When Elliot Staples joined women’s contemporary clothing brand J.Jill as svp of design and creative marketing three years ago, he became part of a company that had a remarkably loyal audience. The average J.Jill customer has shopped the brand for more than 10 years, according to the brand.
J.Jill’s target audience is also a bit older than that of comparable brands, centered on 45- to 60-year-olds. According to Staples, despite being an influential force in fashion, women in this age group are surprisingly underserved by much of designer fashion, which often feels like it’s designed exclusively for women in their 20s.
But women in the 45-60 age group make up the largest demographic of incomes over $100,000. Targeting this demographic through marketing catapulted J.Jill’s third-quarter 2021 revenue by 30% to 151.7 million, up from $117.2 million in 2020. Learning how to properly cater to these consumers, as J.Jill has done, can be incredibly valuable, Staples said.
“The biggest difference is that our customer is interested in quality more than trends,” Staples said. “So in our marketing, we focus a lot more on the fabrics, the construction and the versatility of the clothes, rather than chasing trends.”
For example, one of J.Jill’s social ads shows the same sweater being worn in two scenarios, professional and casual.
Staples said younger consumers often gravitate to fast fashion because it’s cheaper and allows them to keep up with rapidly changing trends. Older customers, generally, have more disposable income and are also less likely to follow trends. At the same time, trends aren’t completely absent from their wardrobes, and brands targeting the group can’t neglect trends entirely, he said. Less than a quarter of J.Jill’s assortment is specifically trend-driven, but the core products are updated regularly with new details, like stitching or colors, that fit with current trends. Sales between online and in-store for J.Jill are split roughly equally.
“One big change I’ve put in place is making the transition from season to season more fluid,” Staples said. “Because our customer does want newness, and she’s not totally disinterested in trends, we started doing smaller weekly or monthly deliveries of new product, rather than infrequently replacing a previous collection with a new one. Because of that, the seasons kind of flow into each other.”
Staples said that, despite what you may expect, older consumers are active on social media, and reaching them through Instagram has been effective, via paid ads. This is backed up by data from Statista on Instagram’s usage, which shows more than 50% penetration among women over 45.
The online savviness of older consumers brought on by the rise of e-commerce during the pandemic, means that many of the same channels are still effective in targeting them.
Sarah LaFleur, founder of M.M.LaFleur, said she’s seen older generations widely embrace e-commerce over the course of 2021.
“Convenience has been established for everyone,” LaFleur said. “We’ve seen all generations go online and stay there. Baby boomers were the fastest-growing age group online for us last year.”
So while the channels are similar, it’s the messaging brands need to adjust to capture this segment, Staples said.
“Our customer is very intentional and knows what she wants,” he said. “She has an expectation in quality. She’s looking for things that are long-lasting and functional, while still modern. So it’s really just a matter of following her to where she is.”