Macy’s Sets Its Sights on Millennial Customers with Three New Brand Launches

Will the new globally-inspired fashion be buzzy enough to lure twenty-somethings who have grown up shopping online and in specialty stores?

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The national department store retailer is looking to build on their just-announced first quarter gains—a healthy 20% increase in profit—by introducing three new collections aimed at the lucrative millennial market.

The first, QMack, will be created in partnership with Jones Group and targets the millennial working girl with professional pieces like blouses, cardigans and bomber jackets. (The name is a shortened version of Quincey Mack, a muse invented by the brand.) An extension of their already-established Bar III label, Bar III Carnaby will have a British bent, focusing on haberdashery with tailored separates for men.

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But the collection sure to garner the most attention in the fashion industry is Maison Jules, Macy’s answer to the popular Parisian imports Sandro and Maje. The French-influenced label is set to offer dresses and knits that exemplify easy chic, and they have tapped influential blogger Garance Doré to shoot Maison Jules’ ad campaign. Doré is a shining star among stylesetters—the thirtysomething French photog-slash-writer-slash-illustrator, along with her partner The Sartorialist creator Scott Schuman, helped to popularize street-style fashion. Renowned for her personal style, she has a devoted social media following, a fact undoubtedly not lost on Macy’s as they look to attract a new segment of the market.

QMack and Maison Jules will bow in August, with Bar III Carnaby following in September. All three lines sit squarely within the midrange price point, with pieces ranging from $18 to $299.

The retailer’s newfound focus on youth is a forward-thinking, well-intentioned approach, but is it going to work? Naysayers point to the sad saga of fellow department store JC Penney, which embarked on an ambitious revamp in 2012 to disastrous results. New store-in-store brand displays, a radical change in pricing policy that eliminated sales and coupons and noted designer collaborations (including Nanette Lepore, Joe Fresh and Marchesa) were not enough to turn around the flailing company. Weak sales prompted CEO Ron Johnson to renounce the new pricing strategy, although Penney’s still retains some of their designer partnerships. The visible turmoil culminated last month with the ouster of Johnson. Several weeks ago the company released a public apology ad in a bid to win back dissatisfied customers.

However, there is a key difference between beleaguered JC Penney and its rival Macy’s. Significantly, Macy’s new strategy seems unlikely to alienate its core (baby boomer generation) customer—these new collection launches are meant to complement existing merchandise, not compete with it. Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group, calls this “multi-tier marketing—reaching different targets with different product levels and different product age segments.” In this era of hypercustomization and emphasis on the personal, millennial consumers want to be spoken to directly. They don’t want something that feels one-size-fits-all. Cohen posits: “What happens if you’re only marketing to your core customer and the younger customer learns to shop elsewhere? Then what’s your future?”

It remains an open question if millennial shoppers will eventually gravitate to department stores with the same frequency that their parents do. Which is why, Cohen says, it’s crucial for Macy’s to reach out to a youthful target, whether it’s through partnerships with influential trendsetters like Garance Doré or creating new collections with millennials in mind. “The boomers know who these retailers are,” he points out. A progressive company knows that it must “introduce—or reintroduce—themselves to be able to gain some traction with this [millennial] customer base.”

MORE: The 5 Big Mistakes That Led to Ron Johnson’s Ouster at JC Penney

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