Is the use of archaic and outdated terminology hindering the success of key womenswear retail categories?
We are in the age of innovative retail, when consumers need even more of a reason to come into your brick and mortar store and retailers are responding to dwindling footfall with exciting visual merchandising, and attractive retail offers to give customers a reason to come in. It seems strange then that in the retail market, some of the classic terminology is still being used, especially when in the minds of most consumers the terms are defunct or have evolved from that original definition.
The biggest example of this includes Missy- a retail term used to define a more mature female shopper (aged 35-50). Then there is the term ‘junior’, (aimed at ages 14-21) which has evolved from just being grouped together with other youthful American brands, like Aeropostale, and now faces competition from fast fashion brands like Zara and H&M.
So where did these terms come from? And why do they feel less than relevant in today’s retail market?
In the 60s, American department stores had the power, they were a key destination for the US consumer, very rarely did the consumer know a designer’s name, but they did know that they could get the latest styles from Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Barney’s and Henri Bendel. These retail terms, from Missy to Junior, emerged as a way of categorising the store layout by demographic for the ease of the consumer.
But times have changed, and now the power has shifted to the consumer, who no longer wants to be beholden to labels. She wants to decide if she wants to mix classic ‘Missy’ staples, with fast fashion accessories and high-end luxury items. Also in the age of personalisation the ‘Missy’ retailer needs to create a more personalised experience with the consumer, rather than just lumping her into the broad ‘mature’ category.
Does she want a chic long-sleeved shirt to cover her arms, does she want more prints and patterns from her garments, does she never want to see another cardigan in her life? Does she want classic, but contemporary closet pieces to mix and match? One brand that gets this market just right is retailer Eileen Fisher, which upgrades its favourites each season, has an on-brand Instagram account, and makes clothes that don’t react to ever-evolving trends, but are inspired by them, such as the recent pleated culottes in store.
The Juniors consumer is constantly evolving too. Macy’s in New York made a strong attempt to engage with this consumer with the revamp of its 34th street store last fall, a huge investment to make over the “mstylelab” juniors department for youth shoppers up to the age of 25. And its mix of retailers from youth brand Material Girl to older brand Jessica Simpson, prove that the junior consumer is a varied mix bag, she might want Gen-Z focused t-shirts with emoji’s, she might want prom outfits, she might want a youth appropriate version of this season’s hit the off-the-shoulder top; so the old tag juniors seems like an uncomfortable fit for her now.
For retailers ditching the old labels and traditional approach is important to build relationships with this consumer and increase revenue, as both the Missy and Juniors consumer has a lot of money to spend. You only need to look at new website The Midult, a lifestyle site dedicated to women aged 35– to 55-years-old (the neglected demographic, as they describe it) which shows that mature women want to look good and want to be paid attention too. Gen Z too, have disposable income, their parents buy the majority of their clothing, and thanks to the rise of peers bloggers and the Internet as a vehicle to make money, Gen Z are entrepreneurs in their own right with excess spend, and with a propensity to spend it in the fashion and beauty market like their vlogger idols.
For retailers, future business success lies in acknowledging that these terms have evolved, because the consumer has, and therefore she wants a wardrobe and a retailer who understands her changing needs.
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