Are Clothes Losing Their Appeal to Millennials?

As a generation that now holds the greatest influence in consumer spending and employment, are the shopping habits of the millennials transforming the outlook of the retail industry?

Overall, the retail industry has been consistently growing for the past 20 years; however, most recently the sales of clothing, footwear and accessories from retail stores has seen an unprecedented drop. This anomaly in consumer behavior has led industry specialists to look towards millennials, defined as anyone born between 1980 and 2000, to ascertain blame.

Results from the Office for National Statistics show that the U.K.’s online spending has increased by 8.9% since March 2015, whilst store expenditure only saw an increase of 2.7%. However, both of these figures show a dramatic drop in growth of the industry compared to previous years. On top of this, since the start of 2016, these rates have been dropping steadily month by month.

“Social media and online knowledge is helping the money-conscious consumer to be both wary and clever…”

Despite many of us believing that online clothing shopping is exponentially growing, it has begun to join the rate of growth of brick-and-mortar store sales in the same product categories in decline. However, the internet is said to have another influence on the pattern of sales we have started to see in the last financial year. Social media and online knowledge is helping the money-conscious consumer to be both wary and clever in how they choose to shop.

Instead of buying items when their eyes first lay on them, they take to thoroughly searching on multiple sites and mobile applications, such as Depop and Etsy, to find a cheaper alternative. It has been said that we, the technology-savvy millennials, are most likely to conduct our shopping behavior in this manner.


The rise of promotional tactics, which are used to gain advantages over competitors in an overcrowded industry, is also considered as a factor causing the depletion of clothes buying.  End of season sales are now the finale to what appears to be a stream of offers and discounts throughout the season. Has this change in retailers’ strategies inadvertently led consumers, especially those with little disposable income, to patiently wait for their desired items to hit the sale rail?

As a cash-strapped student, I identify most with this aspect; it has become habitual for me to wait for an email from UNiDAYS or NUS, telling me that my favorite shops are offering purse-friendly promotions, before buying the clothes that I secretly dream my student loan would cover.

“…consumers are spending around one and a half times more on leisure rather than retail.”

Other factors also come into play when exploring how we, the millennial generation, are choosing to spend our money. Deloitte, the world renowned consultancy firm, has recorded that on average, consumers are spending around one and a half times more on leisure rather than retail.

With less money to spend on luxuries than other generations, are we are leading this statistic and choosing to save our money for travelling, holidays and eating out, instead of splashing out on that beautiful tan, shearling jacket gracing Topshop’s windows? I guess we can partly blame the influx of #travelgoals on Instagram for this boom in the young adult’s wanderlust.


Another factor that has been discussed is the lack of a sweeping fashion trend in the past decade, with skinny jeans being the last notable one, to force us savvy shoppers into revamping our wardrobes completely. As the most sustainability conscious generation to date, have we been the first to scrap the replenishment of clothes at the rate that current trends are revolving? A study by the Huffington Post concluded that about 70% of millennials have said they would be willing to spend more on brands that support causes.

“…people are waiting for sudden drops or rises in temperatures as an excuse to commit to that impulsive purchase”

Perhaps a slightly more unexpected suggestion as to this sudden drop in retail sales is, believe it or not, the unpredictability of the British weather. This external factor is being looked at as a way to avoid blaming a particular market sector or generation, instead suggesting that people are waiting for sudden drops or rises in temperatures as an excuse to commit to that impulsive purchase. At least we can’t be blamed for the weather!

Multiple reports from the past year show that we are having to spend much more of our money on things such as rent and cellular services than our counterparts a decade ago; therefore, we are left with much less disposable income to spend on clothes than previous generations. This leads us to question our own shopping habits: is it a combination of everything from the weather to developments in technology that is causing this serious harm to the retail industry, or can it be simply pinned on us as a generation of consumers?

Daisy Guy and Jo Grimwood

Image Credit: Herry Lawford via Flickr – License.

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