BrainTrust Query: The Boomer Apparel Opportunity
Commentary by Bill Emerson, President, Emerson Advisors
Through a special arrangement,
presented here for discussion is an excerpt from a current article from the Emerson
According to The NPD Group, women’s apparel rang up over $100 billion last
year. So who’s buying this apparel? According the Census Bureau, there are
over 105 million females in America between the ages of 20 and 75. The Boomer
portion of this population (born between 1945 and 1965) represent slightly
over 40 percent of the total. With an average age of 55, this is unquestionably
the segment with the largest amount of disposable income. Obviously a clear
target of apparel manufacturers and retailers, right? For four-wall retailers
in particular, this should be a prime demographic.
According to a recent survey by VibrantNation.com, a leading online community
for successful women over 50, over two-thirds of the respondents stated that
they are purchasing their apparel online, with 13 percent of them buying online
exclusively. The primary driver of this move – lousy service. Over 84 percent
found four-wall sales associates to be "indifferent, inexperienced, invisible,
or downright rude while 32 percent perceive an age bias from younger associates." As
Stephen Reily, CEO of VibrantNation said, "The irony is that these women
are highly desirable clothing customers with not only great spending power
Then there’s the merchandise itself. When you think about recent fashion trends
– hip-hugger pencil leg denim, bare midriff tops, etc., it’s hard to imagine
that the Boomer demographic was a prime consideration. There’s no question
that the Boomer women are extraordinarily fit for their age, but hey, gravity
always wins in the end.
At least one four-wall retailer seems to recognize this opportunity, albeit
coming from the other end of the spectrum. Talbots, the Hingham, MA specialty
retailer recently announced that it was reworking its merchandise assortment
to focus on "women 35 and older." It appears that it had conducted
an internal survey of its over-65 customers who opined that the current assortment
was for someone "older." (Ouch!) Reaching out to a younger customer
while retaining an existing customer is no small task, one that Talbots tried
(unsuccessfully) once before. The good news is that they are in solid financial
shape and are now led by a well-respected veteran of the women’s apparel market,
Trudy Sullivan. It will be interesting to see how this works out.
The reality is that, while the Boomer population is definitely spending less,
they are still the largest market out there with the highest absolute disposable
income. This is a big opportunity in an otherwise grim environment.
Discussion Questions: What’s missing in current offerings for women Boomers?
Is any age bias from younger store associates at apparel retailers a serious
problem in reaching women Boomers? Which retailers are doing a best job targeting