Eric Musgrave

Since 1980, menswear & fashion retail commentator, opinionated thought-leader,
event host & all-round top bloke. Contact me to discuss working together.

Targeting the Millennials

florence-teddy-genevieve-july-2016

This short reflection from me on the shopping preferences of three so-called Millennials of my acquaintance appeared recently as a column for Freight Brokers, the London-based specialist courier firm for the fashion sector. You can read it here. I work with owners Charles and Ben Keisner on new business development. (Get in touch with me if you ship samples around the world and/or have a lot of international ecommerce deliveries and I will connect you with Freight Brokers). I also delivered a version of the column as a talk at a dinner organised by Salesforce Commerce Cloud (see footnote).

A striking example of how fashion shopping has changed came to me when I visited my son Teddy working in Size?, the JD Sports-owned trainer shop in London’s Carnaby Street. A twentysomething guy was jabbering on his mobile, discussing the styles that Teddy had brought him. My son later told me the customer was shopping for his brother. He was sending him photos from his phone, then calling him to talk about them. Remarkably, his brother was sitting in Tehran, the capital of Iran, while making his selection. Different times indeed.

Both the man in Size? and his faraway brother are Millennials, reportedly the most important consumer group for fashion (and many other) retailers. Millennials is the large demographic group that embraces anyone born between 1980 and 2000. Whether 36 years old or 16, they are regarded as the first digital generation.

British Millennials number about 18m people, around 28% of our total population, and they are equally split between the sexes. Interestingly, that 18 million is some 5 million fewer than the 37-65 age group. So why are the Millennials important? Well, not least because they are estimated to spend up to 80% more on fashion than other generations. And they will shape the way we all shop tomorrow because of how they shop today.

Whatever strategy a brand or store or site adopts to communicate with this Millennials group, the principles of good retailing remain. The idea is to make money by selling something at a higher price than you bought it and doing more than covering your costs of operations. I get a little nervous when I see companies doing things (mainly online) that don’t materially contribute to this aim.

What is obvious, however, is to serve Millennials effectively you are going to be busy. They are swamped with information, as I learned by researching the subject with my three children:

Florence, 25, who is an assistant womenswear buyer with one of our largest multiples;

Teddy, 22, who is in the final year of a fashion management degree in London, having just spent his third year working at Asos. He works in one of the capital’s cooler menswear stores at weekends;

And 18-year-old Genevieve, who is on a short course on fashion retailing as her first step into the industry. She also works part-time in a high-street multiple.

What came over loud and clear is how they have switched in recent years to buying more fashion online than in shops. Teddy reckons his split is 75:25 (possibly the Asos influence there!); Genevieve is 60:40. Florence says it depends on the product type. I was interested to learn that she goes to shops more often for everyday basics and goes online when she is looking for something more special.

Frustratingly, different customers do the same things for different reasons. Florence says she doesn’t like the palaver of shopping; she actually used the term “a waste of time”. She’d rather spend her weekends relaxing with friends or visiting a museum or gallery. Genevieve lives in east Kent, hardly a fashion hot spot, so online gives her a huge choice that is not available locally. While Teddy acknowledges he is well served in London, he still prefers the convenience of shopping online than tramping around lots of shops.

What all three told me they wanted from retailers, brands and websites is clarity. They want simplicity. They want editing. They want the seller to offer them just relevant product, not irrelevant product.

This brings me again to the principles of good retailing. Even with all the new technology, we cannot underestimate the essential importance of excellent buying, range building and merchandising.

How, I wonder, has a company’s buying changed to satisfy the Millennials’ expectations. How many give more choices, fewer choices or, most importantly, betterchoices?

The crucial dilemma regarding changing methods of selling is that in the UK we are, quite obviously, over-shopped. And in these austere times, purchases are being made with more discretion. Every fashion company is struggling to be heard and seen. The requirement, surely, must be to get more “must-have” product in front of consumers rather than “nice-to-have” products.

Another key question, of course, is who decides what is “must-have”. I was surprised at the effect online reviews had on each of my three kids. They particularly take note of negative reviews. And they are very selective on whose reviews they value – certainly not professional bloggers or celebrities.

None of them admitted to being particularly bothered about celebrity endorsements although Florence agreed that she would not have gone into M&S to buy a piece of the archive collection without Alexa Chung’s name being on it. Ditto the Beyoncé and Ivy Park sportswear in Topshop.

Genevieve made a smart point when she said a celebrity endorsement might cause her look at something, but it wouldn’t cause her to buy it. It has to be right for her.

My daughters still look at printed fashion magazines for inspiration, but both said they are doing less of that than previously, also pointing out that they cannot afford the clothes usually featured in Vogue and Elle, so don’t need to read them too closely.

None is a fan of Facebook. Instagram and Twitter, for my three, are the main providers of new information and inspiration for fashion. But it is significant that mobile is so good for what Twitter and Instagram do.

I don’t need to tell you that suggesting that Millennials – a diverse group of men and women with up to 20 years difference in age – is a single entity is somewhat ridiculous, but it is, I concede, a useful starting point for breaking down your consumer target groups still further.

To highlight just one nuance, Genevieve and Teddy are both very happy to transact and pay from their mobiles, while Florence – the eldest – still suspects that they are not as secure as a desktop, so rarely buys on a mobile. And she’s willing to miss out on what she wants rather than risk it.

Given the galloping growth of sales across mobiles, she is in a minority but her attitude shows that the Millennials’ attitudes are still developing. The happy task of the fashion business is to try and work out what will work most effectively for most of them. There’s lots to be done.

For more on selling to millennials, download a free consumer research report from ecommerce specialist Salesforce Commerce Cloud (formerly Demandware) at http://futurereadyretail.com/millennials-research/

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