Professional Jeweler Archive: Lost: A Generation Of Shoppers

April 2001


Lost: A Generation Of Shoppers

Give older women the respect they deserve. It pays

They spent $14.7 billion on apparel in 1999 and number 32 million strong, so you’d think retailers would like to be friends with women age 60 and up.

Nope. Older women apparently project a bad image for an industry that has long focused on youth. More so than ever, retailers prefer 25-34-year-old customers with no more money – and often less – to spend than their elders. It’s worth noting older women’s apparel budgets grew 12% in 1998 while younger women’s grew only 0.1%.

According to The New York Times, Celine, Bottega Veneta and Yves Saint Laurent are among numerous merchants that have dumped strategies that once appealed to well-heeled older women. Macy’s, once a mainstay for classic suits, blouses and dresses cut for mature figures, has reduced such offerings while pushing skin-baring looks best suited to 20-somethings.

Fashion’s false assumption that older women aren’t major consumers is surprisingly durable in the face of facts, says Candace Corlett of WSL Strategic Retail, a consulting company in New York City. “For women of retirement age, going on a browsing spree is a major pastime,” says Corlett. “But the big shopping venues – the department stores and the malls – don’t present a lot of impulse opportunities for older women.”

Statistics show U.S. women are remaining in the work force longer, returning to school in significant numbers and traveling more than previous generations. They also contribute significantly to surges in cosmetic surgery and gym enrollments. “Older women see themselves generally as about 10 years younger than their chronological age,” says David Demko, a West Palm Beach, FL-gerontologist and publisher of a retirees’ Web site where only women’s health topics get higher readership than fashion columns. “[They] tend to use fashion as a personality cosmetic, telling themselves ‘I’m going to go out and dress in a way that represents the way I feel.’”

While jewelers are better accustomed to serving older, wealthy female customers, there are still a few stereotypes you should watch for. Don’t assume an older woman wants only conservative jewelry. Treat her impulse purchase the same way you would a younger woman’s – she’s probably still buying to enhance her looks or to feel better about herself.

And consider the cautionary tale of Talbot’s. The upscale women’s clothier switched from classic to 20-something designs a few years ago to attract younger customers. The experiment failed miserably, and now Talbot’s is back on track with updated classics and its traditional customers back in the fold.

– by Mark E. Dixon

Older women still want to be fashionable, like actress Angela Lansbury, who recently modeled this sleek Armani ensemble for a fashion story in The New York Times magazine. Note she’s wearing jewelry too.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications