Full disclosure: I’ve recently become an avid gamer. A pandemic purchase of a virtual reality (VR) headset resulted in my hobby (nay obsession) with the VR game, Beat Saber. As techno music plays, colored cubes, or “beats,” barrel down on me as I slice them with my beat saber. Putting on my headset has become a ritual that transforms me from Kristen Classi-Zummo, apparel industry analyst, into a virtual reality ninja. What I particularly love about the game is that it keeps me in the moment. As these colored cubes come my way, my focus is on the present moment; I can’t worry about what’s further down the line because if I miss what’s right in front of me, the game is over.
The way consumers have been shopping this year, especially for apparel, is reflective of this same, “here and now” behavior. Faced with rising prices and tighter budgets, consumers are focused on satiating immediate needs — a mindset that will carry through the holiday season and likely into the new year.
The back-to-school season was a prelude to the apparel consumer’s holiday shopping mindset. As prices climbed for most of the items on back-to-school supply lists, consumers focused their spending on books and backpacks. New clothing needs were lacking because, even in cold regions of the country, warmer weather allowed parents to stretch their kids’ summer wardrobes well into September (and even October). Now, as we approach the colder weather and holiday parties, our immediate needs will change. Outerwear and other cold weather categories have largely gone unreplenished over the past two years, as consumers turned to layering styles, like sweatshirts. However, with a return to work, parties, and other events, there will likely be a replenishment of more traditional cold weather categories. In-fact, 43% of consumers say they need to buy new coats and jackets for the upcoming winter season, according to the October results from the NPD Omnibus Survey.
In addition to cooler weather, the holiday season brings celebrations. More than half (55%) of consumers say they plan on hosting or visiting family and friends this holiday season, which is an increase of 8 points versus last year, according to the NPD Holiday Purchase Intentions Report. For the apparel industry, a return to work and social events has boosted sales of dresses and blazers this year, and I expect that holiday gatherings will continue to motivate spending on these dressier clothing items. Furthermore, the NPD Omnibus Survey also revealed that nearly one-in-five women plans to dress up for the holidays, which indicates sales growth will continue in the fourth quarter.
Heading into the holiday season, consumers are striving to strike the right balance between their apparel, gift-giving, and holiday entertaining needs, considering pricing increases and economic uncertainties. Apparel, one of the top items consumers plan to give as gifts, might be more susceptible to an increase in holiday promotions. However, it’s important for brands and retailers to understand that this tightening does not translate into a total pullback. Consumers will spend, albeit more selectively, paying particular attention to new trends, product features, and sought-after brands. Keeping an eye on the cube, spending will reflect more about consumers’ true wish-lists of what they need to have, and less about items that are simply nice to have.