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The powerful influence of the Millennial generation on shopping patterns, brand popularity, and retail channels has been covered widely. But the thing about generational cohorts is that they invariably age, and as they do so, their habits change. One of those changes, currently taking place among the Millennial cohort, is creating a powerful challenge for some well-known brands.

Cropped head-and-shoulders view of a young African-American woman paying bills online

Young consumers are entering the workforce and growing a bit more serious about their fashion choices. Rather than just fast fashion options, they seek some grown-up variety, especially when it comes to the basics of a wardrobe. However, these are the Millennials, so they are not visiting the same stores their parents did when they needed a pair of black pants or a new t-shirt. Previously, the main sources of such wardrobe staples were common mall residents like The Gap, American Apparel, or J. Crew. But as we have noted previously in these abstracts, Millennials rarely visit malls to shop for clothing. Instead, they prefer online retailers that offer them a range of benefits, compared with traditional retailers.

First, as we all know, Millennials like to be on their mobile devices, and they feel very comfortable ordering another pair of jeans or a button-down shirt that they know they like. They might look elsewhere for special occasion wear, but for the everyday basics, they are happy to place an order online or through a mobile channel and have it shipped to them.

Second, the latest online and mobile retailers offer consumers a new type of personalized experience, offering both claims of authenticity and a sense of intimacy. For example, Everlane.com details the sourcing and origins of all the pants, shirts, dresses, and outerwear posted on its website. Therefore, socially conscious shoppers can feel reassured that the items are not coming from sweatshops. Popbasic encourages consumers to offer design ideas and feedback, such that they feel as if they have participated in the development of products for sale.

Third, because these new retail versions do not have a legacy of hundreds of stores, their operating costs are lower from the start. Accordingly, they can provide many of the basics at a lower price, which appeals to Millennials just starting out in their careers. They might be moving past cheap fashion, but they still need to watch their costs.

As Millennials grow up, some of the brands they or their parents have known and loved for years “haven’t grown up with us.” There’s a lesson for every brand here: As times change, so must they, if they hope to remain relevant and interesting to new and emerging generations of shoppers.

Discussion Question:

  1. Why do online stores appeal to Millennials?

Source: Kristina Monllos, “Millennials Are Flocking to Online Brands for Wardrobe Basics,” Advertising Age, September 7, 2015

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