Exterior of a J. Jill store location.
By surveying its customers every two to three months, retailer J. Jill has been able to make informed leaps into several new offerings. — J. Jill

Why it matters:

  • Women ages 40 to 70 are part of the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. but are often ignored by the fashion industry.
  • Plus-40 women are a powerful economic group, with 99% saying they are solely in charge of, or an equal partner in, their household’s spending decisions.
  • J. Jill’s surveys have tracked post-pandemic shifts in how women view clothing purchases, with comfort and quality becoming top considerations.

Women’s clothing retailer J. Jill was founded more than 60 years ago to cater to a customer often overlooked by the fashion industry – the 40-plus female shopper.

First as a catalog company and now as a public company with 245 stores and omnichannel sales, J. Jill has stayed focused on that target audience.

A key part of its strategy, Kara Howard, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Customer Experience at J. Jill told CO—, is constantly listening to, and learning from, its 40-plus shopper demographic.

J. Jill does that by surveying its customers every two to three months, and by encouraging feedback on social channels and in its stores.

Over the past year, it has used that feedback to make leaps into several new offerings. These include the launch of a size-inclusive campaign, Welcome Everybody, with expanded size offerings in the stores and size-inclusive messages in stores and ads, as well as the creation of a premium, artisanal collection, and more options for work wardrobes.

From the brink of bankruptcy to a makeover-fueled sales revival

J. Jill found itself close to bankruptcy in 2020, after the pandemic closed stores and hurt its cash flow. It won a reprieve when its lenders agreed to refinancing. Over the past year it has enjoyed strong sales growth, driven by the new initiatives.

For fiscal 2022, sales rose 5.1% at $615.3 million, and adjusted earnings increased 19.2%

CEO Claire Spofford, in an earnings call in March, said the brand, despite being over 60 years old, is “still somewhat of a well-kept secret.” That status, Spofford said, “creates an opportunity for us to further expand awareness and in turn gain share in our market.”

This spring J. Jill conducted one of its quarterly surveys with 745 of its customers ages 40 to 70. The survey uncovered several key findings, including:

  • Forty-plus female customers are loyal customers. Once they find a brand they like, they stick with it. The average J. Jill customer has been shopping there for 10 years.
  • While conscious of inflation and economic concerns, this customer will pay more for the right fit and quality, making them a high-value customer that is less impacted by economic changes.
  • Ninety-nine percent of 40-plus women say they are the sole decision maker on how they spend their money, or an equal partner in those decisions, making them a powerful spending cohort.
  • Getting the right fit and finding flattering silhouettes that work for many different occasions are top concerns of this group.
  • They know what they want and aren’t shy about asking for it.

“One of the things we heard loud and clear was the value of the right size and fit for her,” Howard told CO—. “When she knows that she can rely on us and find something from us season after season, that really is a big loyalty driver.”

[Read: How Slow Fashion Is Creating Opportunities for Startups and Legacy Brands Alike]

Ninety-nine percent of 40-plus women say they are the sole decision maker on how they spend their money, or an equal partner in those decisions, making them a powerful spending cohort.

Findings from a quarterly survey performed by J. Jill

Leaning into post-pandemic shoppers’ quest for comfortable, durable, high-quality clothes

Last fall, J. Jill set out to expand the group of women who rely on the brand with its Welcome Everybody campaign. The campaign is designed to send the message that “women across ages and sizes and ethnicities and stages of life” can find what they are looking for at J. Jill, Howard said.

As part of the initiative, size offerings in the stores now range from XS to 2X, and 0 to 20, with price parity across all sizes. The company also enlisted body positivity influencer Rochelle Johnson for a marketing campaign to show styling tips for the new fashions.

Two changes J. Jill has seen in customer opinion surveys since the pandemic, Howard said, have been a new emphasis on comfortable clothing, and a desire for long-lasting, better-quality clothes.

The pandemic found women wearing the same outfits more frequently and impressed on customers the value of having higher quality, longer lasting clothes that can work in many situations, she said.

 Model on a beach in front of the ocean wearing clothing by J. Jill.
Since the pandemic, J. Jill has seen two changes in its customer survey responses—a new emphasis on comfortable clothing, and a desire for long-lasting, better-quality clothes. — J. Jill

Promoting work wear for the ‘number of ways people work right now’

Last fall J. Jill also introduced a Pure Jill Elements collection featuring softer fabrics, relaxed silhouettes, and artisanal, handcrafted features, with prices that are about 30% higher.

“Our customers were asking for more elevated pieces,” Howard said. “She does like pieces that are a little bit different or unusual. It’s limited edition, so she’s not going to see things like this in any other store, or any other person really.”

J. Jill also listened when customers told them they needed more help in finding outfits for work, Howard said.

“We saw a lot of our customers who were on the younger side were coming to us for work wear, and we weren’t necessarily making it that easy for her,” Howard said.

The company launched ways for customers to more easily search for and style a variety of work outfits on its website and started featuring its work wear in its stores and advertising.

Those changes help customers “think about, ‘How do I mix and match across the collections to put together some things that work for any number of ways that people work right now, whether it’s in an office or at home,’” Howard said.

[Read: Work-From-Home Revolution Yields Opportunity for Local Small Businesses]

J. Jill has seen that its long-time customers are its most valuable. Customers who return to the brand season after season and year after year spend more and are the most loyal, she said.

Building on that loyalty is the biggest investment J. Jill can make, she said. “It’s that emotional connection that happens when you can rely on us and you feel like we’re the right place for you,” Howard said.

The newest initiatives, she said, are intended to make more women feel that way.

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