The Millennial Takeover of the Retail Industry

The growing trendsetters of food, technology, and culture, the millennial generation have demonstrated their heavy influence on the fashion industry by overthrowing the traditional kings of retail.

Polo Ralph Lauren, Gap, J. Crew, or Banana Republic experienced a dramatic decline in sales, downgrading into outlets, having more 50% off sale deals, and displaying their products on the sad clearance counter in Nordstrom Rack. Conventional, preppy, and “proper” designs and lengths experienced diminishing appeal because the millennials like their jeans ripped. They want a bit more flair. More eccentricity.

Younger consumers have gravitated towards brands who are more aware of their millennial audience, such as DC Shoes, which had a great run with their skaterboy look and fun #Traseyours marketing move.

The retail industry had to see this coming. According to Forbes magazine, 80 million millennials make up one-fourth of the U.S. population and hold approximately 200 billion dollars worth of spending power in one year alone. They determine “cool” and “in”, and a fashion publication as established and old as Vogue even utilized dorky Youtube videos and progressive, liberal celebrities like Lena Dunham and Taylor Swift to promote itself among younger readership.

The need to appeal to the hip, I-phone holding consumer resulted in a complete overhaul on traditional marketing, and those who could or would not keep up were left in the dust.

Urban Outfitters, Free People, Brandy Melville, and Anthropologie among various other brands have understood the changing target demographic, attributing to their success over recent years.

Plunging into the world of Snapchats, hashtags, Instagram videos, and every other cultural change brought on by the tech-savvy generation, contemporary and younger brands like Urban Outfitters have created their own app for smart phones to reach buying “goals”, get prizes, and stay updated on sales and promotions. Anthropologie killed it in Pinterest, a favorite among young millennial women. Carters’ successful  #lovecarters campaign had millennial parents snap pictures of their kids to share online.

The successful brand of today is interactive with its consumer. Rather than a service or product provider, a company must become the cool friend who wants to see what you ate for brunch on Instagram. Laid-back. Relatable.

Of course, the design and look of the products lies at the core of a company’s image, but the presentation and communication styles hold incredible impact. Madewell still stays true to the clean-cut and simple looks similar to their lower performing sister company, J.Crew. However, their focus on the customer and relatable voice  lead to a whopping $245.3 million increase in profits, according to Digiday.

Evidently, the company that has both the right image and social media chops that appeal to the millennial consumer in a personal way will thrive in today’s market.

Hashtag and Instagram marketing may confound many brand owners who will want to stick to their guns and the practices they know (paper catalogues, polite customer service representatives, and television commercials). However, the fact still stands that millennials can and have chosen the new kings of retail, and any king knows that to maintain a long reign, you’ve got to stay in the subjects’ good graces.


Leslie Lee, Fashion Writer


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