Millennials, Yoga Pants, and the Future of Retail

US consumers spent slightly more in fashion for 2014, but increases were driven by athleisure brands like Nike, Under Armour, and Lululemon. NPD reports that the athleisure trend is heavily influenced by millennials, who have embraced the appearance of a more casual, active lifestyle.

Business Insider said this week that the biggest problem traditional retailers face today is millennials. The millennial fashion phenomenon of wearing gym clothes all day long is causing traditional retailers to suffer. Millennials get a lot of flack. They’re in debt. They don’t want to own homes. They don’t want to wear anything but yoga pants. It’s not surprising that millennials are the most misunderstood generation.

But maybe the answer to why athleisure apparel is getting a huge boost in revenue might be less about millennials insisting on comfortable fashion and more about the practicalities that come with making the majority of their purchases online.

The truth is, athleisure is easy to purchase for a few simple reasons: the material tends to be the similar across brands, and the sizing is forgiving due to all the lycra and spandex. When it comes to athleisure, a millennial consumer knows exactly what to expect when loading up the online shopping cart. It’s not a surprise that the trend of comfortable clothing goes hand in hand with how difficult it can sometimes be to shop online for clothes.

I’m a millennial, and I do almost all of my shopping online. I think twice before purchasing from a new brand because not every e-retailer offers free returns. Sizes aren’t the same across retailers, and fit is probably my number one concern. It’s not easy purchasing a new pair of jeans or a nice blouse online. Yoga pants and running tops are a much easier solution that happens to be currently trendy.

Athleisure is not the end of traditional retailers. In fact, retailers can learn from non-athleisure brands that are successfully catering to millennials online.

The vintage themed e-tailer Modcloth makes it easy to see how an item would fit all body types by building a community of ModCloth customers who share their opinions. Customers can leave detailed reviews, ask customer service experts about fit, and add photos of themselves wearing the clothing. Modcloth also features videos that show how clothing fits on a moving model.

Online shoe retailer Zappos makes purchases easier for customers, too. Their review options include rating systems for fit and width of shoes, so that customers can help other customers figure out if the shoes run narrow or if they should size up. Zappos also has the added bonus of easy shipping and returns so customers aren’t left hanging with items that leave them dissatisfied.

It’s time to adapt to new ways of shopping and give customers what they want – including millennials. The key is to look beyond the obvious: athleisure might be winning with millennials for now, but there’s no reason why other brands can’t catch up. The efforts that retailers are putting into omnichannel marketing, better mobile experiences, and newer technologies like virtual dressing rooms will make it easier for consumers to make more informed purchases – which will keep retail alive and well.