Personal shopping

Fashion companies targeting the 35-and-over female demographic are finding that developing relationships with customers is key to success in a competitive sector.

Fashion companies targeting the 35-and-over female demographic are finding that developing relationships with customers is key to success in a competitive sector.

The secret to success for any retailer - but perhaps even more so in the fashion industry - is developing a formula that will keep your customers coming back. This is particularly true for the crop of clothing stores that cater to women in the 35- to 60-year-old age range.

For Coldwater Creek, that formula involves something simple, says David Gunter, divisional VP of corporate communications and IR: knowing its customer.

"We do know her very well because we have had such a long relationship with her," explains Gunter. "The Coldwater Creek customer is well-educated, very involved in her community, and she has a high level of discretionary income. For the most part, the children are generally out of the nest and most of these women have careers. Our approach to PR, as always, is predicated on a consistent and very positive relationship with this demographic."

That knowledge has helped Coldwater Creek in its evolution from a catalog-only brand seven years ago to a storefront brand with more than 230 locations nationwide and plans of further expansion.

Similarly, 60-year-old Talbot's has grown successful enough to also acquire the J.Jill brand; the combined brands boast more than 1300 stores throughout the US.

The over-35 market has seen a surge in spending in recent years, allowing for single-brand retailers who serve this group to expand and department stores to thrive after a long lull in sales.

"There is an enormous amount of interest in this woman right now," says Gunter. "Not surprisingly, she is one of the most affluent consumers out there today."

According to Jennifer Cohan, MD of GolinHarris New York, this is partly due to the aging population of baby boomers who have always directed the next hot spot for the market. So as the eldest of the boomers turn 60, the retail market is increasingly accommodating this group and its disposable income.

"Women 35-plus, emphasizing the older segment of that group, are really starting to recognize their own vibrancy and are really being recognized for [that] in everything from the media to clothing. And they are being rewarded for it," says Cohan. "These women used to be seen as past their style prime once they got hippier and a little lumpier, but that's not the case anymore."

And while appearance concerns this demographic, it is not the only factor in its buying decisions.

"Women in this age group tend to pay attention to brands that feel authentic to them and support things that they believe in," says Kelley Skoloda, partner and director of the global brand marketing practice at Ketchum. "Brands that are genuine in their support of particular causes make that brand resonate with this particular woman. Breast cancer is a big one. Many women in the 35-plus age group have known someone who has had it. This is very personal to them."

It is not surprising then that Coldwater Creek is a national sponsor of the annual Race for the Cure run by Susan G. Komen for the Cure (formerly known as the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation).

Skoloda adds that causes surrounding education reverberate with this group because many of them are moms.

This idea is behind Talbot's Charitable Foundation's college fund, designed for women who are going back to school later in life, says Betsy Thompson, director of PR for Talbot's Inc. "We recognize that there are few scholarships for women like that," she says.

The company also supports a number of women's and children's charities, including Dress for Success, the United Way, and the Komen Foundation. Thompson says maintaining that support on a local level is a key goal.

"For us, it's very important [to support groups] at the local level," she adds. "We view our stores as being the local store [where] our customer feels at home."

Customer service is also important to this demographic. "She feels forgotten in department stores," says CRT/tanaka EVP Maria Kalligeros. "She knows what she wants and she wants service."

The right storyline

"It's really about finding the right storyline with this group," says Billy Walden, an account director at Capstrat. While many retailers have hit upon the right storyline of comfort and less trendy, yet fashionable styles to grab the attention of these women, marketers are using a variety of means to get that message out to the consumer.

"We know this woman is a heavy user of social media," says Lindsey DeWitte, account supervisor of Lee Jeans at Barkley PR. "Lee has been looking into this more. [It is] looking for online editorial opportunities at sites like iVillage. It is trying to do more product-seeding with things like MomBlogs which will be very important in the coming year."

Kalligeros says that this woman is a big reader of magazines and is still reading the newspaper. She adds that word of mouth is the most important marketing tactic to women in this age range.

Skoloda adds, "Ninety percent of the time, women in this age group look to friends and family as the most credible information source, especially in purchase situations. Experts and celebrities are [also] important to their buying decision. A trend I'm seeing in fashion, particularly, is the prominence given to the opinion of blogs."

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