Louis Vuitton’s Mythic 94.3%

Luxury business experts from around the world gathered in Roppongi’s Grand Hyatt last week for the Financial TimesBusiness of Luxury Summit Tokyo ’08. And what an appropriate setting for discussion about luxury — Tokyo! — the world’s most important site for high-end brand consumption.

But proving this importance requires a catchy numerical figure. So in his opening speech, the FT‘s Lionel Barber told the audience that 94.3% of all Japanese women in their 20s own a piece of Louis Vuitton. This number was then repeated in an article by leading Asian luxury expert Radha Chadha in the FT‘s newspaper supplement about the luxury business: “For example, as many as 94 per cent of Tokyo women in their 20s own a Louis Vuitton piece.” A quick Google search on “94.3 AND Louis Vuitton” will bring up countless news articles from major international newspapers and magazines citing the figure. Even the Japanese fashion newspaper Senken Shimbun repeated the number in its June 2 recap of the FT summit. 94.3% is as good as gospel.

Anyone who has spent a few hours in Tokyo knows that the Japanese deeply love Louis Vuitton. Japan gave the French brand both the capital and the blueprint to become an unprecedented global luxury powerhouse.

That being said, 94.3%!?

Let’s think about what this means. If you collected 100 girls in their 20s at random from all across Japan — from the frozen backwaters of Hokkaido to the beach huts of Okinawa — and put them in the same room, only six of them could claim to possess zero Louis Vuitton items. To be perfectly fair to all the experts who keeps repeating this statistic as unassailable fact, 94.3% is totally and utterly impossible.

So where in the world did this imaginary statistic come from? We decided to track down the original source — a 2003 survey report of Tokyo metropolitan area consumers from the now-extinct Saison Research Group titled “The Image of Foreign Luxury Brands and Actual State of Brand Ownership” 『海外高級ブランドのイメージと所有実態』. And there on the bottom of page 6, we are informed that “94.3%” of girls in their 20s own a product from Louis Vuitton. Above this number, however, we get our first taste that something is amiss with this survey: “109.9%” of women in their 40s own Christian Dior! In this thing we normally call “reality,” ownership rate for any object can never top 100%, but this Saison report is very, very special.

You see, Saison’s researchers decided to simply add up all the percentages for ownership of different item groups (like bags, wallets, scarves, perfume, coats, suits, sweaters, pants, belts, shoes, etc.) for the final ownership rate. So, hypothetically, if 50% of women in their 20s own LV bags, 30% own LV wallets, and 15% own cigarette cases, “95%” would be the final figure of brand ownership. Needless to say, this is an extremely problematic form of statistical analysis. And even the author plainly states: “These numbers are not a strict measure of ownership rates for each brand. For the brands where people own multiple items, the number can surpass 100%.” (厳密には各ブランドの所有率を示すものではない。複数アイテムを保有する人が多いブランドでは100%を越えることもある。)I have no idea why the Saison Research Group ever thought to use this ridiculous measure of brand popularity in percentage form, but I think I know now why they disbanded a year later.

Although Saison printed the caveat along with the numbers, no one apparently paid much attention. The Japanese media happily reported these bogus figures as “strict measures of ownership,” and eventually, the digits made their way into the Western media as well, with no one stopping to ask how 94.3% (or 109.9%!) could be possible for a single brand.

So what would be a more accurate figure for Louis Vuitton ownership?

First of all, there are plenty of fashion subcultures and segments of 20 year-olds that do not place Louis Vuitton in their purchase consideration set. “Street-kei” girls from CUTiE or Zipper are absolutely not LV customers. And girls reading the very popular “girly” magazine Non•no are probably too laid back about fashion to purchase such an extravagant level of luxury handbag or wallet. Certainly, LV is a key brand for the mainstream and enormous CanCam set (the magazine features monthly coverage about the brand), but even the CanCam/JJ faction is merely a large plurality in the market — not a majority.

Moreover, there are relatively good surveys that cover LV brand preference and ownership. The TBS General Preference Survey (TBS総合嗜好調査) asks consumers in Tokyo and the Osaka-Kobe region about established brands. Over the last decade, Louis Vuitton has generally topped the survey’s list of beloved fashion brands for women in their 20s — at around 30%. This year’s rate for LV, however, hit a recent low of 26.7%, with only 19.3% of Tokyo women in the survey saying they like the brand. (Louis Vuitton remains stunningly popular in the famously logo-crazy Kansai region.) Brand Data Bank‘s (national) data tells a similar story: only 15% of surveyed women in their 20s own a LV bag.

The Japanese “conventional wisdom” (echoed here) seems to state that around 40% of women own a LV product, and while this may still be high, it is not even one-half of the FT‘s oft-repeated imaginary figure. Our guess would be 30-40% of women in their 20s own some manner of Louis Vuitton item, with 15-20% owning a LV bag. This is still very, very impressive when viewed in the larger scheme of things, but when 94.3% sets the standard, 15% looks rather humble.

One of the main messages at the FT conference was that the Japanese luxury market has matured and become saturated. Brands can no longer swagger into Tokyo and expect to be profitable without perfectly understanding their customers. Good information is more important than ever. So let’s all take a step into the future and bury the totally dubious 94.3% figure once-and-for-all.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

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7 Responses to “Louis Vuitton’s Mythic 94.3%”

  1. Japan F Says:

    Nice analysis, and it’s inarguable that industry specific magazines and individuals should be more informed. However, you also have to consider that the press in the West loves to run with stories about Japanese panty vending machines, sheep posing as poodles, Japanese girls that dress up as soda machines to escape rapists, and any other number of “wacky Japanese” nonsense. The “every girl in Japan owns LV” meme is yet another one of the “those crazy Japanese” stories that sell papers and get visitors to news websites.

  2. W. David Marx Says:

    I think you are right to associate the 94.3% myth with the other “wacky Japan” myths, but I was surprised to see the number repeated by so many people in the fashion industry who should know better.

  3. mooi lelijk « Van hier tot Tokyo Says:

    […] voel me op straat vaak bezwaard om foto’s van mensen te maken. Dus de Louis Vuitton-tassen (40% van de vrouwen in de twintig heeft minstens één LV item, nep bestaat hier niet), honden met kleren aan (ik ga naakte honden bijna vies vinden) en […]

  4. Can 94.3% of all Japanese women in their 20s own a piece of Louis Vuitton? | BrandOrganizer Says:

    […] really. But it makes an interesting story. Social […]

  5. Garrett Says:

    Smashing work, Marxy. But what, oh what will the givers of rousing business speeches do if they can’t assume any given country is monolithic?

    That said, upon reading your article, I scoffed at the idea of near-total market permeation, then remembered that my not-particularly-brand-conscious wife has a lingering LV duffel bag. While nowhere near 94.3%, I still wouldn’t mind having a piece of the level of saturation that LV has achieved – I’d believe a quarter, maybe even a bit more.

    I’m going to hire Saison to calculate traffic to TPR. “Let’s see, 4,000 visitors on Friday, plus 3,500 on Saturday, plus. . .”

  6. W. David Marx Says:

    I want to reiterate that Louis Vuitton’s market penetration in Japan is incredible, but “incredible market penetration” is probably around 20-25% and not 94.3%.

  7. Ken Says:

    109.9%” of women in their 40s own Christian Dior

    Maybe he’s really small.

    Needless to say, this is an extremely problematic form of statistical analysis.

    Beautiful understatement. What’s even more surprising is that it actually got cited.


    I’m going to hire Saison to calculate traffic to TPR.

    Am I fired or something? Why do I always find out these things by reading someone else’s blog?