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Craving pizza? Just Tweet a pizza emoji. Want that area rug? Just click the Buyable Pin for it to adorn your own home. Wish the watch in your Instagram feed were on your wrist? Just click on the brand’s profile link to buy it.
Since 2012, social media platforms have integrated click-to-buy features that allow retailers and manufacturers to sell directly to consumers within social platforms. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Snapchat have all gotten in on the trend.
But even though online sales are growing and consumers are spending more time on social media, the jury’s still out: do these social buy buttons actually encourage people to buy, or have we seen the last of them?
Get our latest Insights – The Future of Social Commerce: How “Buy Buttons” Are Disrupting the Retail World
A major footwear brand increased their SKU listings over 50 percent at one large, national footwear specialty retailer. See how they did it.
10 Ways Younger and Older Millennials Shop Differently
The retail world is obsessed with Millennials.
It wouldn’t be a normal day if newsletters, tweets, and the media didn’t overflow with headlines on the latest Millennial trend, how to “harness” their alleged power, or how to reach this malleable and unpredictable segment.
Who are these Millennials? Do a quick Google search, and you’ll learn they’re foodies. Social media savants. Selfie experts. Experience seekers. Value hunters. Convenience junkies. Savvy shoppers. They’re “authentic.”
In demographic terms, they’re people between the ages of 18 and 34 who reached young adulthood around the year 2000.
But Millennials don’t like to be stereotyped as Millennials. We get it, Ryan Seacrest—they’re tired of being generalized into a broad demographic box and find the label patronizing. They just want to be treated as unique individuals.
When it comes to the wide-spanning age bracket, they do have a point—the difference between life in your late teens and life in your early 30s is pretty substantial. Do 18-year-old you and 34-year-old you want the same things, behave in the same way, or buy the same stuff?
With this in mind, we decided to divide the group into two smaller segments for study: younger and older Millennials. We set out to learn how these groups differ, both attitudinally and behaviorally, in their retail choices. We learned a lot, like the fact that older Millennials over-index in loyalty apps. And younger Millennials shop more at department stores.
If you’re a retailer or manufacturer looking to better understand the complexities of these highly-coveted sub-segments across the retail and foodservice spaces,
The Gen Y Gold Rush
Before we dive into retail specifics, let’s review an economic reality to set the context: U.S. Millennials haven’t had it so easy. Coming of age during the Great Recession, 13.8 percent of those 18-29 are unemployed or out of the workforce, far above the national jobless rate of 5.1 percent. And they’re a “boomerang” generation—33 percent stay at home with their families and fewer live independently. (Who can blame them? Seven out of 10 college grads from 2014 have a student loan, owing an average of $28,950 per borrower.)
But debt and other deterrents haven’t kept Millennials from buying things.
Any obsession with the Millennial demographic—also known as Gen Y—is with good reason. U.S. Millennials outnumber Baby Boomers by nearly 10 percent, surpassing them as the nation’s largest living generation in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. They’re estimated to reach $1.4 trillion in annual spending by 2020—roughly one-third of all retail spending. So retailers and manufacturers need Gen Y’s share of wallet to increase their market share. And this dependence will only intensify as Boomers continue to age and the Millennial segment gains purchasing power. Frankly, if you’re a retailer who’s not focused on this budding segment, we’re seriously concerned. (Please call us immediately and we’ll help.)
Given that Millennials are such an expansive, diverse group, our Chief Industry Analyst Marshal Cohen reminds us that there are many ways to divide up this set for study; segmentation by age is just one way to showcase their differentiated spending. But make no mistake about it: age really does matter. As consumers navigate through shifts in life stage, it reflects back in their purchasing behavior.
When we divide the group into two segments (ages 18-24 and 25-34), there are already some major demographic differences to note. For one, older Millennials are more educated and have a higher income, shown by data collected by our partner, CivicScience. But with more than one-third of 18- to 24-year-olds still in college, they can’t be expected to have the same level of education or earning power. Older Millennials are less racially diverse and are primarily white (74 percent compared to 68 percent of young Millennials). A greater percentage of young Gen Yers are single/never married (80 percent compared to 44 percent of older Millennials), fewer are married (only 10 percent compared to 40 percent of older Millennials), and fewer parent a child (10 percent compared to 40 percent of the old Gen Y segment).
The two groups think and behave differently, too. Younger Millennials are more optimistic about the state of our economy. They’re less likely than their older counterparts to think Donald Trump would make a good president, and more likely to see the new “Star Wars” movie. Younger Millennials are more likely to applaud Bernie Sanders’ performance in the first Democratic debate. And they eat granola with a higher frequency than their elder Millennial brethren.
So how do these differences play out on the retail floor? Here are 10 ways the groups differ in their shopping behavior:
1. Young Gen Y Specialize in Beauty
We studied the receipts of 8,766 Millennials through our Checkout TrackingSM service, following the purchases they made during the first half of 2015, both online and offline. This revealed younger Millennials devoted a greater share of spend to specialty beauty retailers compared to the total Gen Y population. The younger set significantly over-indexed at retailers like Lush, meaning they are more likely than the senior Gen Y group to visit a specialty beauty retailer when they need new concealer or mascara.
But there were also some “neutral” beauty brands that earned consistent share of wallet across the Millennial age bracket. Both Gen Y groups devoted about 20 percent share of beauty spend to Bath & Body Works and 22 percent share to Sephora. The only specialty beauty retailers where older Millennials significantly over-indexed compared to their younger comrades were The Body Shop and bareMinerals.
But it’s not all about specialty shops when it comes to cosmetics. In an online poll of 15,031 U.S. adults conducted from January 2014 through January 2015 through our partner CivicScience, we asked respondents where they buy most of their makeup and cosmetics. The result? Millennials do the majority of this shopping (49 percent) at superstores like Walmart, Target, and Costco—a greater share compared to that of the total U.S. adult population (45 percent). And younger Millennials demonstrate a slightly greater affinity for superstore makeup than older Millennials.
When it comes to how Millennials shop for beauty products, their purchasing behavior is pretty consistent throughout the segment, but there are also some differences. Our Shopper Engagement survey fielded in August 2015 showed Millennials old and young are equally likely to browse in store and buy in store (58 percent). Younger Millennials are more likely than older Millennials to browse and buy online (20 percent vs. 17 percent), less likely to browse online and buy in store (14 percent vs. 15 percent), and less likely to browse in store and buy online (8 percent vs. 10 percent).
"With so many retailers and brands trying to court this segment, it becomes very competitive and challenging to win share of younger Millennials’ discretionary, hard-to-come-by spending"
2. Young Millennials Shop More Specialty Apparel
The Millennial segments demonstrated the biggest discrepancy when we looked at share of wallet devoted to specialty apparel stores. Young Gen Yers like shopping in specialty stores for specific items, devoting 3.2 percent share of wallet to this retail channel, compared to older Millennials’ 2.1 percent share and the total adult population’s 1.9 percent share, shown by Checkout Tracking receipt data.
Marshal Cohen thinks reaching younger Millennials requires laser-like focus. “With so many retailers and brands trying to court this segment, it becomes very competitive and challenging to win share of younger Millennials’ discretionary, hard-to-come-by spending”, he explains. Millennials want to shop and play at places that market their products directly to them. If they feel you’re “for real,” or in other words, not only including them, but genuinely speaking directly to them—they will be more inclined to shop with you.
Specialty fashion retailers are the perfect example. We took a deep dive into data on some of these top retailers to see at which specific retailers younger Millennials over-indexed compared to more senior Millennials over a 12-month period. One look at the over-indexing stores on this list, and you’ll see just how these specialty stores fared with the younger Millennial.
Here we see very clearly how young Gen Yers spend a significantly lower share of their apparel spend at children’s retailers (Carter’s and The Children’s Place) compared to the older Millennial segment. The data reflects young Gen Yers’ preference for stores like Hollister and American Eagle over places like Ann Taylor and Banana Republic.
What we found particularly significant was the fact that two of the most neutral apparel retailers—Lululemon and The North Face—earned similar wallet share among Millennials of all ages, demonstrating activewear’s ability to transcend ages 18 to 34.
But Department Stores Aren’t Dead
Given younger Millennials’ affinity for specialty apparel retailers, perhaps we can understand Macy’s decision to mimic this specialty/boutique feel by opening a basement floor dedicated entirely to the younger consumer (Gen Z and young Millennials), only showcasing the brands most relevant to this age group.
But it is important to note that across the entire channel, Millennials of all ages devote a greater share of wallet to department store spend than the rest of the U.S. adult population. And younger Millennials are also more likely than older Millennials to have shopped at department stores. While the younger group is more likely to have shopped at Nordstrom, the older group is more likely to have shopped at Sears.
Interestingly, while younger and older Millennials differ in their likelihood to have shopped at Nordstrom (26 percent vs. 15 percent), the likelihood of the groups to have shopped at Nordstrom Rack, the fashion retailer’s off-price subsidiary, is not as polarizing (25 percent versus 22 percent respectively). Though less significant, younger Millennials are slightly more likely to have shopped at Marshall’s, while both age groups are equally likely to have shopped at TJMaxx.
3. Younger Millennials Are Sportier
Though activewear share of spend is consistent across the Millennial spectrum, budding Millennials are more likely than older ones to have shopped at sporting goods stores (29 percent vs. 20 percent reported to have shopped at one in the past year). The differences were significantly pronounced at REI (49 vs. 16 percent). There were also marked differences at footwear retailers Nike (40 vs. 19 percent) and Finish Line (32 vs. 19 percent).
So does this mean younger Millennials are more active than their older counterparts? Our Sports Industry Analyst Matt Powell shed light on this question. “I’ve been talking a lot about viewing the generational changes on a spectrum (from the oldest Boomer to the youngest Gen Zer), rather than as distinct and dramatic changes,” he explained. For example, Boomers are mostly white, conservative, less technically inclined, lavish, and not particularly focused on health or fitness. In contrast, Gen Z is less white, liberal, tech-reliant, frugal, and very health/fitness focused. And Millennials fit somewhere in between on this spectrum.
“So when we think of changes moving along a spectrum over time, it is logical that younger Millennials behave somewhat differently than older ones, and in this case—have a greater focus on fitness and health,” Matt explains.
That’s not to mention that as older Millennials buy homes and start families, they spend less money on themselves (and less on things like sports equipment), while the younger Gen Yers do not yet have those financial obligations.
4. Younger Millennials Eat Healthier, Cook Less, and Shop Wholesale
When it comes to the food and beverages they order, younger Millennials are more likely than older Millennials to look for benefits they can obtain by eating healthier, seeking items that provide energy, are filling, reduce stress, and build muscle. These are messaging opportunities for building a younger Millennial customer base.
In addition, young Gen Yers are more adventurous than older generations in their food choices, with 47 percent of younger versus 40 percent of older Millennials claiming to choose something new (compared to only 34 percent or less for older generations). And younger Millennials have other considerations when trying something new. For example, convenience is at the top of the list. Items that are quick to order, prepare, and consume with easy portability and little mess satisfy this need.
An analysis of data from CREST®, our flagship restaurant and foodservice information service, found the Millennial segment experienced the greatest decline in restaurant visits of any generation from 2007 to 2014. This decline was greatest among the older Millennial segment (the group more likely to have kids under age 13 in the household). And if you’ve ever been responsible for a child at a restaurant who is having a meltdown or making a concoction out the table condiments, you get it. Not to mention the impact of having more mouths to feed; the relatively cheaper expense of eating at home was the primary reason for the decline in visits among older Millennials. Healthy eating concerns also played an integral role in the decision to eat at home.
Older Millennials are also more into cooking than are younger Millennials, with just over half of the older segment saying they love or like to cook. It may be easier to attract younger Millennials back to restaurants because they are not as tied to cooking at home.
Last month Whole Foods revealed it will open a line of grocery stores specifically targeting the Millennial shopper. These smaller stores will offer curated, limited selections of products at value prices. While research indicates Millennials do like to specialize, our Checkout Tracking receipt data indicates an affinity for wholesale clubs across this segment. When it comes to at-home food purchasing, younger and older Millennials devoted the greatest share of wallet to wholesale clubs Costco and Sam’s Club, and were similarly likely to have shopped at each grocer. Younger Millennials over-indexed at BJ’s and Publix, but under-indexed at Safeway.
"When it comes to accessories, younger Millennials are not the robust market one would think they are..."
5. Young Gen Yers Devote Less Spend to Accessories
Accessories are growing fastest among the Millennial segment. These consumers are responsible for the greatest share of the category’s purchases, with spending up 15 percent from one year ago. Younger Millennials, however, under-index (compared to total Millennials) in the share of wallet they devote to this category. We found this stat surprising, so we asked our Chief Industry Analyst, Marshal Cohen for his thoughts on the trend.
“When it comes to accessories, younger Millennials are not the robust market one would think they are,” Marshal explains. “Traditional thinking has younger Millennials spending more on accessories, as they tend to be more affordably priced than apparel items. But with less discretionary funds, young Millennials need to be very picky about what and when they buy. Spending across a wider scope of ‘necessities’ like phones, data plans, and even food competes for young Millennial spending on experiences—and that means things like accessories will fall short on the priority list for spending.”
6. Older Millennials Use More Loyalty Apps
Older Millennials are more likely than younger Millennials to be a member of a retailer’s loyalty program. But one surprising trend is that older Millennials are more likely than tech-reliant younger Millennials to have at least one retailer’s app downloaded on their mobile device (48 percent vs. 33 percent). The older group is also more likely to frequently use the downloaded app (46 percent often use their app to browse, look for product information, or shop compared to 38 percent of young Millennials). Older Gen Yers substantially over-indexed for use of mobile apps from Target, Walmart, CVS, Dollar General, eBay, Rite-Aid, Best Buy, Gamestop, and Costco.
7. Millennial Youth Need Less Stuff and Shop Less in Store
Younger Millennials are more likely than older Millennials (28 percent vs. 23 percent) to say they have shopped at brick-and-mortar stores less often than last year, primarily because they don’t need to buy as much as they used to (41 percent). This is also a factor of Millennials’ attraction to experiences, and their desire to do more and buy less.
Older Millennials are more likely than younger Millennials to shop less at brick-and-mortars because they cannot afford to shop as much as they used to (32 percent vs. 25 percent)—perhaps a reflection of the financial demands of parenting.
Both groups are similarly likely to have shopped at Amazon and to be members of their loyalty program, though younger Millennials are more likely to be familiar with Amazon as a place to buy consumer electronics. Older Millennials are more likely to have shopped at direct mail/e-commerce sites like eBay.
When it comes to shopping for apparel, younger Millennials are more likely than older Millennials to browse in store and buy in store (62 percent vs. 51 percent), but less likely to browse online and then buy in store (10 percent vs. 16 percent). Younger Millennials are also less likely than older ones to browse in store and buy online (8 percent vs. 14 percent).
8. Younger Gen Yers Are More Adam Levine, Older Are More Metallica
Our BrandLink® solution reports that if you’re looking for a celebrity endorsement that would appeal to Millennials of all ages, B.o.B. and JT are your guys (that’s Bobby Ray Simmons, Jr. and Justin Timberlake to all you non-Millennials). Both would be good fits to target younger Millennials (index 225 and 132 respectively) and older Millennials (index 167 and 137 respectively).
If you want to home in on younger Millennials, Adam Levine and Daniel Radcliffe are good choices (index 138 and 134 respectively), but they could miss the mark for older Millennials.
Only trying to target older Gen Y consumers? Metallica and Guns N’ Roses would fit the bill (index 130 and 121 respectively), but might not have the same recognition, let alone impact, with young Gen Yers.
9. Older Millennials Buy More Kids’ Stuff
Younger Millennials under-indexed compared to the total Millennial segment in child-related categories: baby products and toys. Specifically, older Millennials are more likely to have shopped at Babies R Us, The Children’s Place, Toys R Us, and Party City. This isn’t surprising, since the 18-24 segment is less likely than the 25-34 segment to parent a child. And in today’s day and age, baby photos don’t really start to take over your Facebook or Instagram feeds until you hit your mid-to-late-20s.
The same trend applies to pet products: older gen Yers are more likely than Millennial youngsters to have shopped at pet stores like PetSmart and Petco.
10. Older Millennials Have More Home-Related Expenses
We know it might sound shocking, but younger Millennials also under-indexed in home improvement, appliances, tools, and home textile purchases. Older Millennials are more likely to have shopped at home hardware stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s in addition to home specialty stores like Bed Bath and Beyond, Crate and Barrel, West Elm, and Pottery Barn. But, really—no surprises here. What 20-year-old do you know who is remodeling her new home, buying a fancy KitchenAid, investing in a state-of-the-art power saw, or ordering a new line of linens? Let’s face it, whether you’re in school or starting your first job, it’s all about scrounging up repurposed furniture from older family and friends or simply sticking with mom and dad for a few more years until you get your feet on the ground. And when young Millennials finally do uproot themselves, typically this means moving to an urban environment where there are more jobs and inhabiting smaller, rented, and/or shared homes that require fewer furniture expenses.
Older and Younger Millennials: Two Distinct Segments
In the world of market research, people aged 18-34 are typically grouped into one giant segment for study. But they do not share the same experiences, think, or act the same. Half the group grew up on Britney Spears, the other on Justin Bieber. Some grew up with Facebook in middle school, while the rest didn’t create an account until after having their first child. Moreover, this 16-year span represents a pivotal coming-of-age period, and the differences between the oldest and youngest Millennial can be great, as evidenced by our top 10 list. It’s time to start treating these segments as two distinct groups, to better get to know them and to speak to them directly if we want to earn their precious spending power.
This year’s Back-to-School season
Ahh the Back-to-School shopping season! That make or break time of year for many of the manufacturers and retailers who toil in the world of academic supplies and related paraphernalia.
It can be a stressful time. And although the stress levels this year are likely no worse than usual, the stressful time is extending. The back-to-school season is now much longer than it used to be.
The reasons are numerous -- rapid delivery and the ease of shopping online let consumers procrastinate; retailers themselves have looked to drive BTS sales earlier in the year by promoting items at the start of the summer; and those early-summer promotions tend to lead to discounting as the start of school approaches, rewarding bargain-conscious consumers who wait until the last minute.
The result is that that the BTS season is stretching on both ends.
Research from Google shows that consumers are beginning their search for BTS purchases earlier and earlier. This year’s BTS-related searches began a week earlier than in 2014, and three weeks earlier than in 2013.
At the same time, research from The NPD Group shows that consumers are doing their BTS clothes shopping later than usual. The majority of consumers surveyed didn’t start shopping until early August, which is generally considered the end of the season. And many consumers aren’t expecting to finish shopping until after the school bell rings.
As The NPD Group’s Marshal Cohen put it: “When so many consumers are planning to do their back-to-school shopping in the months not traditionally considered part of the season by retailers, it’s time to break with tradition and change the way we market and measure this shopping season.”
So just when will the BTS season hit its peak? Below are the dates when BTS sales peaked last year in a number of retail categories. Assuming that the early indicators of a lengthening season hold true, then the next few weeks will prove to be the top of the slope.
Peak Week in Sales in 2014
Grocery Stores = August 30
Drug Stores = August 23
Brick & Mortar = August 23
Online = August 16
Average School Start = August 23
Making the (up)grade
Among the more interesting developments in this year’s BTS season is that one of the bigger items in the shopping cart -- the notebook PC -- is facing some unusual challenges.
Microsoft is in the process of rolling out its Windows 10 release. And the timing of that -- in the middle of what is traditionally the second-largest season for notebook sales -- presents challenges to both retailers and PC manufacturers.
“Traditionally an OS release has been a positive occurrence for hardware sales, but this year that typical cadence has been called into question,” according to Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for consumer technology at The NPD Group. “Windows 10 has been positioned by Microsoft mostly as a software upgrade and with the short window of time between the release of the OS and its general availability the stock of Windows 10 PCs in retail stores, primed to take advantage of the season, is likely to be fairly limited until around Labor Day which is probably too late for an incremental burst of selling.”
In other markets, things look a bit better.
For example, early indicators suggest that sales of athletic footwear will be quite high. Dollar sales in the category grew 8 percent in the first half of the year, while the average selling price rose 7 percent.
“June is a prelude to back-to-school, making this mid-year performance a positive indicator for the back-to-school season,” according to Matt Powell, sports industry analyst, The NPD Group. “These sales results in the first half of 2015 bode well for a strong second half of the year.”
The big winners for BTS are likely to be retro running shoes, which saw sales soar in the first half.
Pencil it in
As you’re waiting to see what the final numbers are for BTS 2015, you may want to do some shopping for the teachers in your life. As it turns out, teachers spend a fair amount of their own money for classroom supplies. That hardly seems fair.
So if you’d like to help, check out our infographic on what teachers need for the classroom this year.
How Retail is Becoming Less Gendered, and Why You Should Care
It’s 2015 — and our nation is degenderizing.
Our futures are no longer dictated by the sex organs we’re born with. Girls can be anything they want to be, whether a professional rugby player, engineer, CEO of a startup, or President of the United States. Boys can be artists, dancers, full-time fathers, and nurses. A macho male Olympian can transition into a beautiful woman. A graceful female model can develop facial hair and big muscles. The boys-don’t-cry era is behind us, and gender and sexuality are no longer the black and white concepts they were years ago.
In American business, no area, with the exception of popular entertainment, is blurring the gender lines as quickly as retail. From clothing to footwear to technology, forward-thinking companies are enacting a less binary vision of how we shop, dress, and live — in response to an emerging consumer need. A genderless fashion market is developing. It’s far less saturated than its gendered counterpart, and it is rife with opportunity for new entrants.
This isn’t to say that all Americans everywhere are accepting of all sexual and gender choices. But as we’ve started to talk about it more, there has been an incredible shift in attitudes across the country. Americans, particularly the young adults known as Gen Y, are more accepting of the grey area in between.
In fact, Millennials are the most tolerant U.S. generation to date: half of the age group believes gender exists on a spectrum and shouldn’t be limited to male and female. So retailers and manufacturers with their eyes on this most valued of consumer demographics would be wise to start thinking of shoppers as more complex and varied. They’re more than just male or female.
Gender-neutral fashion: so hot right now
Time and again, women’s and men’s fashion have adopted elements from each other to rebel against gender norms and stereotypes. The result? Androgynous fashion trends that have waxed and waned over the past century.
In the 1920s, Coco Chanel borrowed the suited look from menswear and designed her iconic trousers and button-down suits for women, emblematic of the post-war woman trying to build a career in a male-dominated workplace.
In 1966, couturier Yves Saint Laurent designed “Le Smoking Jacket,” pioneering long, minimalist, and androgynous lines in women’s clothing. The design made any woman who wore it look unstoppable.
Though we might not see men and women wearing the same clothing on the street today, the high-fashion world has embraced this genderless trend with open arms. Countless haute couture fashion houses are blurring the lines between feminine and masculine and changing the conversation around gender. A handful of companies have created androgynous labels for women who wish to dress more masculine. Designers from Marc Jacobs, to Rag & Bone, to Giorgio Armani, and more have created clothing that straddles the gender gap. Some designers are even creating apparel intended for everyone, for wear by people identifying as any gender.
Here are some notable gender-neutral designers:
- Rad Hourani was the first fashion designer to market a unisex line in Paris in 2007. He aims to explore high fashion beyond gender with collections that nod at both masculinity and femininity by producing clothes that can be styled for both men and women.
- Led by Alessandro Michele, Gucci recently launched a menswear collection that challenged traditional gender lines with delicate lace and slouchy bows, exhibited by both men and women on the runway.
- Though Miuccia Prada didn’t use the word “unisex” when designing her Spring 2015 Menswear line, she said it felt “instinctively right to translate the same idea for both genders.” The collection’s contours seemed to work for all models regardless of gender at the recent spring fashion show.
Though high-fashion creatives seem to get this idea of fashion independent of gender, haute couture is restricted to the select few who can afford it; retailers for the masses must create lines that will sell to the majority of customers. So the question remains — does the public buy into this vision?
Are consumers across the board ready to accept this gender-neutral concept? If the public’s reaction to Jenner’s recent transition is any indication, then yes — but women (not surprisingly) are probably more game than men.
In an online survey conducted in May 2015, our partner CivicScience® asked 1,507 U.S. adults aged 18+ years if they considered it brave of Bruce Jenner to come out as a woman to Diane Sawyer.
Less than one-third of respondents answered yes to this question. But this stat reached 53 percent among the Millennial woman demographic. And Millennial women were 60 percent more likely than Millennial men to answer yes to this question.
So what does this mean for future generations?
Though older Boomers and Gen X consumers are less open-minded, younger, female Millennials are more accepting of a less-gendered world.
Do you think it was brave of Bruce Jenner to come out as a woman to Diane Sawyer?
% of people who said yes, by demographic segment
The high-fashion world is innovating around the gender dialogue. Research indicates Millennials are more progressive when it comes to concepts related to gender and sex. So which brands are taking risks and staying relevant in these changing times?
Keeping up with genderless wearables
We’re living in an age of personalization. While there is certainly a place for fashion brands that target particular genders, body type, and more, that market is already saturated. Rather than designing clothes for men or clothes for women, what if brands just kept things simple and created one line for everyone? Which brands are creating apparel, footwear, and accessory product models that work for all people?
NPD Account Manager Joe Hasek has been following this trend closely and doesn’t paint a very promising picture: “There’s been this phenomenon in high fashion for several years now — particularly on the runways. But we’ve yet to see a meaningful trickle-down into any of the typical apparel channels.” There are some exceptions, though. Joe points to the rise in athleisure and athletic-inspired apparel as pushing this universality trend forward.
The comparatively genderless nature of some types of athletic apparel gives brands like The North Face and Patagonia an advantage on this front. A hoodie is a hoodie, and a beanie is a beanie, and we often see men and women sporting the same classic fleeces from these brands.
American Apparel produces cotton basics that by nature are pretty gender neutral. The retailer recently marketed a unisex line with clothing items intended for wear by both men and women.
(The retailer’s marketing techniques toward men vs. women differed drastically and created consumer backlash.)
With the explosion of lululemon and the rise of activewear, many designers are tapping into the high-end activewear market. A new Canadian designer to the scene, Willis Chan, is approaching this gold mine with a genderless design sense. He’s producing unisex “High Athletic” fashion — high fashion with an athletic and techwear element.
NPD Sports Industry Analyst Matt Powell points to the footwear category as offering some options for everyone: “Though they’re not marketed as ‘asexual’, there are shoes that were once strictly men’s shoes that have become gender neutral.” Converse and Van are prime examples; it’s hard to walk down the street without seeing someone sporting a pair. Their websites have sections for men, women, and kids. They also allow visitors to click on any classic shoe model and view men’s and women’s sizing in one drop-down menu. Toms, Sperry, and Birkenstock also produce footwear that has gained popularly across genders. Though these brands do offer gender-specific sizes, colors and designs, their classic designs are marketed to everyone and have achieved a widespread appeal.
At the same time, there are new boutique brands specifically marketing asexual footwear. Sneaker brand Eytys co-founder explains that he never has a gender in mind during his design process. Footwear designer Nik Kacy launched her business on Kickstarter and now sells “luxury, gender-neutral footwear and accessories.”
There’s been a lot of talk in the press about the rise of the man bag, but there are also designers designing bags to appeal to all genders. At the recent Independent Handbag Designer Awards, there was an award category for The Stand Out & Look Great Work Bag (Unisex). British designer Jennifer Hamley won for her sleek and sexy bag design that appealed to both men and women.
Fashion products for either gender might have the greatest application in the wearable technology market of smartwatches and activity trackers. Aside from personalization of color bands, Fitbit markets the same tracker to both sexes. The Apple Watch focuses its marketing on its functional capabilities and is not offered in men’s or women’s versions, though it too allows for band/case personalization.
Gender usage research for activity trackers and smartwatches shows smartwatch users skew male, and fitness trackers users skew female. Though this affects how tech brands Apple and Fitbit target their marketing efforts, at the end of the day they’re marketing the same product to men and women.
What’s a girl to do when she physically looks “like a woman” and dresses “like a man?” If she shops on the men’s floor of a department store, does she change in the men’s room? Or does she carry her stacks of clothes up and down escalators to try on her items in the women’s section? There is a business opportunity for retailers who create a comfort zone for people who don’t want to subscribe to one category.
London-based concept shop Dover Street Market was one of the first to pass up traditional gender-segmented floors in favor of store organization by brand, allowing customers to shop men’s and women’s collections simultaneously.
Perhaps most notably, the London-based department store Selfridges took it one step further by transcending the notions of “his” or “hers.” After the retailer noticed many of its female customers shopping the menswear floor and male customers buying women’s ready-to-wear and accessories items, the retailer launched its Agender pop-up shop. The department store eliminated the divide between men’s and women’s clothing by displaying fives lines of non-gender clothing from more than 40 brands, across three floors, with both men’s and women’s bathrooms on each floor.
More than just a fashion
As the public discussion around gender becomes increasingly sensitive and complex, so does the need for a shopping experience independent of gender. Progressive designers like Rad Hourani, Coco Chanel, and Marc Jacobs have tapped into this niche market, along with a group of fashion-forward retailers.
With a growing Millennial segment that finds sex and gender less relevant to their shopping, it seems time for mainstream retailers and brands to participate in the dialogue by offering more options. Because this genderless approach toward fashion is proving to be more than just a passing fashion — it’s a trend.
E-commerce is growing in the fashion and beauty world. Last year, 23 percent of footwear sales, 20 percent of accessory sales, 16 percent of apparel sales, and 11 percent of U.S. beauty sales took place online. And these rates have continued on an upward trajectory.
With that said, online retailers still have a long way to go in converting brick-and-mortar consumers to full-time Web shoppers.
To mitigate the risk of online shopping and win over naysayers, a handful of companies have developed advanced technologies that make shopping online more informative and lifelike. Armed with virtual mirrors, 3D body scanners, haptic devices, and 3D headsets, these retail visionaries are doing a pretty remarkable job of emulating the in-person experience so that shoppers can virtually see, feel, and try on products.
But who needs all those fancy bells and whistles when you’ve got people?
Some companies have passed up virtual avatars and simulators in favor of social networking solutions that work off the collective power of many users.
Enter social shopping.
You wouldn’t buy a skirt without asking your friends . . .
Online community-based e-commerce sites have taken the concept of asking a friend where she got that great skirt to the Web. Now you can use social media channels like Pinterest and Instagram to follow the activity of brands, designers, and friends whose style you identify with. By following only the profiles you care about, you can curate your own personalized feed and easily click to purchase.
This powered-by-people concept applies to shopping on most retailer sites these days. Whether on Amazon, Zappos, Anthropologie, or any modern retail site, you can use the product comments section to gauge how an item might fit you. See some posts by men who also wear a size 9 complaining that a dress shoe model runs large, and you might opt for a half size down. See a flurry of posts about a sweater pilling after a few wears, and you’ll probably pass. And even if you don’t personally know any of these anonymous posters scattered around the globe, there’s something reassuring about seeing past customers rave about an expensive dress. I guess you just have to have it, then—public opinion supports the decision.
If the shoe fits
Customer comments and trend setters are cool and all, but it still takes time to sift through shoppers’ comments. And it can be a real downer to follow a fashion icon whose body type is so unlike yours that you can’t even begin to imagine pulling off the romper she professionally shot on her Instagram feed. But take the social network concept one step further by adding big data—and now you’re talking!
Tech startup Fitbay connects shoppers of similar body shapes to help share fitted styles, marketed as “a fun way to see what real people like you are wearing.” When you create an account, you enter your general body measurements (height, weight, long vs. short torso, etc.) and the website matches you with real-life "body doubles" who share your figure characteristics. You can follow their posted photos and comments on how specific items fit their bodies to discover the stores, brands, and clothes that are right for your body. So not only can you track the styles you like—but the styles that work for your body doubles.
In a similar vein, retail software company True Fit aims to help consumers buy more and return less by showing them how clothes and shoes viewed on screen will fit in real life. The technology firm collects brand, consumer, and retailer data on apparel and footwear. Users share favorite styles, rate previous purchases, and update their profiles; this activity generates billions of data points on how brands and styles fit shoppers of different body types. True Fit then makes fit and size recommendations for each individual shopper. The company explains that, “the more you shop using True Fit, the smarter it gets at fitting you.” With a network of 2,000+ retail partners like Kate Spade, Macy’s, Uniqlo, and Footlocker, you can record how one pair of shoes fits you and immediately get recommendations of other brand models that promise to fit like a glove.
Power to the people
People-powered social networks are making online shopping better and easier for consumers. It’s much more efficient to browse apparel styles and brands that work for your body type rather than sifting through high-fashion glamor shots of models donning threads that only a fraction of the population can actually pull off.
Social shopping networks help retailers and brands, too, by providing data that enables more informed merchandising and marketing decisions. And they offer an advantage over 3D scanners and virtual dressing rooms by mitigating the barrier to entry for retail companies. (It’s easier to opt into an app than it is to install body scanners at storefront locations or develop content for 3D goggles.)
Interested in how other innovators are changing the retail landscape with back-to-the-future-like technologies?
How smart mirrors, VR headsets, and other tech will alter retail
Pretty soon the lines between physical and digital reality will be blurred.
You’ll be able to sit in your living room, put on some 3D goggles, and shop for a pair of jeans in a virtual store — that does not physically exist.
Or, if that’s too Matrix for your style, you can use your mobile device to see how a pair of jeans fits your virtual “avatar” and even feel the texture of the jeans through the vibrations of your phone.
What if you have some time to (or better yet, what if you want to) stop by an actual store in person? Then you’ll simply peruse a rack of jeans as information on pricing, deals, and customer reviews appears before your eyes on an optical head-mounted display.
The fashion and beauty landscape is evolving as retailers of all types look for creative ways to offer consumers more efficient, reliable, personalized, and enjoyable shopping experiences. What do these Back-to-the-Future-like solutions mean for the retail industry?
Which technologies truly add value to the store experience, whether online or offline?
Which retailers get it?
Digital gets physical
E-commerce boasts a two-decade tenure of advancing the shopping experience by enabling consumers to browse, research, and compare products from anywhere, any time.
And consumers are into it.
The proof is in the data. Both the number of online buying visits and dollar sales have climbed steadily since 2012. In the 12 months ending in March 2015, U.S. consumers made nearly 5.2 billion online buying visits. They collectively spent $358 billion, shown by The NPD Group’s Shopping Activity Services. And this trend is poised to continue on the same track.
U.S. Brick & Mortar visits are on decline while online visits are on rise
The total U.S. market is up 2% for the 12 months ending March 2015, driven by double digit increases in online sales.
For softline products specifically, penetration in the U.S. online market has been on a steady ascent since 2011. Last year, 23 percent of footwear sales, 20 percent of accessory sales, 16 percent of apparel sales, and 11 percent of beauty sales took place online.
Online retailing, however, is not without its limitations.
E-commerce penetration rates have generally been lower for softlines than for hardlines. And this isn’t surprising, since beauty and fashion are emotive.
In this space reaching a purchase decision is not only about how something looks on a screen, but rather, how it looks on each of our unique bodies, and how it makes us feel.
Sure, you can browse product photos and study customer reviews to reach an informed decision — but what about the tangible components? How can we know in advance if a pair of pants will fit well around the waist, but gather awkwardly around the hips? Or if a dress that is knee length on a six-foot model will fall well below the knees on our shorter frames? Or if for some inexplicable reason something just doesn’t work?
Enter augmented reality — and a little bit of virtual reality.
Augmented reality links the real and virtual, enhancing our world view by providing a different perspective with the help of digital technology, usually some type of screen or lens. It is partly immersive, allowing users to see through or around it. (Think Google Glass.)
Virtual reality technologies take it one step further — creating a completely immersive experience through computer generation, transporting users to “closed” virtual universes. (Think 3D goggles that shut out the physical world around you.)
Magic mirror on the wall
On the augmented reality front, footwear and accessory retailers Warby Parker, Converse, and the like have rolled out digital tools that allow users to virtually try on merchandise. In Warby Parker’s “Virtual Try-On” tool, it works like this: you select a pair of glasses from the site, upload your headshot, and the tool overlays an image of the frames over your photo, providing a general idea of how the glasses might look on your real face.
Likewise, Converse launched its Converse Sampler iPhone App a few years ago. You scroll through photos of sneakers within the app, virtually position them over your feet with your phone camera, assess how they look, and order a pair directly through the app.
Makeup manufacturers have joined the virtual bandwagon, too. With YOY U.S. sales growth of $262 million in 2014, makeup is enjoying healthy gains, and brands are rolling out solutions to test makeup away from the store. Avon, Mary Kay, and L’Oréal USA, for example, provide virtual makeover tools on their websites, allowing visitors to try out different face, eye, lip, and nail products virtually. While Avon and Mary Kay use simple photo upload tools to layer on makeup to headshots, L’Oréal USA’s Makeup Genius smartphone app creates a real-time mirror experience: you scan your face with a smartphone camera and try out “looks” while the camera is live, providing immediate feedback as you tilt and turn your face.
NPD Senior Makeup Industry Analyst Kissura Mondesir says we’re in the “age of the selfie”— with photo uploads, effects and filters all parts of everyday life. These “try before you buy” virtual makeup tools are a natural extension of our creative expression, and they are sure to be a big hit with Millennials.
These tools provide a better alternative to simply “winging it” online, and they’re certainly helpful (and not to mention — fun!) in narrowing down beauty and fashion items that don’t work for you. But let’s be honest. Do they really provide a revolutionary perspective that you can’t get from a little imagination? And they unfortunately cannot assess how an item fits or feels on you. Many online retailers like Amazon and Zappos have mitigated this risk with liberal return policies that make returns or exchanges free — but this isn’t always a price performer from the retailer’s perspective.
Karen Grant, NPD’s global beauty industry analyst, knows the space better than anyone else. She says the online space is the most dynamic in terms of prestige beauty product growth. But she prefaces this by saying that beauty is still a category where consumers thrive on touching and experimenting, so there remains a need for an in-store element and/or advisor.
What’s the best alternative to trying on clothes in person?
Trying them on your virtual avatar.
Using virtual body doubles for online shopping could one day become a mainstream reality, thanks to 3D scanners that create highly accurate models of the human body. These expensive scanners can exist in offline stores in the form of heavy-duty, advanced radio wave scanners, or
laser-based devices like Microsoft Kinect. Alternatively, consumers could enjoy direct scanner access via mobile device cameras or webcams, though these would produce less precise models.
Bloomingdales has experimented with Me-Ality technology, using body imaging machines to match consumers with their appropriate off-the-rack sizes. Men’s fashion brand Alton Lane takes it one step further by conducting in-person body scans at its showrooms and using these precise measurements to design and produce bespoke suits for its clientele. Armed with their virtual avatars, customers can then make future purchases on Alton Lane’s website and feel confident about fit.
Software company Styku is developing a platform that creates 3D models of both garments and shoppers, recommends sizing, and allows shoppers to see how clothing items would likely look on them (via their virtual avatars).
If retailers are willing to invest in and roll out this technology, body scanners will disrupt the apparel industry and open up the online market to risk-averse consumers otherwise skeptical of e-commerce.
Ya feel me?
In the long term, expect to see a cost-effective solution to e-commerce malaise in the form of haptic devices — technology that allows us to feel the texture of an online product through transmitted touch. Haptic devices recreate the sense of touch through tactile feedback by applying forces and vibrations to user devices. Imagine being able to swipe your finger across a tablet screen to feel smooth silk or coarse wool.
Many technology firms are developing systems they hope to one day roll out for commercial retail use—but in order to go mainstream, haptics need to spark device manufacturers’ interest. As of now they’ve garnered minimal interest due to a lack of compelling use cases, so consumers should not expect to see them on the market any time soon.
A rose by any other name . . .
We’ve discussed virtual sight, fi t, and feel—but what about virtual smell? Beauty and cosmetics brands are getting in on the virtual reality game, but are fragrance retailers also innovating in this space?
Tech companies have developed cell phone plugins that allow users to text the smells of “bacon” or “flowers” to friends for fun. If consumers are game for this, why wouldn’t they be interested in a similar application for fine fragrances? Imagine being able to shop online for perfume without a trip to the store, by sampling different trademarked scents through your mobile device? Or better yet, forgo your own perfume application, and just carry your phone around with you and let it emit the fragrance!
NPD Fragrance Industry Analyst Brenna Phelan warns that while consumers might be apt to embrace this virtual fragrance concept, the industry is not. Luxury fragrance brands succeed in part because of the high-quality ingredients and artistry of the perfumers — qualities that may not translate well through virtual smelling. The absence of this category on the virtual front is worth noting.
Beam me up, Scotty
As long as you’re trying clothes on your virtual avatar, you might as well extend the virtual reality and let your body double make a quick spin at the virtual store, too.
One firm at the forefront of developments in the virtual reality space is Oculus VR, acquired by Facebook for $2 billion in March 2014. The tech company is developing the Oculus Rift, a head-mounted 3D display for virtual reality. Though its primary application is for entertainment, film, and gaming, it also has relevance in retail. This technology would allow shoppers to benefit from any number of the fit technologies described above — except they would exist in a completely “closed” virtual world, through a 3D simulated environment. You could put on a headset in the comfort of your home and immerse yourself in an alternative shopping reality, browse and feel products, see how they look on your avatar, and make a direct purchase.
Though flashy and fun, this device won’t have real potential in the retail world until it is fully developed, and until software companies create the virtual worlds to live within it.
Physical gets digital
So just as e-commerce sites can use new technologies to become more human, traditional brick-and-mortar stores are trying to become more digital.
Retailers like Bloomingdales, Topshop, and Burberry have deployed augmented reality technology in their physical stores to allow shoppers to see how products look — without physically trying anything on. Bloomingdales and Topshop experimented with Microsoft Kinect to create 3D virtual dressing rooms; with the help of a motion-sensor, shoppers could wave their hands to scroll through different apparel items as the technology overlaid 3D clothing images over their real-time “reflections.”
On the beauty front, Burberry created a Digital Runway Nail Bar in one of its London stores, where customers can virtually test out new nail polish colors. By placing a nail polish bottle on the RFID-enabled platform, customers see the polish appear on the fingers of a virtual hand on a screen; they can then select a skin tone similar to their own to compare how different nail shades might look on their own fingers.
Panasonic recently debuted a “smart mirror” at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show with the hopes of rolling it out to department stores. The mirror has an embedded camera that can scan and project an image of your face on top of your reflection, and enables you to try out different looks by applying digital makeup — and even facial hair!
Sounds similar to L’Oréal’s virtual makeover tool — except Panasonic’s mirror analyzes your face using high definition cameras, points out facial flaws (lines, age spots, etc.), and tells you which products can fix them.
The real deal?
Though certainly engaging and fun, these digital dressing rooms and mirrors don’t seem to provide greater insight than does holding up a real shirt against your real body, or applying actual makeup to your face. Though these technologies might be additive online, offline they seem a bit duplicative. And what’s more, they can’t really offer much insight into how something fits or feels. So while you may save time in the short term, you could wind up spending more time returning items later.
It might just be worth it to endure the dressing room queue.
And as for a smart mirror that points out your flaws? Would you want a computer to point out the bags under your eyes and project them onto a public screen?
Retailers from Walmart to Target are experimenting with 3D computer simulations and other technologies to enhance the real-world shopping experience. The ones who seem to get it are those who have found a way to extend the perks of online shopping to the physical store. Here are some examples of what’s working:
- Sephora and Pantone teamed up to create Color IQ, an in-store digital beauty device that scans the surface of your skin, assigns it a “Color IQ”, and then matches you with the right foundation color from over 1,500 product options.
- The software company Zugara has developed a technology that allows shoppers to try on one apparel item and digitally view what it looks like in different colors and styles.
- American Apparel rolled out an application that lets patrons scan items via mobile device to get more information on products, see floor items in different colors, and read reviews by other customers.
- Israeli mobile app Zikit pushes mobile coupons and offers from retailers to shoppers who walk into stores, providing retailers with behavioral insights on individual shoppers. This eventually allows stores to tailor personalized suggestions to these customers after repeated app use.
If the above technologies one day go mainstream, retailers could learn to know us and our shopping preferences, and never again will we become lost in a store!
Two worlds at the same time
Some brands are putting shoppers into a completely immersive digital world, turning to virtual reality for branding endeavors.
Topshop, for example, gave its fans a seemingly front-row view of a fashion show during London Fashion Week: store visitors were virtually transported to the catwalk with a pair of goggles (while stationary).
North Face employed a similar virtual initiative to elevate its in-store experience and brand storytelling. The outdoor product company transported in-store customers to Yosemite National Park and Moab Desert via Google Cardboard in partnership with technology firm Jaunt. In between shopping at flagship store locations, customers could virtually rock climb and trek the landscapes with famous athletes.
The future is now
So here’s the thing: these new technologies offer competitive advantages of one type or another to everyone. In-store shopping could become more fun. Online shopping could become more real. Consumers who can’t find clothes that fit will find clothes that fit. Even the most tactile and sensory of shopping experiences could move online, and the most dramatic and dangerous of real-world experiences could be enjoyed in the safety of a virtual environment.
Brands like North Face and Topshop, Sephora and American Apparel, Panasonic, Bloomingdales, Burberry, and more are all investing in these new technologies because they know you don’t need a VR headset to see the future. You just have to face it.
Insights and Opinions from our Analysts and Experts
According to NPD, which represents the most comprehensive roster of reporting retailers, comprising more than 50 percent of the U.S. retail athletic shoe market, sales of athletic footwear in the U.S. for the first third of the year (January-April 2016) were solid. Both dollar and unit sales grew in the low single-digits with average selling price up slightly, mostly on mix.
So far, the bankruptcies in the industry have had little impact on sales, but that could change over the next 90 days. I expect these “going out of business” sales to have a minimal impact on the industry. The greatest impact will likely come early, when the assortments are best. Channel checks revealed obsolete and broken inventories in the stores slated to close.
The big driver of growth for the year so far remained the classics category, with sales growing more than 25 percent. The largest branch of the classics is retro basketball, driven by Brand Jordan. Retro tennis has had the greatest percentage growth, paced by the Adidas Stan Smith franchise. Retro running has also had a healthy increase. Virtually every major brand in retro running is showing strong increases. I expect the retro trend to last for some time to come.
Weakness in performance basketball has been cited by several retailers over the last few quarters. Performance basketball was one of the few categories that saw a decline in average selling price for the year so far (declines in average selling price often accompany a soft business). Of the major brands, only Under Armour has shown growth here. I expect the declines to moderate as we come against easier comparisons in the second half, but I do expect basketball will remain challenged.
Running is the largest of the athletic footwear categories, but remains bifurcated. Total running sales are up in the low-singles; however, performance running (80 percent of the category) is down in the high-singles, while lifestyle running grew more than 40 percent for the year so far. Most of the major brands in performance running have struggled, with Adidas being a standout exception. We can expect lifestyle running to continue to expand.
Casual athletic grew in the mid-single digits, mostly on robust growth from the Adidas Neo collection. Converse Casual has also been strong. We clearly are in a major non-performance cycle right now. I expect the short term will remain challenging for the performance-focused brands. Brands that have a diverse portfolio of products should be thriving.
Sport slides are back in fashion, no doubt driven by the retro trend. Sales for the year grew about 10 percent. Nike is a big winner here. We can expect this trend to continue and should be on the lookout for new emerging brands in this space.
Outdoor sandals did not fare as well, likely due to the wet spring. Chaco, Skechers, and Teva all had nice increases, counter to the overall market trend.
Walking continued to decline after several years of good growth. Skechers struggled here. Hiking had a low single-digit increase. This category was hot in 2015, but again was suppressed by the wet spring. Columbia and Nike outperformed in hiking.
Men’s and women’s both had low single-digit increases for the year so far. Men’s was hurt by poor basketball results. Women’s was weakest in walking. Kids grew in the high single-digits for the year so far. It is important to remember that a significant driver of the kids business is teen girls buying “boys’” shoes.
By channel for the year so far in athletic footwear, shoe chains led the pack with sales up in the mid-single digits. Athletic specialty/sporting goods rode out the negative basketball trend with a low single-digit increase, and average selling prices increased overall. Department stores and national chains both had low single-digit declines. Running specialty stores declined in the mid-single digits.
Looking at positive brand growth year to date, Nike/Brand Jordan and Converse performed well, but it’s Adidas and Under Armour, with sales up more than 40 percent and 70 percent, respectively, that stand out. Adidas is having a fabulous year, now reclaiming #2 share in the U.S. sneaker market. Asics and Brooks sales declined in the low teens, as robust retro growth could not offset weakness in performance. Saucony sales grew in the mid-single digits. Puma is clearly riding the retro trend with sales up about a third. Vans sales grew in the low teens.
The second quarter has typically never been that important for the sneaker business. I expect sales to be a little choppy early on, as the bankruptcies will be most disruptive then. By the time back-to-school arrives, the bankrupt stores will be out of good shoes. The negative basketball trend will have abated and the Olympics will give a lift to the business. I expect sneaker sales in the second half to bounce back to previous levels. With 10 percent of the sporting goods retail space closing by Labor Day, the remaining market will be stronger and healthier.
Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Monthly Retail Tracking Service, January-April 2016
Data is collected from the athletic specialty, sporting goods, chain store, department store, and other channels. Athletic footwear includes the following categories: Sport Leisure, Outdoor, Performance, and Work/Occupational/Safety.
As far back as 2009, the NBA hinted that it would follow in the footsteps of other international professional leagues and display advertisements on players’ jerseys. We saw a touch of this during the 2016 All-Star Game in February, when uniforms were sporting the KIA logo.
Last Friday, as I predicted back in June 2014, the NBA Board of Governors approved the sale of ads on jerseys beginning in the 2017-2018 season, as part of a three-year trial. I’m firmly convinced that the NBA experiment with sleeved jerseys was designed to create more room for such ads.
Leagues are always looking for new revenue streams, and ads on jerseys is a strategic move which will bring in millions of dollars each year.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, “Jersey sponsorships provide deeper engagement with partners looking to build a unique association with our teams and the additional investment will help grow the game in exciting new ways. We’re always thinking about innovative ways the NBA can remain competitive in a global marketplace, and we are excited to see the results of this three-year trial.”
Silver is correct that jersey sponsorships will foster a new bond between players and their fans, who want to not only support, but also dress like their heroes. It’s also important to recognize that a uniform is not simply a fashion item, but ultimately it directly correlates to performance. The changes that are happening will not only influence the sport and brand mindset of fans and viewers, but take the game to another level.
It’s only a matter of time before NBA players will become walking billboards. I fully expect that NBA team jerseys will be updated every season, to keep up with changing ad campaigns and corporate sponsors – and to encourage fans to buy the latest one.
Athletes today are viewed not only as heroes on the field, but as cultural and fashion icons to the American people. We live in a culture where they are revered more than just feet on the playing field, and where their style of dress, brand endorsements, and even political opinions can influence consumer behavior. The monetary weight that they carry is not too shabby either. The world’s 100 highest-paid athletes, according to Forbes’ list, earned over $3 billion in total from June 2014 through June 2015. With the amount of money that is invested into these athletes each year, they must be doing something right for the brands and sports they represent.
It may come as a surprise that a number of pro golfers made the list, including Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, and 26-year-old Rory McIlroy. While this is beneficial to golf’s image, the sport is not on par with the up-and-coming consumers it desperately needs to attract: Millennials and Gen Z.
According to the National Golf Foundation, more people are trying out the game for the first time; however, overall golf participation is declining, with numbers more in line with the pre-Tiger Woods figure we saw in 1995.
The golf culture does not identify with Millennials, who have an affinity for outdoor activities and shared experiences such as camping, climbing, and backpacking; nor does the sport distinguish itself among the Gen Z’s, who like team sports as well as activities that mirror the Millennials. Golf as we know it is quite the opposite of what these generations seek, and contradicts a number of their core values:
1) The game is slow and, for generations who are used to everything being a click away, it’s far from being instantly gratifying.
2) It’s expensive and, for generations that need to be spending conscious, the cost to play and purchase/rent the necessary apparel and equipment is not of value to them.
3) Golf is exclusive, and for generations who want to be inclusive, paying to have the privilege of an exclusive membership is not of interest.
4) Its rules are too complex, which is unappealing to these generations who want a minimal amount of rules.
5) There is a lack of diversity in golf, as the CEO of the PGA of America said himself, in contrast to the Millennials, who are the most diverse generation ever and have embraced diversity like no other generation.
We’re seeing Millennials like Rory McIlroy engage and succeed in golf, but this type of testimonial alone is not enough to breathe new life into the sport. The key to winning as a sports brand today is to make fashionable products, particularly footwear and streetwear, for the Millennial and Gen Z generations. Though applying this to golf is a challenging task, golf brands and retailers need to keep this trend top of mind when figuring out how to boost participation for their sport.
The athletic and outdoor industries have traditionally been “guy” industries, illustrated by the fact that most of the executive boards and management teams of major companies in this space fall short when it comes to gender diversity.
Historically, most athletic brands have used the strategy of “shrink it and pink it” to develop women’s products. But tailoring a man’s shoe to a woman’s foot is not the solution. Girls are made differently than boys; a man’s foot is more rectangular in shape, while a woman’s is more triangular and narrower at the heel than the forefoot. Simply making smaller men’s shoes results in ill-fitting women’s shoes, and we all know that fit is very important to consumers – not only in footwear, but apparel as well.
To determine what they must do, brands and retailers must first understand the female consumer.
- Women are females first and customers second. Brands need to develop women-specific products in order to grow this important segment of the athletic and outdoor markets.
- Women are often the problem solvers in their relationships. If your product can make her life better, easier, cheaper and faster, that goes a long way. Versatile, multi-functional products are a real plus.
- Sweat the details; she will notice. Spend time making your product the best it can be for the price. Little details can make the difference between a product she buys and one she loves.
- Female consumers are very willing to connect with brands and retailers via social media. At the same time, they are sharing everything with their friends. For decades, retailers and brands have been telling us how and what to buy, but the shift to social shopping will see female customers “selling” to each other.
Next brands and retailers can move into what they need to do.
- They need to celebrate femininity. Many women embrace their femininity and have taken to the broader concept of “lifestyle.” Her shoes and apparel have to function, be comfortable, be versatile, and be cute.
- They must be loyal to women. Loyalty in this case means consistency in design, direction, and product performance. Female shoppers want to understand and follow the evolution of the brand, but they also demand consistency in both how the product looks and how it performs.
- Show her how to wear it. Products that are fully accessorized at retail are a huge plus. Helping women put an entire outfit together is another great way to be loyal.
- If you build a brand relationship with a female shopper, she becomes a brand ambassador. If she trusts your brand, she will tell her friends and family about it. Strong brands must deepen and nurture that relationship. The minute you take her for granted, you’ve lost her.
- Women, especially Millennials, want brands that share their values. Brands and retailers must express their vision and mission in clear and concise terms, and open a dialogue with their customers about these values.
There’s a gap in the industry, which I see as an opportunity for brands to step in and better understand and speak to women’s retail needs. During a time when gender lines are blurring and products are being marketed to accommodate everyone across the gender spectrum, this is as good a time as any to develop new ways to sell and create products.
College basketball fans around the country are rejoicing; NCAA March Madness 2016 has begun. In addition to being one of the biggest U.S. sporting events of the year behind the Super Bowl, March Madness is also one of the prime opportunities for the athletic footwear industry.
Much of the opportunity has to do with marketing. Signing college teams is more of a marketing ploy than a direct sales story. These contracts can be worth several hundred million dollars. The contracts can include footwear, uniforms, other apparel, and direct payments to coaches.
Nike once again dominates the court as this year’s tournament begins, having shoe contracts with 44 of the 68 teams and providing uniforms for 41 of those teams (the three other teams will wear Russell uniforms). Both Under Armour and Adidas will have a greater presence at the tournament compared to last year; Under Armor is providing uniforms for 10 teams, up from six last year, and Adidas for 14, up from 11 last year.
Here are the most important times of the year for basketball shoe sales, and March Madness makes the list.
Sneaker sales peak during Christmastime, and some of the biggest weeks of the year for basketball shoes are around this holiday. With the advent of gift cards, these weeks have become even larger in relation to other weeks of the year. Brands often schedule releases to take advantage of this natural buying time. Typically, the largest Jordan retro release of the year occurs around Christmas.
The NBA All Star game has become another very important sales period for basketball shoes. As the game is showcased for the skills of some of the best players in the game, it’s a logical time for brands to showcase some of their best products as well.
Black Friday is another key sales period for basketball shoes. While many retailers have turned the Thanksgiving holiday shopping period from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, for the most part, sneaker brands have held their releases until the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Back-to-school is another important season. Today, kids often wait for school to start to see what other kids are wearing before beginning their back-to-school shopping, which moves the sales period later than in previous years. While this remains an important sneaker sales period, the traditional timeline for back-to-school shopping (usually mid-July through early September) is now extended. This means we can expect to see back-to-school sneaker sales spread over a longer period of time.
The fifth most important selling period for basketball shoes is during March Madness. Sales during this period are not that much higher than an average week, but still enough to move the weeks into a top spot for the year.
March Madness aside, the real lesson here is that brands have to create great products 52 weeks out of the year. Consumers demand fresh ideas with every shopping trip. Brands that create one new look and hope to ride it for months will not succeed.
Social and digital fitness trends are having a profound impact on the sports industry. The growing popularity and emergence of programs and events such as CrossFit and The Color Run show that the consumer’s definition of fitness is evolving. While solo, gym workouts in the company of music streaming through headphones will not cease to exist, the popularity of dance party-style fun runs has only just begun. Add to that the digital fitness component; from heart rate monitoring to sleep tracking, digital fitness devices are tracking more than just our every waking move. This, too, is influencing the consumer’s relationship with fitness.
These trends are being driven by the Millennials – a generation which has changed and continues to change the landscape of retail. While it may seem as though we’ve heard enough about them by now, their influence cannot be overlooked. Millennials are a transitional generation – a link between the former generation and a truly digital one. They now outnumber Boomers and will comprise one-third of all retail sales in the next five years.
A critical difference between Millennials and their predecessors, the Boomers, is their approach to fitness. The Boomers who exercised frequently tended to buy a lot of expensive equipment and binge on an activity. Millennials, on the other hand, are committed to a healthy lifestyle, but in a much more lighthearted and less serious way. They don’t want to be defined by any one activity; they want to have fun and share those experiences with their friends, making fitness activities social ones.
Another key differentiator between Millennials and Boomers is the former’s reliance on technology for feedback in their fitness activity. Millennials want to measure, track, and share their fitness regime with their friends. As a result, awareness and sales of digital fitness devices have grown substantially in 2015, with sales growing nearly $22 million compared to 2014*, as a greater assortment of products offering a variety of features and price points has hit the market. With more features available, this has translated to more ways for fitness devices to be relevant across the spectrum of consumers from soccer moms to soccer players, and keep these consumers engaged.
Fitness has evolved from an independent activity to a social occasion. It’s an activity that can engage us with society just as much as it can provide a break from it. The digital component is adding yet another fresh spin on fitness. Together, these two trends are altering the way in which we think about sports and fitness. For brands and retailers to be successful, they must keep pace with the times and ride the wave of the next generation of consumers.
*Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Retail Tracking Service, U.S. Sports Equipment, Annual 2015
Even if you remain undecided in terms of which presidential candidate to back, I’m sure by now you’ve taken a stand on one of the key issues on the trail that has recently emerged – Marco Rubio’s boots.
Last week, The New York Times reported on the “surprising focus on Senator Marco Rubio’s shiny, stack-heeled ankle boots.” Other candidates weighed in via Twitter. Senator Ted Cruz’s communications director posted “A Vote for Marco Rubio Is a Vote for Men’s High-Heeled Booties.” Carly Fiorina posted a photo of her own high-heeled boots and the comment “Yeah, @marcorubio, but can you rock these?” The media weighed in as well, trying to guess the brand and comparing Rubio to musicians and other celebrities.*
Rubio’s campaign shared that the boots are from Florsheim, likely the Duke style that has a retail price of a relatively modest $135. And it turns out that he’s right on trend. According to NPD’s Retail Tracking Service, for the fall retail season so far (August-November ’15), men’s fashion boots grew 6 percent vs. the prior year, compared to the total men’s fashion footwear market which increased 4 percent. This growth was driven by ankle-height shaft styles, like Senator Rubio’s.
However the fuss is not really about the shaft height of Senator Rubio’s boots, it’s about the height of the heels. At 1.75 inches high, I wouldn’t exactly call these “high-heeled” – I don’t think any woman that is used to struggling with four inch heels would. Yes, they are taller than what we typically expect to see on a man. And at 5’10”, Rubio is among the shortest of the presidential candidates, so I don’t blame him for wanting to pick up a couple of inches. At 5’1”, I’ve certainly been there.
What do you think about the boots?
Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Retail Tracking Service
*Source: The New York Times, Marco Rubio’s Shiny Boots Stir Up the Presidential Race, January 7, 2016
After a morning of retail reconnaissance, this is what Black Friday looks like in the Sports industry.
Sports retailers began to send out Black Friday offers as early as the first week of November, with most offering deals the Sunday before the Thanksgiving holiday. This has reduced the need for shoppers to get up early and, ultimately, will weaken the importance of Black Friday as a shopping event.
After the warmest October on record, mild temperatures continued to dominate most of the country. The unseasonable temperatures are hurting the cold weather businesses. One year ago, the East Coast had a major snow storm, which jumpstarted the winter businesses. Eastern retailers will face very tough comparison this year.
Tying into the warmer autumn weather effect, cold weather apparel and footwear remained challenged. With department store retailers predicting big discounts on these categories, we should expect this business to remain weak and then see major price reductions as we approach Christmas.
In terms of athletic footwear, many shoes featured in Black Friday-themed flyers were advertised at full price. This confirms the continued strength of the athletic footwear trend. Discounting on price in athletic footwear was at a moderate level.
Specifically, the Black Friday Jordan Brand releases are typically one of the largest of the year. This year’s shoe is the Air Jordan 8 Aqua Remastered ($190). The Air Jordan 8 Aqua was first worn during the 1993 NBA All-Star Game in Salt Lake City. It is one of the most wanted by fans.
While performance basketball has plateaued, Marquee Retro Basketball is still one of the strongest categories in athletic footwear.
In athletic apparel, the discounting was muted, just as we saw in athletic footwear. Most of the major advertised items were only 25 percent off, while many key items were advertised at full price. Sales are strong for athletic apparel outside of cold weather categories.
Looking at major brands, the week of Black Friday is one of Nike’s sanctioned events, thanks in large part to its Minimum Advertised Price policy. Retailers were permitted to feature select Nike products at 25 percent off. This was a very successful event during back-to-school.
Fans of Under Armour (UA) can score a deal as well. To parry the Nike MAP week, UA is offering 25 percent off all Baselayer and Big Logo hoodies. Under Armour Thrill running shoes (MSRP $59.99) were offered at $39.99.
The licensed apparel/fan wear category remains challenged. Retailers featured deep discounts this Black Friday, as much as 50 percent off. There are very few exciting new ideas in licensed apparel.
Looking at devices, last year wearable technology items were featured in many Black Friday flyers, mostly at full price. As the category appears to be plateauing, the marketing of these times appeared to be reduced.
As we saw last year, the challenged gun business saw some of the deepest discounts. We can expect this business to remain difficult over the near term.
While the golf business in big box retailers appears to have stabilized, golf equipment was heavily discounted for Black Friday. The Millennials remain a major structural problem for the golf industry.
We are having a terrific overall year in the sports business. The sports industry again appears to be off to a solid start for the holiday season.
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