LONDON — Use it — and lose it.
Younger Millennials are treating fashion like lollipops, bottles of Evian or packs of Kleenex. Here one minute, gone the next — into the landfill, onto the scrap heap, and only sometimes into the recycling bin or the hands of a friend.
The image of the caring, sharing, environmentally aware Millennial has been tarnished by new research from Kurt Salmon, part of Accenture Strategy, that will be presented today at the World Retail Congress, which is taking place in Dubai until April 6.
Kurt Salmon surveyed 2,000 U.K. consumers, most of them 18- to 24-year-olds, to understand the current appetite for fast fashion. The global consultancy also spoke to 23 chief executive officers and senior executives at major global fashion retailers about see-now-buy-now fashion — their readiness to deliver to a variety of customers.
The report lays bare the speed with which those younger consumers in particular demand, use and discard their fashion — and advises retailers on how to respond.
Dan Murphy, managing director and partner at Kurt Salmon, said he never really bought into the ethical spin around Millennials, and was not surprised at what the research revealed.
More than half of the 18- to 24-year-olds surveyed didn’t keep their clothes for very long, or believe in their intrinsic value: 16 percent admitted to throwing them away when they were finished; 21 percent gave them to friends, and 15 percent forgot about them in the closet.
Murphy said he believes concern for the environment, ethical working conditions and transparent supply chain might just be something consumers like talking about, rather than demanding from the brands they wear.
“When it comes down to it, what they’re really interested in is the price, quality and fashionability. If they get those, and they can a dress for less than 20 pounds, that’s job done. I think disposability is becoming a really big problem,” said Murphy during a telephone interview before the conference.
Young shoppers’ attitudes are, not surprisingly, dictated by social media — from influencers and celebrities, to street fashion and the catwalks. They want what they see immediately so they can show it off on Instagram and Snapchat, hence the demand for constant newness and quick deliveries.
The Kurt Salmon research said more than a third of 18- to 24-year-olds will buy a fashion item at least once every two weeks, while 13 percent will buy something every week.
Once they’ve identified an item they like, 51 percent will buy it the same day, while 84 percent will do so within a week. They don the new garments immediately, and tire of them just as quickly.
More than half of the 18- to 24-year-olds keep them for less than a year, while a quarter of those shoppers hold onto them for less than six months before discarding them.
Murphy said that in the old days, young women used to buy a T-shirt, a pair of jeans or a dress for a party, and then wear it again in three or four or five weeks’ time. “Today you won’t because you send the photograph of yourself in that dress to every single person in the world that you know.”
Speed of delivery is also key for younger shoppers: The research showed that one in five 18- to 20-year-olds want same-day delivery and a further 13 percent want delivery in less than half a day.
All of those demands are putting added pressure on retailers, who are caught between wanting to satisfy customers, keeping their supply chains lean and clean — and turning a profit. It’s also forcing designers and brands to tinker with instant fashion formats — with mixed results.
As reported, many brands and designers are non-committal about their plans to pursue a see-now-buy-now model, waiting to see how it washes with the customer. The strategy appears to be working more for the lower end of the market than for the higher end.
Murphy said that while many retailers have been working hard to reduce lead times, speed is only one piece of the success puzzle. He said they need to pinpoint which items are selling in real time “and be in a position where they can act quickly.”
They do not have to panic — or reinvent retail, he added.
“You don’t have to rebuild the entire business operating model, you just have to rebuild the bit of it that allows you to supply the [most time-sensitive] customers, and not even everything they buy has to be delivered tomorrow. If they go to buy jeans or T-shirts, they don’t need those items tomorrow. It’s when they buy special dress,” that retailers need to deliver right away, he said.
He said retailers can tend to attack the problem of lead times and deliveries with a blunt weapon, thinking: “’Oh fast fashion! We’ve got to change the entire business operating model so that everything can be delivered in four minutes.’ That’s crazy, and they will explode if they do that.”
He said a detailed understanding of the customer is key — as is the role of the brick-and-mortar store.
“There’s no excuse today. We have the data of our customers. We understand their behaviors, we have a huge amount of insight, and yet retailers aren’t really looking at it because — in the main — they are still mostly instinctive and gut-driven. Every retailer needs to become data driven,” he said.
The physical store, he believes, is an indispensable pillar of any traditional retailer’s strategy. “Retailers need to have a really careful think about what is ‘the store.’ What’s the role of the store manager? How do we engage customers in the physical store? I think that is a whole huge topic that retailers just haven’t got their head around.”
Murphy, like some retailers, believes online sales are driven “by an experience that your customers had in that store. It isn’t just about hanging products on rails and selling them. It’s about engaging with your customers in the physical space, and then they may buy from you in the virtual digital space.”
He’s not the only proponent of the store-as-marketing-space. Matchesfashion.com ceo Ulric Jerome has repeatedly said that while the brick-and-mortar store can only hold a small amount of merchandise it remains a big part of the retail experience, and a driver of sales online.
Murphy said managers need to think differently about what retail actually is, what’s it for, and about changing consumer habits. Today’s customers — especially today’s younger customers — have a completely different way of shopping and engaging with brands, he said.
“Until retailers can actually come to terms with that, they can tinker about with their supply chains all they want, but they are still fundamentally doing everything wrong. It comes down to mind-set.”