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Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Velvet Rope

At The New York Times, Nelson D. Schwartz reports on the gap between the middle class economy and the velvet-rope economy -- think front-of-the-line-pass, after-hours-tour, or Lexus-lane -- where the most affluent customers get special treatment
Today, ever greater resources are being invested in winning market share at the very top of the pyramid, sometimes at the cost of diminished service for the rest of the public. While middle-class incomes are stagnating, the period since the end of the Great Recession has been a boom time for the very rich and the businesses that cater to them.

From 2010 to 2014, the number of American households with at least $1 million in financial assets jumped by nearly one-third, to just under seven million, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group. For the $1 million-plus cohort, estimated wealth grew by 7.2 percent annually from 2010 to 2014, eight times the pace of gains for families with less than $1 million.
There is also increasing demand from the most affluent shoppers. Spending by the top 5 percent of earners rose nearly 35 percent from 2003 to 2012 after adjusting for inflation, according to a study by Mr. Fazzari and Barry Z. Cynamon of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. For everyone else, spending grew less than 10 percent.
The article quotes Adam Goldstein, COO of  Royal Caribbean:
“For a long time there was an acceptance that outside the door of your room, you were on an equal footing,” he said. “We didn’t attempt to have any differentiation in how services were delivered.”

Since the late 1990s, however, “there has been a huge evolution, maybe a revolution in attitudes,” Mr. Goldstein said. In addition to larger rooms or softer sheets, big spenders want to be coddled nowadays. “They are looking for constant validation that they are a higher-value customer,” he said. For example, room service requests from Royal Suite occupants are automatically routed to a number different from the one used by regular passengers, who get slower, less personalized service.

With a week in a top Royal Suite costing upward of $30,000, compared with $4,000 for an ordinary cabin, the focus is on “very affluent travelers, and we have no trouble filling these rooms,” Mr. Bayley said.