Many fashion retail executives think their competitive edge with Millennials will be found in offering the latest fashion. Retailing expert and Waypoint Partners principal Judy Harrison has surprising research that proves otherwise. While developing growth strategies for a fashion apparel brand, Harrison found that women ages 15-25 divide into three primary segments—and fashion-forward women comprise the smallest group.
The larger segments want clothing that “fits my style” or are focused more on comfort.
Fashion Forward consumers are an important segment, with 15% of young women ages 15-25 strongly agreeing that they “spend time to keep up with the latest fashion trends,” or that “wearing the latest clothing is very important,” or that “my family and friends often ask my advice when it comes to style and fashion.”
By comparison, though, 41% of women in this age range find it “extremely important” that the clothing “fits my style.” That Millennials desire customization is well proven in other categories, such as beverages. What’s unusual about this finding is that young Millennial women in large numbers value clothing that “fits my style” more than following the latest trends.
Another surprising segment is that nearly a quarter of these female consumers ages 15-25 (23%) say they would “rather be more comfortable and less stylish.” Typical fashion market strategies don’t focus on comfort for women’s fashion unless targeting an older demographic. For instance, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, retailer Forever 21 recently announced an “aging up” strategy to offer “more forgiving silhouettes” in an effort to appeal to older Millennials. But retailers like Forever 21 seem to miss that personal style and comfort as just as important to younger Millennial women.
What Fashion Consumers Value Most
And what is the #1 criteria for all three segments when deciding where to shop for clothing/fashion? It’s “good value.” Good value isn’t only defined as ‘the lowest price.’ It is also defined as benefits divided by price. Meaning, there are different formulas or ways to deliver value to each consumer group.
The market is crowded with retail brands that target the Fashion Forward or “Fast Fashion” market segment, but three stand out from the pack: Forever 21, H&M and American Eagle.
Harrison explains the market opportunity that most retailers are disregarding:
“Forever 21, H&M and American Eagle are ahead with the under 25 female consumer who wants fast fashion and styles that change constantly. While all consumers want value, these brands deliver the specific value Fashion Forward consumers are looking for. Other retailers may be overlooking the large segments of consumers who want fashion that ‘fits my style’ or delivers on ‘comfort.’”
Although it makes up just 15% of women ages 15-25, the Fashion Forward segment is saturated with choices. Competition is fierce. Meanwhile, retailers appear to more or less ignore the Fits My Style segment (with 41% of the market) and Comfort Seeker segment (with 23%).
It seems that fashion retailers are missing great opportunity for growth in delivering to the unmet demands of customization, comfort and value. Why target the most competitive 15% of the market when you could go for 23%, or 41%?