When it comes to fashion, millennials follow their own beat
Generation aims to stand out from a crowd with their clothing choices.
These days you’re more likely to find a millennial browsing clothes on their smartphone than on a rack in the mall. That’s because this generation of digital natives – born between 1977 and 2000 – prefer to express their individuality by carefully curating their wardrobes themselves. Conforming to styles or trends dictated by retailers just isn't their thing. Millennials from Toledo to Tel Aviv want to pull together their own identity on their own terms.
Gap’s recent decision to close 175 brick-and-mortar stores in North America signifies this shift in millennial’s shopping behavior. Gap stores, long a staple in most malls throughout the country, aren’t luring in shoppers looking for their signature uniformed look the way they used to.
“The problem was, Gap got boring," retail analyst Candace Corlett told fashion blog Racked. "After the popularity of the khaki, it was an ongoing parade. How many tan khakis and white button-down shirts does someone need? They were always the old, reliable Gap, but high-energy, trendy retailers were moving into the closet."
According to market research, millennials are less attached to brands, like the Gap, and keen on creating their own style.
"I don't shop at the Gap much," says 35-year-old Rachael Jacobson, a native Atlantan who now lives in Israel. "My friends and I like to dress in a unique fashion, and we find that places like the Gap make us all look the same."
Gap isn’t the only brand that has struggled to meet the fashion demands of the millennial generation. Sears Holdings Corp. – which owns both Kmart and Sears stores – and Macy’s and JCPenney are also planning to close some shops in 2015.
And Abercrombie & Fitch said it was shrinking its ever-present logo on clothes and increasing its assortment of fashion for women to appeal to millennials looking to stand out from a crowd. The move came after 10 straight declines in quarterly sales.
“They no longer want to be a walking billboard of a brand,” Abercrombie spokesman Michael Scheiner told Reuters. “Individualism is important to them, having their own sense of style.”
Younger consumers' taste for fashion has evolved, but so too has the experience of shopping, thanks to the Internet and smartphones.
Adept and at ease online, more than 70 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds recently surveyed by The Intelligence Group said they research options online before going to a store. Millennials also spend a higher share of dollars online than other generations, but they're more specific and intentioned with what they buy.
This accounts for the rise of influential fashion bloggers whose reviews and recommendations are valued by millennials. These bloggers have become creative in collaborating with fashion brands and retailers and monetizing their blogs.
Fashion bloggers have proved that it's not that millennials are unwilling to engage with brands, it's just that the experience needs to be more authentic and unique.
RewardStyle, an invite-only affiliate marketing for fashion publishers, capitalized on the blogger-millennial relationship. Its "Like to Know" product allows bloggers to make their Instagram accounts shoppable. Instagram users can buy the items shown in an Instagram photo by simply liking the image. When a user likes a Like to Know-enabled post, they receive an email instructing them on how to buy that cute top they saw in their favorite blogger’s Instagram post. With so many options on where to spend their apparel dollar, this kind of convenient approach to shopping works for these savvy shoppers who know how to compare price and quality.
Millennials are spending money – to the tune of $600 billion a year in the United States – they’re just more discerning with their dollar. Experts say this has to do with the fact that this generation joined the labor force during and after the recession, with a stunted job market and mounting student loans.
Even so, millennials are outspending other generations significantly. Millennial men spend twice as much a year on apparel as non-millennial men, while millennial women outspent other generations by a third, according to Accenture.
If fashion retailers want love from millennials, they'll need to accept that it's not about their logo; it's all about consumers' personal style.
Lindsay E. Brown is the managing editor of Eco-Chick, the web’s first ethical fashion, beauty and travel site for women. She has written for Whole Living Magazine, Edible, and Cottages & Gardens. Lindsay has been featured as a fashion and beauty expert on the Veria Living Network. Lindsay holds a BS in Global Business Studies and Marketing from Manhattan College, and received the 2012 Honors Award at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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