Ghalia BOUSTANI. Expert Manager at Univers Retail | Published author | Visiting lecturer.

The luxury market has been flooded with high-end and accessible luxury brands offering products and services at high prices in recent years. An alarming trend has emerged: the decline in service quality. Consumers are discovering that paying a premium does not always ensure exceptional service. In today’s luxury market, can mediocre service be tolerated? Are customers not aware of this problem or are they becoming less demanding?

Paying More, Receiving Less

The Gap Between Accessible Luxury and True Luxury


The distinction between accessible luxury and true luxury is becoming blurry. Accessible luxury brands, often labelled as ‘masstige’ (mass + prestige), offer high-end products at a more attainable price point. Despite their best efforts, their service quality often fails to meet expectations. For instance, if you order a $5 coffee at Starbucks, you can expect excellent service from staff who are trained to focus on customer satisfaction. In contrast, a customer can pay $15 for a coffee at a renowned establishment like Le Fouquet’s in Paris and find themselves facing rude or indifferent service.

This discrepancy raises the issue of whether customers are truly receiving value for their money. The allure of luxury can be found not only in the product but also in the entire experience. The perceived value is diminished, and customers are left wondering about the merit of their investment when this experience is marred by poor service.

The Perception of Luxury Services and the Degree of Forgiveness

Luxury services perceptions have a significant impact on how customers respond to subpar experiences. Luxury brands have always been associated with exceptional service, leading to expectations that any interaction with them will be superior. If these expectations are not fulfilled, customers tend to be more forgiving because of the brand’s established reputation. This phenomenon can be attributed to a combination of cognitive dissonance and the sunk cost fallacy—having spent a significant amount of money, customers may rationalise the poor service to justify their expenditure.

The Question of Customer Education

Customer education is a crucial factor in this issue. Do customers have a clear understanding of what to expect from luxury service? Many consumers may be influenced by the prestige of a brand name and may not have a precise understanding of the level of service they should expect. Not being aware can lead to lower expectations and a greater tolerance for mediocre experiences. In order to hold brands accountable and ensure that they deliver on their promises, it is crucial to educate consumers about what constitutes good service in the luxury sector.

The Question of Brand Ethics

Brands’ willingness to go the extra mile to deliver superior service is a matter of ethics. Are luxury brands dedicated to providing the level of service they promise, or are they just using their name to justify their high prices? Ethical brands comprehend that the essence of luxury lies in the specifics and are committed to exceeding customer expectations. Certain brands may become complacent and rely on their reputation instead of consistently striving for excellence.

Lessons from the low- and medium-end industries.

The luxury industry can gain valuable insights from low- and medium-end businesses, which often excel in areas that high-end brands overlook. Consistent and reliable customer service is a key lesson to learn. Starbucks and Zara are examples of companies that have built their reputations on providing reliable, efficient service that meets customer expectations. To guarantee a high level of service, these brands invest heavily in staff training and customer feedback mechanisms. Building a loyal customer base through positive and memorable experiences is highlighted by the focus on accessibility and customer engagement in these sectors. Luxury brands can benefit from adopting these practices, ensuring that high prices are matched with exceptional service and fostering deeper connections with their clients.


The quality of service should not be neglected as the luxury market evolves. Although consumers may currently show some degree of forgiveness towards subpar service, this tolerance is not sustainable. Brands must recognize that true luxury extends beyond the product; it encompasses the entire customer experience. Luxury brands can ensure their prestigious status by upholding high service standards, informing customers of what to expect, and following ethical practices. Only then will luxury service cease to be a luxury.