“The lost generation Y” for department stores?

I have taught a college-level class on retailing management and strategy for the past four years, and I can attest to the fact that the Gen Y age group is not shopping in most department stores — if my classroom “sample polling” is any indication. The primary driver is merchandise content: Most traditional department stores do not cater to the Gen Y customer in a meaningful way with relevant product.

Macy’s has probably done the best job reaching out to this customer, but not always in an affordable way — the Gen Y consumer is at least as budget-challenged as her parents. And the other department store competition (at least in this market, Milwaukee) is filled with “exclusive brands” heavily targeted to Boomers (e.g., Liz Claiborne at JCPenney, Breckenridge at Bon Ton Stores).

There is little question in my mind that other types of retailers — specialty apparel stores, off-pricers like TJMaxx, e-commerce sites — are providing the kind of relevance and execution that departments stores lack today.

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