In the world of a Millennial, everyday is Throwback Thursday. In the face of limited job opportunities, challenging housing markets and widening student loan debts, the Millennial set is turning away from the unstable present and referring to the happy-go-lucky, recent past.
So as the Nineties trend booms — an age of opulence and identity differentiation — analysts are urging retailers to take notice as the trend is informing Millennial apparel purchases as well as entertainment selection. And keying into this mind-set now could help boost sales this holiday season.
From an operational perspective, the back half of 2016 is trending to be a positive one. Retailers have struck a balance between inventory levels and sales projections. Dana Telsey, chief executive officer and chief research officer of Telsey Advisory Group said she was “pleasantly surprised at the operational discipline displayed by many of the companies within our apparel and department store coverage universe” following second-quarter results. Telsey noted the continued strength of denim as a trend that will help retailers in the second half.
Denim is a sweet spot for the Millennial group. As trends swing towards Nineties Americana, brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein are setting the tone in the apparel segment. Authenticity is a must to the demographic — they’re willing to research the origin of a trend and not only re-create it, but uncover vintage options via their many e-commerce shopping apps.
It’s not just in their closets that this flashback can be found. Look to Viacom’s overhaul of VH1 Classics to MTV Classic. The new-old channel launched with the original hour of programming that MTV debuted in 1981. MTV Classic now shows Nineties and early Aughts programs such as “Daria” and “Beavis and Butthead” in addition to playing music videos of the era. Retail analysts noted that department stores might take some cues from the more successful specialty apparel players who are tapping into the demographic’s brain space for a more strategic approach.
American Eagle and Urban Outfitters, for example, have taken note of what their shoppers want. Jane Hali of Jane Hali & Associates, a research firm in the consumer discretionary space, said specialty retailers are “listening to their consumers. They want comfort. American Eagle went from two-way stretch to four-way stretch, which is even more comfort. If you’re talking about the Millennials, you’re talking about comfort.” Comfort is key, but listening might be better.
The most important lesson for department stores gearing up for holiday? According to Hali, “With department stores they have so much merchandise they have to edit their assortment and make statements similar to what the specialty stores are doing.” Narrowing options while merchandising selections in line with Millennials’ tastes will resonate well.
Amorphous clothing and muted gender styling, common comfort-choices among Millennials, might be the driving factor behind the rise of subliminal logos in the handbag sector. The product has fallen over the last seasons but is showing recent improvements, according to Hali. Shape, color and textiles provide branding opportunities — the demographic is less concerned with logos and names as it is with the sentiment and life cycle of the merchandise.
Looking at accessories, the watch segment is struggling, but changes could be on the horizon with fresh updates as the holiday season approaches. Multifunction accessories might be the way to reach the tech-savvy set. “I’ve been looking into smartwatches as a way to approach holiday,” said Hali.
While Millennials might be stressed about finding their next job, it won’t keep them from scooping up accessible items belonging to luxury brands albeit with understated messaging. Achievable luxury at entry-level price points will serve well for holiday revenues. Hali said, “Fine jewelry is doing a little better. Look at any type of jewelry with gold plating.”
Generally opportunities for increased revenue channels abound for holiday. Chris Christopher, director of consumer economics at IHS Global Insight, said in a research note last week that “holiday retail sales are looking significantly stronger this year compared to last year’s showing. As consumer confidence picks up in the fourth quarter, this will add an extra boost to discretionary consumer spending.” Discovering touch-points with this influential and nostalgic demographic will be instrumental.