Why have baby boomers gone out of style in the fashion industry?

Jason De Winne, UK GM at loyalty marketing firm ICLP, discusses retailers' potentially fatal move to focus on Millennial marketing at the expense of baby boomer loyalty.

Last year, just 13 models over the age of 50 appeared on catwalks during London Fashion Week.

No surprises then that model diversity was once again back on the agenda this year. Of particular note was a group of ‘older’ models aged 47 and up that took to the streets last month to protest the lack of representation on the catwalks, foreshadowing broader issues in the retail sector.

One model interviewed by the Daily Telegraph was quoted as saying: “A huge percentage of clothes are bought by older women” and “fashion is making a huge mistake by ignoring that grey pound.”

Jason De Winne, UK GM at ICLP.

She has a very valid point.

Baby Boomers have stimulated the economy and expanded public finances for decades by working longer than any previous generation, and many have now started retiring in large numbers. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re spending their days penny pinching.

KPMG’s recent global online consumer report, which analysed shopping preferences and behaviours of more than 18,000 consumers in 15 countries, revealed that the Baby Boomer generation now spends more online and instore than Millennials do.

And it’s not just retail. A November 2016 report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research reported that Baby Boomers now account for 58 per cent of total travel and tourism spend in the UK, while spending from their younger counterparts has dropped.

But UK shopper footfall has fallen by 1.3 per cent compared to this time a year ago, which raises the question: Have retailers lost touch with Baby Boomers?

The future of retail success depends on retailers staying relevant to their customers

Recently, ICLP surveyed more than 1,000 UK consumers, looking at the attitudes of different generations to some of the brands they shop with most frequently. The results show that Baby Boomers are being overlooked by brands that prefer to market to the snapchatting Millennial generation.

Just as the model protesting at London Fashion Week did not want “to see girls my daughter’s age wearing clothes that are meant for women of my age to buy,” in moving to adopt platforms like Snapchat, retailers often forget that many of their customers are not particularly keen to use these channels.

Two thirds of Baby Boomer consumers said that they did not feel valued by their favourite brand and were treated like any other shopper. Just 29 per cent said that they felt appreciated as a regular customer, compared to 48 per cent of Millennials.

At a challenging time for the high street, many retailers are doubling down on their efforts to lure millennial shoppers into their stores and onto their homepages. This sometimes comes at the expense of Baby Boomers, who require the same high level of attention that Millennials do to keep them loyal and devoted.

Overlooking the Grey Pound is costing retailers repeat business

82 per cent of customers over 55 claim that the retailers they shop with most often do not understand their needs. And this plays into the lack of loyalty they feel towards brands. 95 per cent of consumers over 55 would consider abandoning their favourite retailers in favour of others.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. As part of our research, we asked Baby Boomers what would make them feel more loyal to their favourite brands and what would make them spend more:

Create stronger rewards programmes: 73 per cent said that they would buy more if they were rewarded better by their favourite retailer.
Communication is also crucial: 60 per cent would buy more if brands communicated with them better.
Reliability and honesty are key: 47 per cent of Baby Boomers said that when it comes to retailers, when things go wrong, it’s important that they get a swift apology and solution.
Offer consistent and reliable products/services: 70 per cent of Baby Boomers said that they would spend more at their favourite retailer if their products were consistent and reliable.
Build respect and trust amongst customers: 56 per cent of the over 55s said that they would spend more with a retailer if they trusted them more.

Baby Boomers require the same level of attention that Millennials do to build a deep and devoted relationship with brands and drive repeat business. That does not mean that they want to be treated the same. There are different priorities and different ways to surprise and delight this generation.

Retailers must, therefore, do more to properly segment their audiences when designing their loyalty programmes. By identifying customers properly, brands can ensure they build loyalty with shoppers of different ages.

Back at London Fashion Week, Simone Rocha was one of the few designers that couldn’t easily be accused of ignoring Baby Boomers. The Irish designer included several models in their seventies in her autumn/winter show. We think she may well be onto something.

Jason De Winne is ICLP’s UK general manager. His loyalty expertise spans airlines, both agency and client-side, hotels, business services and automotive, working with and leading client development of Qatar Airways, Emirates, DHL, Hyatt Hotels, The Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, Virgin Atlantic and Porsche.

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