WHAT PEOPLE BUY: WOMEN S CLOTHING AND APPAREL


WHAT PEOPLE BUY: WOMEN'S CLOTHING AND APPAREL

Women's clothing and apparel comprise the number one most purchased category among the personal luxuries tracked. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of consumer households reported buying women's clothing and apparel that wasn't strictly needed, but bought out of desire. While women's clothing may be considered a necessity, women's fashion is strictly a luxury business and one that most women, young and old, rich or poor, reed thin or those with generous proportions, indulge in at one time or another.

Industry Snapshot

With sales of women's and girls' clothing topping $146.6 billion, women spend one-and-a-half times more money on apparel than men and boys do. Overall sales of women's clothing increased a modest 2.8 percent from 2000 to 2002 (see Figure 6.10). This is an intensely competitive industry with apparel and designer brands competing at retail against their peers, as well as with the private label fashions increasingly offered by traditional and discount department stores. Numerous marketers have found success targeting specific niche markets within the fashion business, such as Chico's FAS for the baby boomer; Lane Bryant for the plus-sized crowd; Talbots for the country-club set; Dress Barn, TJ Maxx, and Ross for the bargain shopper; and Ann Taylor for the young, urban professional type.

 

2000

2002

% CHG '00–'02

Total Personal Consumption in millions

$142,642

$146,574

2.8

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis


Figure 6.10: Women's and Girls' Clothing and Apparel Industry Snapshot

Retail Overview

Women are changing the way they shop for clothes. They have traditionally relied upon the department store for their fashions, but today more women, even fashionable women, are looking to discount stores for clothes, maybe not for work or evening attire, but there really isn't that much difference in T-shirts, after all. With women shopping for clothes in discounters, department store and boutique-only designers, like Isaac Mizrahi who is now delivering "Luxury for Every Woman Every-where" though his affiliation with Target, are following. Curiosity drove me to Target to get a firsthand look and feel of the Mizrahi line. While I don't think they have really got "it" yet with the line, I also think it holds promise if they go with a slightly more luxurious feel to the fabrics and better in-store signage that makes the line pop. But even if I didn't buy any clothes, I also didn't leave Target empty handed, which is their ultimate goal after all.

While traditional department stores still hold the lead, used by 69 percent of shoppers in the past year, discount department stores are only a few points behind with 62 percent of shoppers. Next come specialty clothing retailers, used by 54 percent of women's clothing shoppers, followed by nonstore retailers with 29 percent of shoppers.

A personal favorite of mine, both as an admiring marketer and avid consumer, is Chico's FAS. I have a closet overflowing with dress-for-success business suits, jackets, skirts, and blouses that I wear for client meetings, speaking engagements, television appearances, and other need-to-dress events. But in my day-to-day life I work in a small casual office where it's just me and my assistant and I go for comfort and ease. Chico's clothes give me the feel of gym clothes and sweat suits with a look that I am not embarrassed to wear to the store or at the mall or on a plane. I don't know how they do it, but they make a pair of jeans that even I find comfortable to wear.

But it's as a marketer where my real appreciation for Chico's FAS shows. They operate 400 stores nationwide and have an active catalog and Internet marketing arm. Their styles are easy-wear for women of a certain age and proportion and their prices are affordable, especially on sale, which they have often to keep the stock in the store fresh. They have a loyalty program called Chico's Passport Club, which offers members an automatic 5 percent discount off all purchases along with other benefits. They don't insult the customer by charging for membership into the "club," rather you earn yourself in after you spend $500 at Chico's, and once you are in, you are in for life. They are savvy multi-channel marketers. Every month Passport members and prospective members, said to number over 2.5 million, receive a catalog that includes two coupons: one (the lesser value of the two) that can be redeemed online, by mail, or in the store, and another (the more valuable one) that can only be redeemed in the store. Thus, they use mail order to drive shoppers into the store, where they know they will drop a whole lot more money than if they order online or by telephone. In the local strip mall where I shop, I have often seen the Chico's store packed with shoppers lined up at the cash register, while the Ann Taylor Loft store next door and the Talbot's shop a few doors down are virtually empty. Chico's FAS is definitely doing something right.

 

2002 SALES IN BILLIONS

The TJX Companies

$8.2

Gap

7.6

Nordstrom Inc.

5.5

Footlocker

4.2

Old Navy

3.9

Victoria's Secret

3.3

Ross Stores, Inc.

2.7

Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises

2.7

Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp.

2.4

Banana Republic

2.2

Source: The 2002 Directory of Apparel Specialty Stores


Figure 6.11: Women's Clothing and Apparel Market Share Leaders

Purchase Drivers

Most women are active purchasers of both fashion (i.e., luxury) and clothes (i.e., necessities). In my previous edition of this book, I intentionally left out apparel as one of those things that people buy but don't need, figuring it would be hard to determine what was a need-based versus desire-driven clothing purchase. And I may have been right because consumers couldn't really determine what is a discretionary or luxury purchase and what is needs driven.

In a recent discussion with affluent, luxury consumers, they shared that fashion was a necessity in their lives. One well-dressed woman said: "Fashion is a requirement for those who are high up in their successes and are upper class." Another said: "I buy a brand because I know that the brand fits me well and I can depend upon the cut. It isn't so much a luxury as a necessity. I know Liz Claiborne fits me in this size." These women must dress appropriately to their stage in life, their social level, and their position in society. As a result, they go for classic looks that are well made and high quality, and eschew trendy fashions and styles that are here today and gone tomorrow. One woman said she buys fashion fads, but only in the knockoff brands: "I like to buy expensive clothes. They are better made, fit better, and will have a place in my wardrobe for a long time. Every once in a while I buy a fashion trend, but I go for the knockoffs then. I will not pay luxury price for a fad, but only a classic."

While they need fashionable clothes and are willing to spend generously to look good, the word fashion is a hot button for many of the affluent women I researched. These more mature women, most of whom range in age from 35 to 64, say the fashion industry views them as the "forgotten" women because they are over 30 and not fashion-model size. A middle-aged affluent shopper said: "I feel we are forgotten in this age bracket. None of those advertisements speak to me because they are made for the younger generation." Another affluent woman explained: "Fashion is so trendy and unrealistic. Most of us aren't built the way we used to be built, so we don't wear as much of the trendy things because they don't look good on us." And another forgotten woman speaks: "Fashion is a turn off. I have a personal issue with many of the designers displaying skinny little women. All the models are 20 years old and I feel like the forgotten woman."

This argument resonates with American women everywhere at every income level. The simple fact is only a small fraction of the female population is a model or movie-star size 2, 4, or 6. The most popular women's dress size today is a 14, as more than 60 percent of the population is classified officially as "overweight."

If size 14 is the norm today, why are women who fit the norm made to feel abnormal when they shop for clothes? Here is what one luxury shopper said: "They never have nice stylish clothing for ladies of plus sizes (sizes 12 and up). I don't understand why retailers don't carry that and why retailers put the plus sizes next to the junior sizes. It just makes me feel horrible to shop and have to walk by the juniors to get to my size. I'm still young enough not to want to look like my mother. Just because your body changed doesn't mean your style has to."

Viewed solely through a marketer's lens, maybe designers, marketers, and retailers feel they can afford to alienate the forgotten low-income women, but how can they possibly disenfranchise the upper-income, middle-aged woman who has the means and the motive to spend a sizeable share of her considerable budget on clothes? The fashion business needs to gain a new marketing focus and meet the needs of the real American woman: "There are certain designers I like, but they are not the most expensive ones either. It's probably not fashionable, since I don't have the body of those younger models. I think it is very offending that they are targeting the younger market for fashion and leaving us older working women out."

Some of these affluent women mentioned they had gained weight since their youth, others were too short to fit into normal-sized clothes. Here is what one member of the jet-set shared about fashion: "That [apparel] is one of my weaknesses. It is so much fun to go shopping for clothes. I like going over to Paris and seeing what is there, then coming back here and trying to find the same look at TJ Maxx or Marshall's."

These women want to look fashionable, but feel they cannot participate in the fashion market because there is too little product that targets their needs. In effect, fashion manufacturers are out of touch with their market and the needs of their market. The fashion designers spend all their energy designing fashions that look good on the fashion runway, and too little time on understanding and designing for the needs of the real women that are their market. Thus they are opting for publicity and public relations instead of the discipline of marketing in their businesses.

Demographic Variables

It's no surprise that women (80 percent of all women) buy more women's apparel than men (47 percent of men). While the younger consumers, aged 18 to 44, have the highest overall purchase incidence, shoppers aged 45 to 64 still buy women's apparel actively. Purchase incidence drops sharply after age 65. All regions and ethnicities buy women's apparel.

This category skews toward a more affluent market, with incomes of $50,000 and more. The highest-income households, $75,000 and above, are the most active, making the comments of the affluent women shoppers above even more poignant. Educational levels link with purchase, so the more educated consumers buy at a higher incidence. The presence of children in the home and living in a two-person-or-larger household also correlate with higher purchase incidence of women's apparel.

Key Demographics for Buyers of Women's Apparel and Clothing.

  • Women are the most active buyers.

  • Incidence rises with income and education, with the most affluent being the most active.

  • Younger consumers, under age 45, buy more though incidence stays vibrant through age 64.

  • Two-or-more-person households and those with children buy more.