Clothing stores rediscover Boomers

In a recent survey by the marketing company Frank About Women of nearly 1,600 women ages 35 to 74, 48% said many retailers seem to cater to younger shoppers and ignore others. But the women's replies to two other questions show why any store's marketing approach may seem self-contradictory: 40% of women said they had no interest in clothes that make them look younger. Yet, 42% said they'd go to great lengths to look younger.

No matter how conflicted 35-plus women are about their age, Bogan warns, retailers risk driving away loyal shoppers if they neglect their desire for updated apparel each season.

Though middle-age consumers are more financially cautious right now than younger or older shoppers are, that will pass, says Wendy Liebmann, president of WSL Strategic Retail.

"Once this group has a little of the financial pressure off their backs, they're certainly willing to spend again," Liebmann says. Also, "They've got long memories. It's a big group, and you don't want to lose them."

Frank About Women's Jennifer Ganshirt says her firm's research shows shoppers tend to fall into five personality categories, ranging from "mission" shoppers to "feel-good" customers. As women age, they tend to move toward mission shopping: They want their experiences to be quick and easy, and they're willing to spend if they like the options. If not, they won't shop.

That describes Teitell, who works at home and still isn't sure she's found her solution. She sighs that even Talbots' new look isn't quite right for her.

"Maybe there's no garment that can solve my problem, so maybe I'm looking for Talbots to do too much," Teitell says. "I don't want to look young. But I do want to look youthful."

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