NEW YORK — Ann Taylor is doing it. So are Banana Republic, Emporio Armani, Lands’ End and Chico’s.

Catering to a newly emerging fiftysomething consumer, that is. One who has become increasingly demanding of the service she receives because of her still-stressful lifestyle, observed Barbara Caplan, a partner in Atlanta-based market researcher Yankelovich Inc.

At stake is more than half of apparel expenditures by women ages 50 and up. For example, $11.4 billion, or 52 percent, of the $22 billion women north of 49 spent on clothing in the 12 months ended this March was shelled out by women in their 50s, according to Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Fashionworld. And while that $22 billion marked a decline of 2.7 percent compared with spending by the 50-plus sector a year earlier, the falloff was less steep than overall outlays for women’s apparel, which decreased by 4.5 percent to $91 billion in that 12-month period.

“Baby Boomers in their 50s — even empty-nesters — are the most busy, impatient and demanding [consumers] of any generation,” Caplan observed. “They are the most vocal about service and most often will judge brands and stores on that basis.” Because this group is harried, Caplan continued, “Convenience becomes the tiebreaker [in apparel purchasing decisions] and women in their 50s will pay more for good service, whether it’s the offer of alterations, easy returns or a quick gift wrap.”

The Yankelovich partner, based here, credited the handful of fashion retailers for various aspects of service. These include: sales associates who are knowledgeable about specific outfitting needs of women in their 50s, but don’t draw attention to their customers’ age, such as the ones these consumers have found at Chico’s, Ann Taylor and Emporio Armani; the offer of different cuts of apparel to suit changing body types, as are merchandised at Lands’ End and Banana Republic, for instance, and generally uncluttered, clearly marked merchandise presentations that are easy to shop, which Caplan considers an outstanding quality at all five retailers she listed.

During the past 10 years, consumers ages 50 and up have become an increasingly diverse and better-educated group than their predecessors, with 51 percent of the group now in the work force, up from 39 percent in 1994; 41 percent working full time, up from 28 percent 10 years ago, and 24 percent having one or more college degrees, up from 19 percent, based on Yankelovich research. And as a result of their rising educational and employment levels, the group is placing a growing emphasis on services that create a better shopping experience, when deciding where to shop for apparel, among other things.Those services include such considerations as:

  • Being treated with respect, cited by 72 percent of those Yankelovich surveyed, up from 64 percent in 1994.
  • The presence of knowledgeable salespeople, named by 61 percent, compared with 46 percent 10 years ago.
  • The offer of a pleasant atmosphere, valued by 57 percent against 45 percent.
  • Prices that can be trusted, identified by 54 percent versus 47 percent.

When it comes to basic services, like a fair return policy, convenient parking and a delivery option, the expectations of the 50-plus shopper have remained much the same as they were in 1994.

The bottom line is consumers 50 and older today form a more lucrative market than they did just 10 years ago — and with a Baby Boomer turning 50 every eight seconds, the Yankelovich findings indicate apparel marketers hoping to capture a significant share of the fiftysomething sector ought to enhance the services they provide.

— V.S.

By The Numbers
The 50-Plus Consumer
Share of 50+ Consumers
Working full-time
College degree or more
Mean age
NA: not available. Source: Yankelovich Inc.
More than half of 50-plus adults are employed and roughly one-quarter of the group holds at least one college degree, making them savvier and more affluent shoppers than they were 10 years ago.

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