Underserved Shoppers: Stores Overlook Petites, Plus Sizes and Boomers

In today’s increasingly competitive and volatile marketplace, retailing’s oldest cliché, “know your customer,” has never been...

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The renewed fight for the mature woman’s attention could lead to an eventually saturated sector. But retailers setting their sights on the over-35 market won’t get anywhere unless they can clearly identify the needs of their finicky core consumers.

As if that won’t be challenging enough, consumers of all income brackets are increasingly looking at the complete shopping experience as a gauge of their overall happiness, said Pam Danziger, president of Stevens, Pa.-based Unity Marketing and author of the book, “Why People Buy Things They Don’t Need” (Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2004). In other words, they don’t find happiness based solely on what they’ve just purchased.

“For retailers…it’s all about selling things. But if people are saying, ‘I’m not into things anymore, I want experiences,’ that really has significant, far-reaching effects. It’s a paradigm shift because it means retailers have to become an experience,” Danziger said in an interview.

So, in addition to finding a way to make shopping more of an experience, retailers need to stay on track with fashion trends that make customers want to beat their friends to the store. The challenges are varied: Identify target customers, anticipate their future wants and provide a psychologically pleasing environment.

Defining — and Growing With — the Core Shopper

There are several things retailers can do to “take the pulse” of customers and help them narrow down who represents their core consumers, said Kristin Bentz, an analyst at Kinney + Kinsella, a New York marketing and creative services firm. “It’s about maintaining a closeness and putting yourself into her life. What is my customer doing right now? It’s looking at how she lives — what does she eat, drink?”

Talbots Inc., for one, tests new concepts in a small number of stores for sell-through and customer response before rolling them out to the rest of the 1,000-store fleet. Most recently, the company hopped on the denim bandwagon and this year rolled out new jean fits. “We replaced the old jean altogether with three new jean styles and more updated lightweight denim fabric in a classic, flare and boot cut,” said spokeswoman Margery Myers, adding it’s been a significant success.
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