It Sure Is Risky for Stores to Take Our Money

seagullsSaw an article in the business section the other day that noted that the Ann Taylor retail chain was planning a unit to focus on baby boomers. Known for their career woman offerings, Ann Taylor is more closely associated with the woman in her 30s or 40s, but is developing a casual apparel chain for the 50+ market segment. The article then went on to describe this as an “overlooked and risky market that has tripped up several competitors.”

What struck me about the article was how many loaded issues were contained in some innocent descriptions. First of all, the new unit is apparently going to offer only casual clothing. That makes sense if you think that A) baby boomers don’t hold down jobs after age 50; B) that baby boomers don’t care what they look ignition keylike any more (they are barefoot and in overalls most of the time anyway), so casual apparel is all they need; C) baby boomers are so past that looking good thing, they don’t need to dress for success; or D) all of the above.

Okay, I’m reading a lot into that casual apparel reference, but later in the article, it is noted that baby boomers are an underserved market that spends $43 billion annually on --- wait for it -- on clothing! Worth repeating -- $43 billion. That’s a lot of clothing. So we are an overlooked market but we spend $43 billiion anyway? And why is it so risky to cater to baby boomers? Just because the GAP or some other chain got it wrong shouldn’t make us a risky market segment. Show us some quality clothing with some classic fashion sense and we respond. I suspect that if Banana Republic did an age analysis of their customer base, it would find that a large number of boomers still shop there because they can find age appropriate clothing (i.e. not canvas board shorts with wild flower prints) that looks good in the store and on them. As the article mentions, wax lipsTalbots and Chicos have targeted boomers and have done quite well at it.

If baby boomers buy $43 billion worth of clothing every year, think of how much food we buy, or cars, or medical services, or books (remember, we’re the ones who still read), or airplane tickets, or movie tickets. I know it’s easy to say we are a self-centered lot, but there’s over 78 million of us and that’s a mighty powerful trump card to throw down when someone refers to us as a “risky” demographic.

We might have come into the world naked, and we may go out naked, but we still need something to wear in the meantime.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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