes’ Bruton Street store is remarkable and allows for the display of many high-fashion luxury products (The Independent, 2013). The reason why this particular store was chosen is because it is located on a “luxury street” and it is an independent retailer which only offers Hermes products. Therefore, it can be inferred that the customers who purchase from it can be classified as high-end consumers, which makes it easier for the author to target that specific consumer group. In fact, the present paper focuses on people who already own or are willing to purchase a Birkin bag, which is why Hermès’ London store is an excellent location to meet the author’s target audience. Based on the author’s estimation, it will take five days to collect a sufficient amount of data through a face-to-face qualitative survey. To be more precise, the data collection process will start on the 29th of July and will end on the 2nd of August, and research will be conducted during standard office hours (10am – 5pm). It has been estimated that it will take less than 10 minutes for each respondent to complete the survey designed by the author. Customers will be interviewed outside the store, in order not to interfere with its daily operations and activities. Unlike quantitative research methods, qualitative surveys enable researchers to investigate human behavior in order to identify the reasons behind specific phenomena. (Saldana, 2011) Because the data collected through qualitative research methods and approaches are non-quantitative in nature, it is very important that they are carefully collected, interpreted and analysed. (Saldana, 2011) In order to avoid errors and ensure bot accuracy and reliability during the data collection phase, the author will record respondents’ answers.
When approaching customers, the author will specify that the aforementioned face-to-face survey consists of eleven questions, none of which addresses potentially disturbing topics. That is because the use of animal skin in the fashion industry is a highly sensitive topic which may discourage customers from participating in the survey. In fact, many individuals and organizations nowadays judge and criticize those who sell and purchase animal skin products, organizing protests and events aimed at sensitizing consumers about animal cruelty. (Tiplady, 2013) PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), for example, is an organization which has over three million members worldwide who condemn animal cruelty and believe that human beings have no right to eat, wear or experiment on other living creatures. (PETA, accessed, 2013). With regards to the relationship between fashion and animal cruelty, PETA’s Senior Vice President observed that fashionistas should refute the idea of purchasing a handbag made from the skin of animals which are bred and killed just so their skin can be used to manufacture outdated, extremely expensive fashion accessories. Therefore, if Hermes wishes to stand out from its competitors and dominate the global fashion industry, it is crucial that it should stop using real animal skin to satisfy consumers’ vanity, especially considering that there exist many eco-friendly alternatives such as faux snake leather and mock croc (Dusil, 2009).
However, consumers’ different values and principles have a significant impact on their buying behavior, which is why they should be taken into consideration when investigating the reasons why people have different opinions about animal skin products. In fact, while some consumers refuse to purchase animal skin products because they think they have a responsibility towards animals, some others feel no guilt at all when buying and wearing fashion accessories and clothes made from real hide. In fact, many consumers see animal skin products as normal goods which they freely purchase without considering the impact of their buying behavior on animal rights. (Lim and Ting, 2012) That is because they don’t think that buying a fashion accessory or a piece of clothing made from real hide makes them murderers (Gardner and Assadourian, 2004). Moreover, some people enjoy buying animal skin as a hobby and collecting rare hides, including saltwater crocodiles’ skin (Harper, 2010). This clearly indicates that consumers’ perceived value of animal skin products can vary greatly.
The reason why I selected Hermes Birkin handbags as the main topic of my case study is because they can provide a more targeted and focused perspective on the aforementioned aspects and trends. In other words, Hermes Birkin handbags represent an excellent way to investigate why people are interested in buying animal skin products. Also, the Hermes brand exemplifies the world of “luxury”. In addition, the costs incurred by luxury brands to produce animal skin products are quite high compared to middle-class brands. Birkin handbags, for example, are all handmade, which increases their value. Although we know that Hermes targets high-end consumers, many lower-end consumers possess or wish to possess a Birkin handbag. However, numerous famous people and celebrities own this particular handbag. As a result of that, consumers associate Birkin handbags with those people’s exclusive and desirable lifestyle, which affects their buying behavior in the sense that they also want to own a Birkin handbag in order to feel closer to those famous people. Customization is one of the factors which increase the value of Birkin handbags, as customers are given the possibility to personalize their chosen bag/s by selecting specific animal skins, designs, colors and many other details. Therefore, my survey is aimed at people who want to buy Birkin handbags and people who already have Birkin handbags.
The questionnaire designed for this case study consists of three multiple-choice questions and eight questions. The first question is about respondents’ genders, as both women and men have been found to appreciate and purchase Birkin bags. In fact, it has been reported that G-Dragon, a Korean male pop star, is often spotted carrying a large Birkin handbag (Daesung, 2013). Therefore Birkin handbags are high-fashion luxury products which are popular among both men and women. Question two investigates respondents’ age. Many people have accumulated wealth recently and they may want to purchase Birkin handbags for their children. Also, young, wealthy people, such as celebrities and superstars, can afford Birkin handbags. For example, Victoria Beckham’ Birkin handbag collection is worth over $2 million dollars, Kim Kardashian has been spotted using hers to go to the gym and many other celebrities, including Jessica Simpson and Avril Lavigne, have come to appreciate Hermes’ exclusive handbags (Gossip Girl, 2011). The reason why I decided to collect information about respondents’ age is because people tend to assume that it takes a long time to become rich enough to be able to purchase a Birkin handbag, while there are many young people who can afford this exclusive product. The third question, “do you like Hermes?”, and the fourth question “why do you like Hermes?” aim at investigating people’s different taste. For example, people may like Hermes because of its luxury status, design or quality; they may associate Hermes with high quality, exquisite workmanship, exclusive materials, fine leather and unique textures (Mull, 2013). The fifth question, “have you bought a Birkin handbag before?” is aimed at determining how many people already own a Birkin handbag. The next question “what do you think about the Birkin handbag?” was designed to explore costumers’ attitude towards Birkin handbags. Depending on their personal taste and experience, customers may have a positive or negative opinion about Birkin handbags, their prices, design, quality, materials and so forth. For instance, they may not appreciate the fact that Birkin handbags are difficult to clean. The next question, “ if you have bought a Birkin handbag, can you tell me why you bought it?” should provide information about the reasons why costumers are willing to purchase Birkin handbags and what kind of advantages they think they can obtain from buying them. However the price of Birkin handbags is very high and there is even a waiting list, as buyers normally need to wait one to two years to receive their handbags. If buyers didn’t think that Birkin handbags can offer them certain benefits, they wouldn’t probably purchase them, given their high price and waiting time. The following question “if you have not bought a Birkin handbag. Would you want to purchase one?” What is the reason for your answer?” was formulated in order to determine how many customers would like to own a Birkin handbag, even though they cannot afford it. Also, by focusing on customers who want to purchase or have already purchased a Birkin handbag, my survey should provide useful information about customers’ different attitudes towards Birkin handbags. The next question, “do you own any leather/animal skin products? What is the reason?”, was formulated to determine whether people who own or want a Birkin handbag own any animal skin products. This can shed light on their attitude towards animal skin products in general. The last question, “How do you feel about it?” should help to explore consumers’ mixed views about the use of animal skin on luxury fashion products. When people purchase animal skin products they may experience different feelings. Some people may think that buying real animal skin products is equivalent to killing animals, thus refusing to purchase such products. However, there are consumers who can easily purchase animal skin products without feeling guilty as even though they are aware that animals were killed to make them, the thought that those animals were killed before their purchase comforts them. Moreover, the fact that they did not directly kill any animals prevents them from feeling guilty, as manufacturers are responsible for the unethical practices that they promote by offering exclusive products made from real hide. There are also consumers who are completely unaware about animal cruelty or simply don’t care about it.
I have selected a face-to-face qualitative survey because it makes it easier to directly approach a small, focused sample, thus enabling the author to target people who either want to purchase or already own a Birkin handbag. Even though there are many different research methods which could have been used to investigate consumers’ attitudes towards animal skin products, I have decided to design a face-to-face qualitative survey, as its particular characteristics perfectly suit this paper’s objectives and scope. To be more precise, face-to-face qualitative research methods allow the researcher to analyse respondents’ reactions, facial expressions, body language in general as well as other factors which would otherwise go unnoticed. (Henn et al., 2009) However, because qualitative research produces non quantitative data, it is crucial that the researcher should reduce the potential effects of personal bias when collecting, interpreting and analyzing data. (Key, 1997). One of the main advantages of qualitative research is that it is ideal when researchers investigate rather generic phenomena and have not decided what they want to focus on. Moreover, qualitative research methods are much more flexible than quantitative ones, which allows the researcher to use a variety of information, including visual data and richer observations, in order to explore human behavior in greater depth. (Leavy, 2014).
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