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Generational Spending in Fashion and Apparel

Who, What, Wear: How “Gens” Spend on Fashion & Apparel


With worldwide eCommerce spending predicted to land at $6 trillion by the end of 2022, smart retailers are primed and ready for their vertical to win shoppers’ attention and dollars by thoughtfully marketing to their consumers. Their demographic x-factor? Today’s four primary generations include:

  • Gen Z is born between 1997 – 2015
  • Gen Y or Millennials are born between 1981 – 1996
  • Gen X is born between 1965 – 1980
  • Baby Boomers are born 1946 – 1964

Each generation is unique in how they are swayed to press the buy button. When it comes to digital commerce, each wants to be met on their terms, in the way that is most comfortable and convenient for them – whether it’s on a desktop, through Instagram ads, or through free two-day shipping.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the way each age group buys fashion and apparel through digital channels. With worldwide apparel sales expected to shoot from $481 billion in 2018 to $713 billion by 2022, fashion is by far the most popular eCommerce category across the digital landscape and in every age group.

However, the category has some obstacles to overcome in the eCommerce universe. Some buyers are hesitant to buy online since they can’t try the clothes on, or feel the materials for themselves – or even simply get that social, in-store shopping experience. Even more interesting, those who shop online are typically younger, and they use different devices than their older counterparts. According to an AARP eCommerce survey, over 75 percent of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers agree that online fashion serves younger consumers better.

In general, 84 percent of Baby Boomers prefer an in-store experience, and when it comes to buying clothes, the hassle of returning items that don’t fit is cited as the number one roadblock to shopping online.

Yearly, Millennials make twice as many fashion purchases online than Boomers, but they spend less per transaction. In fact, the amount spent per transaction rises with age – $101 for Millennials, $160 for Gen X, and $173 for Boomers. Gen X comes out on top when it comes to annual spend, spending over $2,300 on fashion. Millennials are in the middle of the pack ($1,950), with Boomers spending the least at $1,390.

Fashion’s Selling Powerplay: Social Media

And now for the digital fashion shopping match made in heaven – social media. Social media ads are the second most powerful traffic magnet for fashion, prompting about 50 percent of viewers to visit a brand’s shopping site.

With more than 2 billion active monthly users, Facebook is most popular with Millennials (88 percent of them have a profile), Gen Xers (84 percent), and Boomers (72 percent). According to Cowen and Company, nearly 30 percent of Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest users in the US said they had purchased a product from a brand they discovered on the platforms.

Instagram’s one billion active monthly users are mostly Gen Z and Millennials, with over 50 percent of Gen Zers pointing towards Instagram as the best media to find out about new products, and 53 percent of them actively following brand accounts. When it comes to fashion, retailers like NIKE, ASOS, and Chanel and more have used celebrities as photo and video branding opportunities, as well as promoting user-generated content to create more brand ambassadors online. YouTube has over 1 billion monthly users, reaching more Millennials and Gen Xers a year than any cable network in the US.

Approximately 60 percent of Snapchat users are Gen Zers, with active users opening the app 25+ times a day, amassing more than 10 billion video views per day. Their daily news section of the app is a great space to build brand awareness and create buzz around real-time events or fashion sales, including new fashion lines that would appeal to younger audiences. For example, Adidas recently advertised the release of a new sneaker on a Snapchat show called Fashion 5 Ways – it garnered millions of views and the shoes were sold out within 24 hours. Watchers could swipe up during the video and were redirected straight to the product page, allowing quick checkout directly from the app.

Get Smart

It’s no surprise — if you want to win in online fashion and apparel sales, how you sell should be smart, factoring in what each shopper wants. Even with personalization and emerging technologies, it’s still difficult to create an individual buyer journey — but you can zero in on what the majority of each age group is looking for, whether they know it or not.

Invite the HENRYs

Luxury apparel brands are now squarely focused on the Henrys – ‘high earners, not rich yet’ cohort of consumers. This age group – median age around 43 years old — has significant discretionary income. They are rising up the pay scales and have the potential for greater wealth in the future. They enjoy the experiences of luxury sometimes, rather than as a regular way of life. They are big on personalization and uniqueness of a product or an experience and they don’t mind paying for convenience.

Want to learn more about other categories and how age groups buy? Download our white paper, Lens on Generational Spending.

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Recalibrating Luxury for the Digital Age

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