How Retailers Have Turned the Boomer Woman Into the Ideal Multichannel Shopper
VibrantNation.com is the leading online community for baby boomer women, a site where they connect on issues unique to their stage of life. After more than two years of asking them to explain what that lifestage means, I can report one nearly uniform emotion they all share: they hate shopping in retail stores.
The primary reason? Sales associates treat them as invisible. Eighty-five percent of boomer women said in a recent survey my firm conducted that they were unhappy with the quality of retail sales associates. Almost one out of three agreed with the following statement: "Sales associates don't really understand why they should pay attention to anyone older than they are."
There are other reasons that make boomer women hate retail shopping, especially for clothes. Retailers rarely carry the clothes that boomer women tell us they want — age-appropriate but stylish clothes, larger sizes, even tailored petites. What's more, the retailers that do gain traction with these women (e.g., Talbots or Eileen Fisher) often rush to abandon them when they fear that they're losing appeal with younger women. Is there any hope?
It's Not Too Late To Mend Traditional Retail
Boomer women are important shoppers. They shop when they want and are willing to pay more for quality. Retailers who care to win this consumer need to train their salespeople better. They must also stock not only larger sizes, but clothes that fit the different body shape of a post-menopausal woman. Saks, Macy's and Nordstrom are doing a better-than-average job at serving this vibrant woman, but others should join their ranks.
At a session I recently moderated at the National Retail Federation's (NRF) BIG Show, Lois Joy Johnson, author and former fashion and beauty editor of More, gave retailers a few keys to improve their offerings for boomer women. Among them: "If you can supply the right pants and jacket, you're more likely to sell her other clothes, too. Also, a little trendiness goes a long way. Keep the styles the same, but tweak the proportions to adapt to this year's styles." If you're willing to spend half-an-hour talking to women over 50, this isn't a revelation.
It's Time to Reap Your Rewards Online
Because traditional retailers have ignored her real interests and needs, the resourceful boomer woman has found — and helped build — another industry in response: online shopping.
Two-thirds of boomer women are buying clothes online, and 13 percent are buying clothes online exclusively. Those rude sales associates have helped this alternate channel grow strong.
In a cosmetic survey by VibrantNation.com, we learned that more boomer women are buying beauty products online than in department stores.
These women love buying shoes at Zappo's; they'd rather buy bathing suits and bras online at sites like Herroom.com; and they've turned eBay into a major fashion outlet. Don't underestimate how much women want to avoid public dressing rooms as they age.
Another NRF panelist, Deborah Weinswig, equity research analyst at Citigroup, who is responsible for directing her firm's stock analysis in the retail sector, praised retailers who are practicing multichannel marketing that aligns communication between in-store kiosks with online offerings. She also reminded the audience that some of the retailers who are doing best online are among those who are doing best by boomer women — like Nordstrom, which now generates almost 10 percent of its total sales online, followed closely by Saks.
Finally, don't think of the internet only as a way to sell product. It may also be the best way to market your products, too. A recent study from iVillage confirmed what our own research has long shown: For women of all ages, referrals are the most important influence on purchase decisions, and referrals online are as valuable as any others (as long as they come from other women in communities online). This doesn't mean Facebook or Twitter, but it does mean those true communities online where women can rely on other "women like them."
Retailers who want to do business with the 40 million boomer women in the U.S. should be retraining their sales associates; building robust websites that answer the vibrant woman's needs; and giving these women every reason possible to praise them online. Chico's won't know what hit them.
Stephen Reily is CEO of Vibrant Nation, an online community devoted exclusively to the influential and fast-growing demographic of smart and successful women over 50. Stephen can be reached at email@example.com.