Retailers give themselves makeover as millennials follow own beat

Wed Sep 10, 2014 7:18am EDT
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By Jilian Mincer

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Alison LePard, a 19-year-old college sophomore from Wellesley, Massachusetts, says that when she shops for clothes and accessories, her goal is a look that is uniquely hers. So she does a lot of mixing and matching.

"I don't blindly follow what they put out," LePard said of store displays. "I don't want to wear just one brand. I don't want to be a stereotype."

She's hardly alone. Recent surveys have found that members of the U.S. Millennial Generation - the roughly 80 million Americans born between 1977 and 2000 - pride themselves on their individuality, and shop accordingly.

Compared with their parents, millennials are far less likely to identify with a political party or to formally affiliate with a religion - key indicators of an independent streak - according to Pew Research Center. As shoppers, they are less attached to brands and more willing to create their own style, surveys by Nielsen, The Boston Consulting Group and other researchers have found.

This generational trait is forcing retailers to rethink everything from their merchandise and marketing to their dressing rooms and logos. Some companies, including H&M and Urban Outfitters Inc (URBN.O: Quote), have ridden the individuality wave while others, such as Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF.N: Quote) and AeropostaleARO.N, have been slow to react and are paying the price.

At stake is the $600 billion millennials spend a year in the United States, according to Accenture, a sum that's projected to grow to an estimated $1.4 trillion in 2020, when the oldest of the cohort will be 43. Millennial men spend twice as much a year on apparel as non-millennial men, while millennial women outspent other generations by a third, the consultants said.

Abercrombie's woes came into sharp relief last month when the company said it was shrinking its well-known logo and increasing its assortment of fashion for women, all to appeal more to 16- to 22-year-olds who don't want to look like everyone else. The move came after 10 straight declines in quarterly same-store sales.

"They no longer want to be a walking billboard of a brand," said Michael Scheiner, an Abercrombie spokesman. "Individualism is important to them, having their own sense of style."   Continued...

People shop at H&M on Thanksgiving Day in New York November 28, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Thayer