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The Young and Active Shopper

With a taste for unique style, young shoppers have become the most active segment of male apparel consumers.

With a taste for unique style, young shoppers have become the most active segment of male apparel consumers.

If the term “Shop till you drop” conjures up images of giggling gaggles of teenage girls, it may be time to reconsider the gender in question. While former generations of young men shunned the idea of being clotheshorses, today’s teens and young adults are avid apparel consumers who actually like to shop, and do it often. According to DNR’s exclusive survey, conducted by the Global Strategy Group, a striking 71 percent of “Gen Y” men—a consumer group made up of 18- to 24-year-olds—claim they “enjoy shopping,” and 53 percent hit stores monthly to update their wardrobes. 

Fifty-four percent of Gen Y consumers consider themselves either “extremely interested” or “very interested” in fashion, while the rest of the men’s market registers at just 42 percent. With that overwhelming affection for apparel consumption, Gen Y has become the most active segment of male shoppers, topping even the affluent luxury consumer. 

“For the Gen Y customer, it’s cool to talk about clothes, and talk about what your image and personal style are,” observes Kevin Shoener, DMM of young men’s at Macy’s West. “Clothes used to just be ‘stuff.’ But now clothes are part of young men’s personal identities.” 

In contrast to most male consumers who shop out of need, Gen Y guys place the largest priority on enhancing their look. In fact, 65 percent of Gen Y men in the DNR survey say that “finding clothes that make me look good” is the best thing about shopping—more than 10 percent higher than men overall.

The result, say many retailers, is a male consumer with a greater need for fresh apparel in the store on a regular basis. To that point, the survey found that 71 percent of Gen Y respondents wanted new items during each store visit, versus 61 percent of the overall male shopping population. 

“No disrespect to these guys, but [Gen Y] shops more like ladies than any other generation has before,” says Antonio Gray, the men’s buyer for DTLR, a 65-store streetwear chain. In recent years, he says, young men have developed a predilection for shoes, a heightened interest in accessories and an increased awareness of global trends. “They come in the store looking for newness much more often than they used to. A good item used to be able to last for four seasons [in the store]. Now we need something new every season to keep guys’ interest.” 

In the age of limited-edition product runs and exclusive collaborations, it’s no surprise that stores that can provide hard-to-find apparel and accessories attract more young male shoppers. More than 70 percent of Gen Y consumers in the DNR survey say they want to find unique or exclusive merchandise during each store or online visit, and 83 percent of Gen Y consumers say they are willing to pay full price if they really want something. Shoes and jeans topped Gen Y guys’ lists of splurge-worthy items, while neckties and bags registered lowest on the must-buy scale. 

“Gen Y is buy now, wear now,” says Haim Kedmi, owner of New York City’s venerable Soho streetwear boutique Michael K. “If they see something they like, and they have the money for it, they buy it.” And, adds DTLR’s Gray, “they’ll wait on line for it.” 

The streetwear shopper is not the only consumer looking for new and unique items, though. Dave Rosenberger, vice-president and national sales manager for surf giant Quiksilver’s young men’s business, says his company is moving from a three-season offering into a four-season collection, which will include a fresh capsule for summer selling. “This demographic is excited about shopping and wants to see fresh product that addresses trends quickly,” he explains. 

Even as the economy faces challenges, DNR’s study found that young men are hardly curbing their spending. Although 79 percent of Gen Y respondents consider the economy to be in a recession, 78 percent say they are spending the same amount, or more, on apparel and accessories than they did one year ago. “My customer is not really looking for a deal,” says Macy’s West’s Shoener. “If the product is special or unique, he’s willing to pay the price.”