Predicting the Future — Through the Eyes of Millennials
There’s been no shortage of ink spilled in writing about the Millennials and attempting to divine the true nature of this generation by analyzing their every whim, behavior, and thought in an attempt to try to understand who they are, what motivates them, and, of course, to try to uncover their leanings as consumers.
I had the opportunity to speak with a quite spectacular group of Millennials as part of our new 30 Under 30 Awards program and I asked them to share their thoughts on what they expected the apparel industry to look like in five years. Hearing from them as industry insiders vs. shoppers turned out to be every bit as interesting, if not more so.
Not surprisingly, they all pointed to digital technology and e-commerce as the driving forces behind changes to come in the industry, while at the same time noting that the pace of change was so rapid, any predictions could be rendered obsolete in a skinny minute. Tricia Young of Macy’s might have put that best when she said: “The head of MMG once reminded us that less than five years ago, Uber did not exist, and is now valued at more than $41 billion.”
That’s a crucial point. New business models are overturning traditional ways of doing business, such as Amazon’s last-mile delivery, which ProDept’s Alexandra Gitomer says “will make it even easier for customers to try and return,” or clothing rental, which she expects will not go away, “as consumers grow more accustomed to sharing their equipment, cars and homes.”
As expected, many of our 30U30 mentioned the rise of mobile as an increasingly crucial component of the shopping journey, one that opened up immense opportunities for one-to-one personalization and customization, both of product and marketing, and how this would forever change the world of retail.
Sarah Anne Spaulding of Macy’s put it well when she said, “Customization is the new standard. The brands who are winning are nailing tailored marketing messages, exceptional customer service and curated products with the individual in mind. I imagine that in five years, the connection between online and offline will be seamless. Mobile devices already house so much crucial information about shoppers’ preferences, sizes, sense of style and upcoming events; it’s just a matter of harnessing this technology to improve the shopping experience.”
Thanks to technology, consumers finally have an active voice in the apparel industry, says Nineteenth Amendment’s Amanda Curtis. “People are increasingly comfortable publicly displaying their own identity — first through social media and now through clothing.” That is evolving further, she says, to “hyper-personalization and transparency and fashion as experience, not as purely product.”
Apparel has always been a way to share with the world the identity you want it to see, but the details of that reveal have done an about-face: When it comes to apparel as expression of who you are, it’s increasingly less about wearing a certain brand or type of clothing to connect to a certain group, and more about declaring yourself as a completely unique individual. That’s coming in large part from seismic societal shifts, driven by more openness to diversity, but it’s enabled by technology, which is also partly responsible for driving the desire for endless choice.
But there’s a bit of a dark side to all of this choice, and that’s another component that may evolve in unexpected ways. I think Elizabeth Mashburn of Sid and Ann Mashburn put it best: “I worry about the constant and endless visual stimulation — it’s like creative overload all the time. If I wake up at 4:00 a.m., I can scroll through thousands and thousands of pictures on Instagram without getting out of bed, but also without feeling the sense of wonder and discovery that I think ought to accompany new imagery,” she says. “There’s a little romance in scarcity — in seeing things you haven’t seen before — and I think that without that kind of scarcity, with such a deluge of images all the time, and pressure to keep it coming, everything starts to look a bit the same. So maybe the industry will revolt against that!”
That’s a fascinating insight. For years, we’ve talked about boring sameness at retail, with department stores often selling the same brands and merchandise, with many specialty stores offering only slight variations of the same styles. But it may turn out that endless aisles will weary us as well. The attempt to create uniqueness in every facet of the industry may just be a tyranny of a different sort.
Whatever the coming years bring, it’s no doubt going to be an exciting ride, and it’s comforting to know that there are so many bright and capable minds moving the industry forward.
Jordan K. Speer is editor in chief of Apparel.
She can be reached at [email protected]