Bras For Boomers -- And Other Lessons In Retail
I have to admit that I never thought I’d be writing a blog about bras -- but I never thought that bra-selling would offer some of the most interesting innovations in retail – and in selling to Boomer women in particular.
Digital Innovation in Bra Selling
Just as I never expected to be writing articles about bras, I’ll bet that the organizers of All Things D, one of the leading national tech conferences, never expected that two bra-preneurs (my term – sorry) would be speaking at their annual event. But that happened last week when Michelle Lam and Aarthi Ramamurthy, the co-founders of True & Co., spoke about their venture-backed company and its innovative approach to a very old industry.
Part Zappos, part Columbia Record Club, True & Co. asks visitors to answer about 15 questions about their breasts and the types of bras they usually wear. The site then makes a custom recommendation, the customer chooses three styles to try, and the site chooses two for her. She then has a week to try all five bras and return the ones she doesn’t like.
While Lam and Ramamurthy don’t target their site to Boomers, I can assure them that they should be embracing them (and may want to add models of different ages), since women over 50 generally hate the bricks-and-mortar retail experience, especially when it comes to buying intimate apparel like underwear and bathing suits. True & Co. doesn’t just ease frustration in a category that has not satisfied women in most department or specialty stores; it also solves a truth acknowledged by bra experts everywhere: most women actually don’t wear bras that fit them correctly.
Until now, the most innovative solution to buying underwear online was introduced by another female entrepreneur. Baby Boomer Tomima Edmark created Herroom.com as a place where women could buy bras and other intimate apparel surrounded by women with bodies like their own. Herroom asks its customers not only to review its products but also to share information about their own age, sizing and bodies.
Buying Bras in Stores
It’s been a banner year for bra innovators to speak at major conferences. At last month’s M2W (the premier conference on marketing to women), I met another inspiring Boomer woman, Susan Nethero, who turned her own frustration with shopping for bras into a chain of retail stores, Intimacy (you can find them online at myintimacy.com, that offer the kind of old-fashioned and personalized service that calls to mind a family doctor, or custom tailor.
In doing so, Nethero has turned herself into a kind of bra-celebrity, now known as the “Bra Whisperer.” An evangelist for the wonders of the perfectly fitted bra, with seams and curves placed by European craftspeople just where each unique pair of breasts wants them, Nethero recognizes that women who feel good about their breasts are far more likely to feel good about themselves. Women (many of them Boomer women who feel comfortable making appointments for custom-sizing at Intimacy stores) agree. Intimacy’s thousands of testimonials reveal lots of women over 50 who are hungry for the kind of healing, empowering role that retail can play in shoppers’ lives – but one that most of these women haven’t experienced since they were young.
Larger Lessons for Retail
What do these bra-sellers tell us about marketing to Boomer women? Both Intimacy and True & Co. serve as models for their respective format. Boomer women will buy a lot of products online if you make the experience not just convenient but personal; the internet also offers an ongoing role in their lives. True & Co. hopes to keep sending its customers new bras (and other products) for years. And Susan Nethero’s Intimacy stores remind us that traditional retail can still work, if retailers invest in giving Boomer women the kind of attention they seek.
So take your pick between bricks-and-mortar or online retail. But recognize what makes each format different and invest in whatever allows each of them to serve all customers, including Baby Boomers (and their husbands), as well as these two retailers do.