Retailers have it wrong when they focus just on age as the key demographic in targeting consumers when it comes to apparel purchases.

A study conducted jointly by global strategy and management consulting firm A.T. Kearney and market research firm The NPD Group concluded that there are opportunities across all generations, as well as other attributes that are relevant purchase drivers within each group.

While Millennials — the 83.1 million adults between 18 to 34, representing 38 percent of total spending in U.S. apparel sales — do surpass other generations in terms of the sheer volume of items purchased in key apparel categories, NPD chief industry analyst Marshal Cohen said within the Millennial generation, the one thing “many retailers fail to understand is that not all Millennials are created equal. Depending on lifestyle and life stage, Millennials could be more — or less — likely to buy your brand.”

The study also found that in apparel purchases among three generations of shoppers — Millennials, Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers — age is just one factor to consider as life stage, lifestyle and attitude toward fashion can be equally important considerations.

The report focused on four categories: jeans, dresses, activewear and bras. Helen Rhim, a principal in the consumer and retail practice of A.T. Kearney, said these four represented the most commonly purchased categories: jeans and activewear for men and women, and dresses and bras for women.

She said, generally, there wasn’t any “significant” difference between men and women within any group, although the attributes of life stage and lifestyle impacted the shopping behavior across all generational groups. And those who consider themselves fashionistas shopped for all brands, not just high fashion. Further, within Millennials there was another data point: Single Millennials tend to be heavier purchasers of apparel than married Millennials, and Millennials with children are more likely to be heavier purchasers of jeans and activewear than dresses and bras.

“Retailers and apparel brands really to need to look at a multidimensional approach to targeting their consumers,” Rhim said.

Although the $12.3 billion U.S. market for men’s and women’s denim slipped 4 percent over the past three years, 40 percent of sales were to Gen-Xers, 34 percent to Millennials and 26 percent to Boomers. Within the generational groups, 18 percent of Millennials are heavy purchasers, compared with 10 percent of Gen-Xers and 8 percent of Boomers. And fashion forward shoppers are 2.2 times more likely to be heavy purchasers of jeans compared with their traditional fashion peers.

In activewear, a $40.7 billion market in the U.S., sales to Millennials and Gen-Xers were about the same, 40 percent and 39 percent, respectively, with sales to Boomers at 21 percent.

In the $11 billion dress market in the U.S., Gen-Xers and Millennials each account for 37 percent of dress sales, while Boomers accounted for the additional 26 percent. Millennials tend to buy more dresses than other generations, but it is the single Millennial without kids who buys significantly more dresses than Gen-Xers and Boomers. Across the generations, active women bought more dresses than sedentary women, and those who say they have a fashion sense are the most prolific purchasers of the category.

In the U.S. bra category, a $6.2 billion business, Gen-Xers represented 39 percent of sales, followed by Millennials at 37 percent and Boomers at 24 percent. Within Gen-X, those with an active lifestyle bought more bras than their sedentary counterpart, but in the Boomer generation, those that are less active bought more bras than their more active sisters. Across all three generations, those who considered themselves fashionable were the most prolific buyers of bras.

The study concluded that knowing a shopper’s life stage, fashion attitude and whether or not the individual has an active lifestyle could improve how brands and retailers connect with consumers across generations.

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