A lot of us harbour a sort of contempt for anything that comes with a luxury tag on it. It could be a business class ticket on a trans-Atlantic flight or a bright yellow Lamborghini. We think of it as a waste of money, though it is more to do with the fact that these “materialistic possessions” are beyond us. In other words, the issue is not willingness, but ability.
I realised this last weekend when I went to one of Delhi’s premium malls to do an in-store review of a television set. In-store reviews are rare in a tech journalist’s life. They simply mean that the product is too expensive to be sent to the reviewer’s home or office. The store in question is the only company-owned Bang & Olufsen outlet in India. The product up for review is their new Avant range of televisions, starting at a princely sum of R10,00,000 for a 55-inch 4K model—(no, I did not add an extra zero). In fact, the price doubles for the 75-inch model, and the 85-inch variant costs a cool R30,00,000 (R30 lakh).
To put that figure in perspective, a top-end LG 4K television with more inches would cost you around R2.5 lakh, a fourth of what the B&O screen costs. A Bose equivalent is half the price. And this is why we often ask if the extra dollars are really worth it. But there is another way to look at it: These products are not meant for you and me. These are meant for those whose disposable incomes are many times the real incomes of the upper middle class. Incidentally, the B&O demo was done with the televisions plugged into other home theatre systems that cost almost the same, or more. This, when the television is one of the best I have heard without any extra speakers plugged in. Obviously, affordability is the last thing on the mind of those being targeted here.
But luxury is not just about a very high price tag. As in the case of the B&O television, it is also about quality, perfection and overall class. The Avant, for instance, does not switch on, or off, like a regular TV. It opens with the B&O logo and shuts off with what looks like curtains drawing in as the large 2.1 speaker panel at the bottom retracts upwards under the screen. The rear of the TV does not have wires, it can even conceal an Apple TV behind it … after all, it is meant for homes where wires would be very out of place. The TV can be held in place by mechanised stands that turn and swivel, all at an extra cost. Even the remote costs R40,000 more and needs to be bought separately.
Before you dismiss the idea again, let me tell you there are lot of people is India who can afford stuff like this. I remember when the first 4K television was launched in India by Sony it was priced upwards of R16 lakh. Even that sold over 200 units in the first year. Of course, India has money. That is why brands such as B&O are making a beeline here. Most top-end audio brands are already available here through dealers. But companies are now realising that they need to be here themselves.
Meanwhile, there is another segment that is becoming more prominent in the middle range. As good smartphones become really cheaper, the top-end smartphones are becoming more niche. This is where brands are pushing the high-end smartphone flagship, the likes of the iPhone 6+ and the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. But these are not luxury devices. So while those owning a top-of-the-line gold iPhone 6+ might get flaunting rights in some circles, they will keep their phones safely in their pockets when someone in the gathering has a ‘Vertu for Bentley’ handset. For the record, the latter costs R12.5 lakh. That is more than the television we started this article with.
So coming back to ability and willingness, I wanted to buy everything in the B&O store, but could not afford much beyond the “aggressively priced” BeoPlay A2, a Bluetooth speaker that costs around R22,000. Not that I bought it, but at least I could walk out of that store with the knowledge that there were a lot of people who walked in through that door with both the ability and the willingness in their pockets.
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