A less ageist future for private label brands
Sophie Maxwell, Futures Director
Retailers are required to be generalists. To survive, they need to have something for everyone. But hidden under this façade of democracy is usually a hidden bias – with demographic targeting at the core of the business model. Private label has currently been riding high on the growing success of own label baby and kids ranges and we have also recently seen the tween sector come under its spotlight. But, with one third of the U.S. population occupying the over 50 bracket by next year, what are retailers doing to attract such a potentially huge sector of the market?
This consumer group may have made up a negligible part of the consumer demographic in past years, but they are now stepping up and raising their expectations with changing taste, style, aspirations and spending power. Studies also suggest that the older population is not necessarily just attracted to the older – more well-known and named – brands. There have been a few retail initiatives designed to attract this group – the Mary Portas over 40 Collection for House of Fraser in the UK– but for everything from fashion to furniture, from health to home hygiene, retailers should be finding ways to realise this new commercial opportunity.
Let’s take a look at just one of our best-loved and most successful private labels. By making style available and affordable for everyone, Ikea is seen as the essence of democracy. But is it truly? Because while we’re sold on the fact that Ikea successfully targets young and family demographics we also feel it is failing to grow up – and more importantly grow old – with us and our maturing taste and bank balances.
We looked at the issue of ageing as part of our recent Body Mode study (a study which examines how the future body will look, feel and function) and, using this observation as inspiration and Ikea as our case study, we envisioned an extension of their private label to answer the opportunity it presents: a new designer’s guild called Kith.
A celebration of the wisdom, self-assurance and desire for fresh expression that comes with a new stage of life, Kith is a hub of seasoned creativity where things are designed freely and to the creator’s personal taste, for the homes of those who now have the time and inclination to sprawl, adapt or simply act. Modelled on a love-seat, we created the concept of a Kith chair to celebrate the increase in space and the changing relationships that you have during your later stages of life. Designed for a grandparent and grandchild, Kith accommodates and enhances the interaction between the two. The grooves of each seat follow the same pattern as the concentric age lines of a tree, with less grooves on the small seat and more on the big seat (a perfect analogy of the different stages of life and experience).
We hope that by raising this issue, and with the design of concepts and new proposals, Ikea and other private label retailers will be inspired to reconsider their offer. Single-minded democracy is no longer the order of the day. Creating and designing for the individual but on a mass level is a very real consideration – and one that couldn’t be more prescient as the design savvy Boomers come of age. Brands and retailers should be designing for this captive, affluent and discerning market by celebrating the freedom, expression and wisdom found in this new stage of life with the creation of aesthetics that feel fresh, yet are signed by experience.
Designing for this demographic is, understandably, a hard one to get right. It’s not about compartmentalising by age – even if we want our specific needs met no one wants to be overtly targeted in that way – but neither is it necessarily about the ageless or more democratic offer. There will always be design classics that will appeal to any age – the Eames chair, the Burberry Trench…but there is also the opportunity to design well and with specificity – and inspire rather than irritate.
With the over 50’s having maybe another 30-40 years of active consumerism, the silver dollar has just as much power to change consumer culture as that of Gen Z. With brand design also a progressive force for cultural change, brands and retailers need to start feeling the true value of time – appreciating rather than depreciating this hugely significant and pivotal audience – and looking for new ways to extend their shelf life in line with an evolving consumer.
Originally published on My Private Brand