Consumers are becoming more emotional about clothes — and it’s bad news for Macy’s, Kohl’s, and JCPenney

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Consumers are looking for a deeper commitment when it comes to clothes, and that could be bad news for middle-of-the-road retailers.

“I think people are less interested in disposable apparel, something they buy and wear for just one season, and they’re looking to get more longevity out of their clothing,” Robert Solis of “The Refined Gent” told retail blog The Robin Report.

“People don’t mind spending extra money on something that’s like an investment piece that will stay with them, won’t go out of style and can be worn for several seasons,” he said.

As further proof, The Robin Report points to Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor Survey, which asked consumers their favourite pieces of clothing, and more importantly, why they liked those pieces — comfort came out on top (78%), followed by how it fit (62%), followed by how it made them feel or look (46)%, how versatile it was (39%) and how durable it was (36%), suggesting that durability is not the most important factor for consumers, but that it’s certainly getting there.

But that raises the question: how do retailers get budget-minded shoppers to spend on more expensive clothes? 

The Robin Report points to brands that have been selling the “emotional” nature of apparel, such as Brooks Brothers’ “My Brooks Brother Story” as one of multiple examples.

But make no mistake — even if consumers buy into the “emotional” nature of durable clothing, this growing trend is simply confirmation that consumers are still frugal and focused on finding the best value.

Millennials might even be spurring this change.

“I think that there’s just very big shifts in terms of [what] consumers value, particularly with the millennial generation. They tend to be more value-based in terms of their purchasing behaviour,” Liz Dunn, CEO of Talmage Advisors said to Business Insider in October.

“There are two ways to approach having a limited budget — you can either buy really cheap stuff and a lot of it or buy higher quality things and fewer of them,” she said at the time.

Further, consumers can get bangs for their bucks with tons of dispensable clothing, like at a Zara or Forever 21 — or they can get something that will last them a long time for a higher price point, like a durable winter coat.

But those two categories fall on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Brands that fall in the middle — that aren’t stimulating an “emotional” experience or providing value, whether that be excellent quality for a higher price point or lower quality for a cheap price point — have been ostensibly struggling to captivate consumers. 
Macy’s, JCPenney, Kohl’s, J. Crew, Banana Republic, and Gap have all been struggling.

As consumers spend less on apparel, it’s more important than ever for retailers to find a way to captivate shoppers — be it through attractive price points, an exciting shopping experience, or truly good clothing, the latter of, arguably, has the greatest, most long-lasting power of all.

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