See all Blog posts

What’s the cost of not being cool?

The bounty of millennial retail appears great: trend-adoring shoppers who replace their outfit for every selfie. But what does it cost to not be millennial?
What’s the cost of not being cool? | EDITED

Sexy speeds of newness, hotter-than-the-sun trends and marketing fronted by youthful creatures with pastel colored  locks: fast fashion retail is  catnip to millennial shoppers.

These consumers, and the retailers who cater to them, get a huge amount of industry attention. The lucky beggars have a ton of product targeted to them and can buy it for not much money. So shouldn’t we all be chasing after them?

Steady on.  Millennials don’t represent the entire market. Nor do they have the bulk of the dollar to spend – baby boomers outstrip them when it comes to consumption.

With so much attention focused on millennials, what does it cost to not be cool?  

We can use data to pinpoint that. However, the millennial range is vast and needs some splicing. At the top end, a millennial is 34 and may not be shopping for furry backpacks and bunny ears so frequently. We’ll focus on the sub-30s millennial market (acknowledging the need for a term for ‘older millennials’).  

Price point seems like a simple divide – but it’s not nuanced enough. Not every shopper can, or wants, to spend more on apparel as they get older. In fact, with a greater sense of self, non-millennial consumers may  be less trend hungry and more inclined  to spend less on apparel.

Instead we’ve honed in on solely the mass market, which characteristically, caters to all. From there we’ve divided up those retailers who target the youth market (like ASOS, Zara, Boohoo, Topshop, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters and New Look) and the mass market retailers who don’t (like Banana Republic, Loft, Macy’s, Debenhams, Next and Monsoon).  

These two sets of retailers often sell in the same spaces or on the same streets, and in the consumers’ mind have a commonality around price. What’s the reality?

A simple read on retail performance

Right away, we can get a strong sense of the striking character differences at millennial and non-millennial retailers. For starters, stuff moves fast at the millennial retailers, taking an average 119 days to sell out compared to the non-millennial 166 days.

That’s pretty appealing, right? However, you’ll need to be able to replenish fast if you want to tap into this market. Millennial retailers replenish more readily, with 14.5% of styles restocked, compared to 9.6% at the non-millennial retailers.  

Discounting is different  too, with 34% of millennial product currently discounted, compared to 42% of non-millennial product. Despite the smaller proportion of discounted millennial goods, the discounts are deeper. In millennial retail, 42% of discounts are of more than  50% off. At non-millennial retailers, it’s just 29% of reductions in these higher brackets.

Then there’s price

On  average, products at millennial retailers  cost half what it costs at other retailers in the mass market. Millennial retailers sit at an average price of $24.88 and non-millennials $48.16. I suppose it’s only fair given millennials  will need a spare $19 for their avocado on toast.

If you’re not a millennial, you’ll end up paying double for clothes.  But half for avocado on toast?

We compiled a shopping basket including a bomber jacket, espadrilles, long-sleeved t-shirt, lace dress, knit sweater and backpack. On average, it would cost a millennial shopper $240.14. The tax for not being a millennial? A  total of $503.94 at non-millennial retailers.  

Plus, product isn’t even that different

You  might think that millennial stuff is cheaper because it’s wear-once or skimpier or a whole lot more flammable. But we were able to pinpoint identikit items that cost the non-millennial market more.

In the two price architectures above, one shows denim jackets and the other black skinny jeans. On the mass market, there’s much of a muchness between the look and quality of these items. Yet consistently, the non-millennial price range not only skews higher, but it is more developed in its weighting.  

A unique assortment

Even if specific products are comparable, millennial retailers have a very different category emphasis to their non-millennial counterparts. While millennial retailers stock heaviest into the dress category, accounting for 23% of the assortment, non-millennial retailers have this at fourth priority, accounting for 11% of the mix.

Non-millennial retailers prioritize accessories, which make up 30% of the mix. Millennial retailers shunt that emphasis down to 13%. That shows that millennial retailing is a whole lot more than marketing, of course, it’s a full merchandise strategy.  

millennial retailers
The assortment mix at retailers aiming for the millennial market is starkly different to non-millennial retailers.

Core differences

Looking at the age of product currently in stock is the biggest data reveal. Given how the industry conversation focuses on the speed-to-market of millennial retailers, you might expect the bulk of these retailers’ assortments to be in their infancy.  

That’s not the case. In fact, there’s a higher proportion of the non-millennial offering that was new in the last month than millennial. Instead, millennial retailers have a really even balance between stock that arrived three, six and 12 months ago.  

millennial retail
The age of retailers’ stock is emphasised in these charts. 68% of non-millennial retailers’ stock arrived more than a year ago.

The biggest character difference is the proportion of older product. That’s the main focus of non-millennial retailers – 68% of the current offering arrived more than one year ago. Just 13% of millennial product has been around this long.

What it boils down to is core items with a deep buy. The mass market excels at this, hence the focus. They’re able to consistently restock on items which they know sell well.  

Millennial retailers buy in less depth, across a more trend-driven assortment, so stuff moves through its lifespan faster.

Get with the youth?

If you’re thinking of tackling the millennial market, you’ll need to take all of these points into consideration. Certainly there are a host of retailers doing this brilliantly.

What this data also shows us is that not every retailer should want to go after the millennial market. For starters, your assortment would need a dramatic shift. But the main barrier to entry is the  competition around price. If your aim isn’t to  cater solely to millennials, there’s a risk you’ll downgrade your positioning with existing non-millennial customers. And if you haven’t got that highly desirable speed of newness, you won’t engage the tricksy millennial either.  

Although millennial is a buzzword, it’s not every retailers’ duty to slavishly chase this customer’s’ whims.  Instead, use careful analysis to build an offering that is unique to your own shopper. That is what we’d call cool.