Most retailers are tripping over themselves to stay relevant by courting younger Millennial and Gen Z shoppers. Not Lands’ End.
As it looks to grow its customer base, Lands’ End is bucking the trend by purposely embracing the “forgotten generation,” Gen Xers.
They are the generation of consumers sandwiched between Baby Boomers, born in the years after World War II, and their children, Millennials, with the earliest born in the 1980s.
“There was a strategy at a point in time where we were going to bring in Millennials,” Lands’ End CEO Jerome Griffith, who is retiring at the end of January, said at the ICR conference last week. “It didn’t fly with our customers.”
In a rush to grab the attention of younger consumers, the retailer stumbled and made fashion missteps. Sales tumbled as its core older shoppers were put off by stylish dresses and high-heeled party shoes showing up next to the comfort clothing embraced by moms and dads.
“So we said, you know what, we have this neat generation of customers right behind baby boomers, the Gen Xers. As we go out to look for new consumers, let’s go after them,” he said.
Given that the number of Gen Z and Millennial consumers should grow to 70% of the population by 2028 vs 60% in 2021 – and they hold considerable spending power – it’s not surprising that retailers are chasing that batch of shoppers.
“While the Gen Z and Millennial cohorts are both lucrative and interesting, there is something of an obsession with them in retail and fashion that is often to the detriment of older generations,” said Neil Saunders, retail industry analyst and managing director of GlobalData.
“The truth is that more mature cohorts account for a lot of retail spending and there is a significant opportunity that is not always properly addressed,” he said.
Lands’ End, a 60-year-old brand based in Dodgeville, Wisconsin is best known for its classic enduring casual clothing – fleece jackets, coats, pullovers, T-shirts, chinos and pajamas – that’s designed more for comfort than for being on trend. It sells its products through mail order, online, in store and through third party marketplaces such as Amazon
(AMZN) and Kohl’s
But the company says it knows who its core customers are.
“She’s the baby boomer, mid 50’s, lives in the suburbs, works, is frugal, has a household income well over $100,000 a year and has or had children at home,” said Griffith.
About six years ago, the database of its core shoppers, who typically stayed with the brand for 18 years, was shrinking. “We were losing customers,” he said.
“It’s quite rare in retailing to have a customer stay with your brand for that long,” said Andrew McLean, the company’s incoming CEO.
Griffith said the company tried to skew younger. “What you want to do as a retailer is to either have your customer base stay at the same age or bring in younger people,” he said. Skewing younger didn’t work, he said.
But going the other way in the age demographic did.
“When we look for new customers, we really look at their buying habits and where they shop,” said Griffith. “It’s why we’ve expanded into Amazon and Kohl’s and Target. These new customers come in through these marketplaces,”
He said 75% of new customers that found the brand in third-party marketplaces had “either never shopped at Lands’ End or are lapsed customers and haven’t shopped at Lands’ End for five years.”
“So we’re bringing in a new customer that is actually the same customer, but 10 years younger. They’re Gen Xers,” he said, adding that Gen X shoppers showed the same long-term loyalty to the brand as Baby Boomers.
Saunders said Gen X is a good match for Lands’ End “because their brand is much more attuned to that generation….It’s not the most trendy, but neither is it unfashionable. And there are a lot of practical, but stylish, pieces that are suitable for the lifestyles many Gen Xers now lead.”
“I would be more worried if Land’s End said it was going to reinvent itself as a younger brand than it saying it is focusing on what should be its core market,” said Saunders.