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Fashion Accessories Market Research & Business Solutions

From handbags to sunglasses, luggage to diaper bags, keychains to lipstick cases, The NPD Group knows what accessories are selling, where they’re selling best, and who is doing the buying.

Because we collect information from more than 1,200 retailer partners representing 165,000 stores worldwide and field 12 million consumer surveys each year, The NPD Group is recognized by the industry, the media, and others as the leading source of research and solutions for the fashion accessories markets.

We take our robust data and industry expertise and combine it with your data or third-party data to address your business issues, from opportunity identification to program evaluation.

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Fashion Accessories

Retail Tracking

Track sales of accessories in department stores and national chains. The NPD Group delivers the most detailed point-of-sale (POS) information available in the accessories industry to guide your critical business decisions.

Consumer Tracking

Understand who is buying accessories, and how, why, and where they are shopping. Based on market research information straight from consumers, the service delivers an unmatched view across all retail channels in the U.S. In Canada, the Consumer Tracking Service focuses on apparel.

Account Level Reports

These reports enable retailers who choose this option to share their information with approved vendors, allowing vendors to analyze business performance at specific retailers down to the item level in many instances. By making this report available to their vendors, retailers can work together with them to optimize performance. These reports may only be made available with the express permission of the retailer.

Shopping Activity Services

Get access to insights on shopping, browsing, and buying visits across all channels, retailers, categories, and demographics. View conversion rate and average spend measures and see how they vary by retailer, season, and demographic. Gain an understanding of where else your customer is shopping and buying.

Checkout Tracking

Checkout Tracking℠ provides information on consumer buying behavior at the market basket level, based on receipts for brick-and-mortar and online retail purchases. You get precise, item-level purchase detail that is linked to buyers and their demographics. Data comes from large-scale longitudinal panels, making it possible to study the same consumers over time, analyze competitive market baskets, and identify purchase patterns.

Fashion Accessories

You have opportunities. You face threats. What you need are smart, quantifiable methods of distinguishing one from the other and maximizing your chances of success. NPD’s Analytic Solutions Group includes a team of senior leaders with extensive experience developing and delivering analytic solutions that address strategic marketing, sales, and planning issues.

We combine NPD POS and consumer information, industry expertise, and custom survey research – then add state-of-the-discipline research techniques and methodologies to explain the "why behind the buy.” Through advanced modeling and analytic services, we offer insight into what will happen in the future, not just what has happened in the past, answering your most pressing business questions:

See how clients have used our analytic solutions to solve their business challenges in our Analytic Solutions Case Study Library.

Fashion Accessories

Women's Fashion Bags Monthly Snapshot Report

This report combines our retail point-of-sale information with Stylitics reporting on the ClosetSpace app. Pinpoint latest trends and emerging areas of growth in the handbag market. Learn which items to keep an eye on – and get expert analysis on what the trends really mean.

Fashion Accessories
Press Releases

October 17, 2016

The Importance of Visible Logos on Handbags is Diminishing, Reports NPD

One-third of the handbags purchased in the U.S. in the 12 months ending June 2016 did not have a visible logo, according to The NPD Group, a leading global information company. The sales of handbags without a visible logo increased their share of the market in the past year, and this is a style trend that is crossing generations.

May 10, 2016

The Millennial Consumer’s Handbag Shopping Journey is More Like Buying a Car than Clothing, Reports NPD

The Millennial customer treats a handbag purchase as a multi-step process, and 41 percent said they started thinking about their most recent handbag purchase more than a month in advance, according to a new report from global information company The NPD Group, created in partnership with Stylitics. The New Handbag Customer Revealed 2016 study examines the closets and mindset of Millennial women to understand their needs, aspirations, inspirations, and the triggers that make them purchase.

Fashion Accessories

September 1, 2016

The Future of Social Commerce

Craving pizza? Just Tweet a pizza emoji. Want that area rug? Just click the Buyable Pin for it to adorn your own home. Wish the watch in your Instagram feed were on your wrist? Just click on the brand’s profile link to buy it.

Since 2012, social media platforms have integrated click-to-buy features that allow retailers and manufacturers to sell directly to consumers within social platforms. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Snapchat have all gotten in on the trend.

But even though online sales are growing and consumers are spending more time on social media, the jury’s still out: do these social buy buttons actually encourage people to buy, or have we seen the last of them?

Get our latest Insights – The Future of Social Commerce: How “Buy Buttons” Are Disrupting the Retail World

August 30, 2016

Small Personal Accessories Market: Know More, Grow More

As the small personal accessories market continues its growth, it is important to stay ahead of trends and see hot categories up close.

August 30, 2016

Women’s Fashion Handbags: Favoring Functionality

The U.S. handbag market is changing fast. Consumer preferences, particularly among Millennials, are changing rapidly. To outsmart competitors, it’s critical for you to understand what’s happening, anticipate changes, and constantly refine your strategies.

August 30, 2016

The New Handbag Customer Revealed

See new insights that go against traditional expectations of the handbag customer. Learn about the evolving handbag shopping journey!

November 13, 2015

Understanding Omnichannel Shoppers Through Receipt Mining

Back in the day -- and we mean the mythical, halcyon days of small-town America -- shopkeepers were among the core, central figures in a community. Their prestige came from their well-recognized knowledge of the truths surrounding any given family. The shopkeeper knew who was short of cash, who ran late on their “layaway” plans, who scrimped and who squandered.

A successful shopkeeper did two things.

First, he held his tongue. No one would trust a man who spread their secrets across town. If you were low on money and it was time to feed the baby, you wanted to deal with someone who would sell you things on the cuff, and not tell a soul.

Second, he marketed to his customers based upon his secret knowledge. He knew when payday came, and when the crops failed. He knew when the kids were growing out of their clothes, and when Dad had drank up the money in the cookie jar. He timed his offerings and personalized his approach, showing the inexpensive cloth to the struggling poor, displaying swaths of middling quality to the middle class, and offering the beautiful and pricey fabrics only to the truly wealthy or the pretentious hopefuls.

Those days are gone forever … or not.

In today’s retail world, we tend to think of the consumer as one with the power. Certainly there’s some truth to that. The digital world is an endless trail of price-comparison engines, customer reviews, and social-media sites for voicing dissatisfaction.

But the real power -- the ability to derive sales and loyalty from knowledge -- remained with retailers with the rise of the Web. The digital-only shopkeepers of recent history, armed with recommendation engines, email lists, dynamic pricing, and the like, became the modern version of the apron-clad, all-knowing man behind the counter of the general store of old.

But this too shall pass.

Disrupting the disruptors
Today an entirely new group is making moves to assume the role of the omniscient shopkeeper. Manufacturers have recognized the power of knowing their customers and selling to them directly. The direct-to-consumer movement has altered the very nature of how brands reach consumers.

Heavily centered in CPG (P&G, Kraft’s), fresh food (Good Eggs, Graze, Farmigo, etc.) travel-related loyalty programs (Starwood Hotels, FuelRewards, etc.) and apparel and accessories (Warby Parker, Everlane, Bonobos, et al), the DTC innovators have inspired fear and envy from both competitors and traditional retailers.

Those emotions seem to be clouding the judgement of many a player in the shopping world. But The NPD Group, which has business relationships with retailers, manufacturers and millions of consumers, has an unusually clear line of sight. And things have grown even clearer since the debut of our Checkout Tracking service, in which we mine data from the receipts (both online and from brick and mortar) of millions of consumers.

And what we’re seeing looks more like opportunity than danger, for both retailers and manufacturers who can put emotion aside and embrace the data.

To see what we see, and to understand what it means for your business, we need to tell you a bit about how Checkout Tracking works.

Save your receipts
Checkout Tracking data is based on the millions of receipts sent to us and our technology partner, Slice Intelligence, by consumers. Those receipts yield detailed, item-level data about individual consumers across stores, across all retail segments, covering both online and brick and mortar, and over time.

Just think about that for a second: transaction-level detail across all retailers, across all channels and all time, at the individual buyer level. That, of course, is the Holy Grail of DTC. And now it’s available even to manufacturers and retailers who haven’t collected it themselves.

Checkout Tracking can tell retailers if their most loyal customers are cheating on them once they leave the store. It can tell manufacturers what else customers buy when they picked up their products at a retailer rather than on the manufacturer’s ecommerce site, and even what they likely had for lunch on the drive home.
More importantly, it can illuminate how often buyers of DTC brands buy rival DTC brands, and how often they shop at other retailers.

For example:

  • A direct-to-consumer (DTC) apparel brand that sells from both a branded website and its own retail outlets, wanted to know where else its customers shopped for men’s pants. With the help of Checkout Tracking data, the brand learned that its customers did less than one third (28%) of their pants shopping with the brand itself. Where else did customers buy pants? They devoted 21% of share of wallet to three Big Box retailers and 4% at a rival DTC brand!
  • The apparel brand learned something else valuable – and it’s not particularly good news for traditional retailers. Even though the DTC brand’s customers were shopping at big box retailers, they were doing so at a much lower rate than the rest of the population and actually indexed quite low at big box retailers and department stores compared to non-customers. Rather, its customers indexed higher than the general population with five rival DTC manufacturers.
  • Another direct-to-consumer (DTC) apparel brand with both real-world and online operations wanted to know where else its customers shopped for children’s apparel. With the help of Checkout Tracking data, the brand learned that its customers only did 9% of their children apparel shopping with the brand itself. They mostly shopped for kids apparel at discount department stores with more than half of wallet dedicated to four of the larger brick and mortar players.
  • Similarly to the men’s brand above, the children’s apparel brand learned that its customers over indexed at rival DTC apparel compared to non-customers. And despite a substantial share of wallet devoted to two of the larger Big Box retailers, customers actually under indexed a these stores compared to the rest of the population.

Getting to know you
What The NPD Group has learned from the manufacturers who work with Checkout Tracking data has proven illuminating … and points to a future for DTC that is far less doom-and-gloom for traditional retailers than the conventional wisdom would suggest.
Among the most interesting things we’ve seen are:

  • Many manufacturers are driven by a need to understand the consumer, not necessarily to sell to them directly without a middle man.
  • Many companies express a commitment to creating and enacting a DTC strategy, either through retailers or on their own, but have only a limited sense of what that would entail.
  • The more sophisticated manufacturers have recognized a need for persona analysis, segmentation and the like. Previous efforts in these areas, done on a high level using demographic information, are now seen as inadequate and conducted too infrequently.
  • A very high percentage of manufacturers who operate ecommerce sites say they do so primarily to collect data about customers. Such sites aren’t aimed at replacing traditional channels. For such manufacturers, selling through retailers is expected to be the primary revenue source for the foreseeable future.

It would seem that established manufacturers – those companies that make the brands that fill the shelves of retail operations across the country – aren’t so much interested in changing their business as they are in improving it. They’re not so much interested in eliminating the middle man as they are in getting closer to consumers.

This suggests that the future of DTC will consist of retailers and manufacturers forming partnerships tied to understanding the consumers of specific brands. That’s going to require a level of intelligence sharing that’s well beyond what retailers and manufacturers do today, but the advantages of such cooperation seem overwhelming.

With the exception of a handful of truly innovative companies in areas ripe for disruption (we’re looking at you, Warby Parker), DTC is unlikely to become something just manufacturers or just retailers do well. It will be partnerships that become the new, all-knowing shopkeepers of the future.

-    A version of this article originally appeared in the print edition of The Robin Report.

November 10, 2015

Segment And Sell To Gen Y: 10 Ways Younger and Older Millennials Shop Differently

10 Ways Younger and Older Millennials Shop Differently

The retail world is obsessed with Millennials.

It wouldn’t be a normal day if newsletters, tweets, and the media didn’t overflow with headlines on the latest Millennial trend, how to “harness” their alleged power, or how to reach this malleable and unpredictable segment.

Who are these Millennials? Do a quick Google search, and you’ll learn they’re foodies. Social media savants. Selfie experts. Experience seekers. Value hunters. Convenience junkies. Savvy shoppers. They’re “authentic.”

In demographic terms, they’re people between the ages of 18 and 34 who reached young adulthood around the year 2000.

But Millennials don’t like to be stereotyped as Millennials. We get it, Ryan Seacrest—they’re tired of being generalized into a broad demographic box and find the label patronizing. They just want to be treated as unique individuals.

When it comes to the wide-spanning age bracket, they do have a point—the difference between life in your late teens and life in your early 30s is pretty substantial. Do 18-year-old you and 34-year-old you want the same things, behave in the same way, or buy the same stuff?

With this in mind, we decided to divide the group into two smaller segments for study: younger and older Millennials. We set out to learn how these groups differ, both attitudinally and behaviorally, in their retail choices. We learned a lot, like the fact that older Millennials over-index in loyalty apps. And younger Millennials shop more at department stores.

If you’re a retailer or manufacturer looking to better understand the complexities of these highly-coveted sub-segments across the retail and foodservice spaces,

The Gen Y Gold Rush

Before we dive into retail specifics, let’s review an economic reality to set the context: U.S. Millennials haven’t had it so easy. Coming of age during the Great Recession, 13.8 percent of those 18-29 are unemployed or out of the workforce, far above the national jobless rate of 5.1 percent. And they’re a “boomerang” generation—33 percent stay at home with their families and fewer live independently. (Who can blame them? Seven out of 10 college grads from 2014 have a student loan, owing an average of $28,950 per borrower.)

But debt and other deterrents haven’t kept Millennials from buying things.

Any obsession with the Millennial demographic—also known as Gen Y—is with good reason. U.S. Millennials outnumber Baby Boomers by nearly 10 percent, surpassing them as the nation’s largest living generation in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. They’re estimated to reach $1.4 trillion in annual spending by 2020—roughly one-third of all retail spending. So retailers and manufacturers need Gen Y’s share of wallet to increase their market share. And this dependence will only intensify as Boomers continue to age and the Millennial segment gains purchasing power. Frankly, if you’re a retailer who’s not focused on this budding segment, we’re seriously concerned. (Please call us immediately and we’ll help.)

Given that Millennials are such an expansive, diverse group, our Chief Industry Analyst Marshal Cohen reminds us that there are many ways to divide up this set for study; segmentation by age is just one way to showcase their differentiated spending. But make no mistake about it: age really does matter. As consumers navigate through shifts in life stage, it reflects back in their purchasing behavior.

Age Matters

When we divide the group into two segments (ages 18-24 and 25-34), there are already some major demographic differences to note. For one, older Millennials are more educated and have a higher income, shown by data collected by our partner, CivicScience. But with more than one-third of 18- to 24-year-olds still in college, they can’t be expected to have the same level of education or earning power. Older Millennials are less racially diverse and are primarily white (74 percent compared to 68 percent of young Millennials). A greater percentage of young Gen Yers are single/never married (80 percent compared to 44 percent of older Millennials), fewer are married (only 10 percent compared to 40 percent of older Millennials), and fewer parent a child (10 percent compared to 40 percent of the old Gen Y segment).

The two groups think and behave differently, too. Younger Millennials are more optimistic about the state of our economy. They’re less likely than their older counterparts to think Donald Trump would make a good president, and more likely to see the new “Star Wars” movie. Younger Millennials are more likely to applaud Bernie Sanders’ performance in the first Democratic debate. And they eat granola with a higher frequency than their elder Millennial brethren.

So how do these differences play out on the retail floor? Here are 10 ways the groups differ in their shopping behavior:

1. Young Gen Y Specialize in Beauty

We studied the receipts of 8,766 Millennials through our Checkout TrackingSM service, following the purchases they made during the first half of 2015, both online and offline. This revealed younger Millennials devoted a greater share of spend to specialty beauty retailers compared to the total Gen Y population. The younger set significantly over-indexed at retailers like Lush, meaning they are more likely than the senior Gen Y group to visit a specialty beauty retailer when they need new concealer or mascara.

But there were also some “neutral” beauty brands that earned consistent share of wallet across the Millennial age bracket. Both Gen Y groups devoted about 20 percent share of beauty spend to Bath & Body Works and 22 percent share to Sephora. The only specialty beauty retailers where older Millennials significantly over-indexed compared to their younger comrades were The Body Shop and bareMinerals.

But it’s not all about specialty shops when it comes to cosmetics. In an online poll of 15,031 U.S. adults conducted from January 2014 through January 2015 through our partner CivicScience, we asked respondents where they buy most of their makeup and cosmetics. The result? Millennials do the majority of this shopping (49 percent) at superstores like Walmart, Target, and Costco—a greater share compared to that of the total U.S. adult population (45 percent). And younger Millennials demonstrate a slightly greater affinity for superstore makeup than older Millennials.

When it comes to how Millennials shop for beauty products, their purchasing behavior is pretty consistent throughout the segment, but there are also some differences. Our Shopper Engagement survey fielded in August 2015 showed Millennials old and young are equally likely to browse in store and buy in store (58 percent). Younger Millennials are more likely than older Millennials to browse and buy online (20 percent vs. 17 percent), less likely to browse online and buy in store (14 percent vs. 15 percent), and less likely to browse in store and buy online (8 percent vs. 10 percent).


"With so many retailers and brands trying to court this segment, it becomes very competitive and challenging to win share of younger Millennials’ discretionary, hard-to-come-by spending"

Marshal Cohen

2. Young Millennials Shop More Specialty Apparel

The Millennial segments demonstrated the biggest discrepancy when we looked at share of wallet devoted to specialty apparel stores. Young Gen Yers like shopping in specialty stores for specific items, devoting 3.2 percent share of wallet to this retail channel, compared to older Millennials’ 2.1 percent share and the total adult population’s 1.9 percent share, shown by Checkout Tracking receipt data.

Marshal Cohen thinks reaching younger Millennials requires laser-like focus. “With so many retailers and brands trying to court this segment, it becomes very competitive and challenging to win share of younger Millennials’ discretionary, hard-to-come-by spending”, he explains. Millennials want to shop and play at places that market their products directly to them. If they feel you’re “for real,” or in other words, not only including them, but genuinely speaking directly to them—they will be more inclined to shop with you.

Specialty fashion retailers are the perfect example. We took a deep dive into data on some of these top retailers to see at which specific retailers younger Millennials over-indexed compared to more senior Millennials over a 12-month period. One look at the over-indexing stores on this list, and you’ll see just how these specialty stores fared with the younger Millennial.

Here we see very clearly how young Gen Yers spend a significantly lower share of their apparel spend at children’s retailers (Carter’s and The Children’s Place) compared to the older Millennial segment. The data reflects young Gen Yers’ preference for stores like Hollister and American Eagle over places like Ann Taylor and Banana Republic.

What we found particularly significant was the fact that two of the most neutral apparel retailers—Lululemon and The North Face—earned similar wallet share among Millennials of all ages, demonstrating activewear’s ability to transcend ages 18 to 34.

But Department Stores Aren’t Dead
Given younger Millennials’ affinity for specialty apparel retailers, perhaps we can understand Macy’s decision to mimic this specialty/boutique feel by opening a basement floor dedicated entirely to the younger consumer (Gen Z and young Millennials), only showcasing the brands most relevant to this age group.

But it is important to note that across the entire channel, Millennials of all ages devote a greater share of wallet to department store spend than the rest of the U.S. adult population. And younger Millennials are also more likely than older Millennials to have shopped at department stores. While the younger group is more likely to have shopped at Nordstrom, the older group is more likely to have shopped at Sears.

Interestingly, while younger and older Millennials differ in their likelihood to have shopped at Nordstrom (26 percent vs. 15 percent), the likelihood of the groups to have shopped at Nordstrom Rack, the fashion retailer’s off-price subsidiary, is not as polarizing (25 percent versus 22 percent respectively). Though less significant, younger Millennials are slightly more likely to have shopped at Marshall’s, while both age groups are equally likely to have shopped at TJMaxx.

3. Younger Millennials Are Sportier

Though activewear share of spend is consistent across the Millennial spectrum, budding Millennials are more likely than older ones to have shopped at sporting goods stores (29 percent vs. 20 percent reported to have shopped at one in the past year). The differences were significantly pronounced at REI (49 vs. 16 percent). There were also marked differences at footwear retailers Nike (40 vs. 19 percent) and Finish Line (32 vs. 19 percent).

So does this mean younger Millennials are more active than their older counterparts? Our Sports Industry Analyst Matt Powell shed light on this question. “I’ve been talking a lot about viewing the generational changes on a spectrum (from the oldest Boomer to the youngest Gen Zer), rather than as distinct and dramatic changes,” he explained. For example, Boomers are mostly white, conservative, less technically inclined, lavish, and not particularly focused on health or fitness. In contrast, Gen Z is less white, liberal, tech-reliant, frugal, and very health/fitness focused. And Millennials fit somewhere in between on this spectrum.

“So when we think of changes moving along a spectrum over time, it is logical that younger Millennials behave somewhat differently than older ones, and in this case—have a greater focus on fitness and health,” Matt explains.

That’s not to mention that as older Millennials buy homes and start families, they spend less money on themselves (and less on things like sports equipment), while the younger Gen Yers do not yet have those financial obligations.

4. Younger Millennials Eat Healthier, Cook Less, and Shop Wholesale

When it comes to the food and beverages they order, younger Millennials are more likely than older Millennials to look for benefits they can obtain by eating healthier, seeking items that provide energy, are filling, reduce stress, and build muscle. These are messaging opportunities for building a younger Millennial customer base.

In addition, young Gen Yers are more adventurous than older generations in their food choices, with 47 percent of younger versus 40 percent of older Millennials claiming to choose something new (compared to only 34 percent or less for older generations). And younger Millennials have other considerations when trying something new. For example, convenience is at the top of the list. Items that are quick to order, prepare, and consume with easy portability and little mess satisfy this need.

An analysis of data from CREST®, our flagship restaurant and foodservice information service, found the Millennial segment experienced the greatest decline in restaurant visits of any generation from 2007 to 2014. This decline was greatest among the older Millennial segment (the group more likely to have kids under age 13 in the household). And if you’ve ever been responsible for a child at a restaurant who is having a meltdown or making a concoction out the table condiments, you get it. Not to mention the impact of having more mouths to feed; the relatively cheaper expense of eating at home was the primary reason for the decline in visits among older Millennials. Healthy eating concerns also played an integral role in the decision to eat at home.

Older Millennials are also more into cooking than are younger Millennials, with just over half of the older segment saying they love or like to cook. It may be easier to attract younger Millennials back to restaurants because they are not as tied to cooking at home.

Last month Whole Foods revealed it will open a line of grocery stores specifically targeting the Millennial shopper. These smaller stores will offer curated, limited selections of products at value prices. While research indicates Millennials do like to specialize, our Checkout Tracking receipt data indicates an affinity for wholesale clubs across this segment. When it comes to at-home food purchasing, younger and older Millennials devoted the greatest share of wallet to wholesale clubs Costco and Sam’s Club, and were similarly likely to have shopped at each grocer. Younger Millennials over-indexed at BJ’s and Publix, but under-indexed at Safeway.


"When it comes to accessories, younger Millennials are not the robust market one would think they are..."

Marshal Cohen

5. Young Gen Yers Devote Less Spend to Accessories

Accessories are growing fastest among the Millennial segment. These consumers are responsible for the greatest share of the category’s purchases, with spending up 15 percent from one year ago. Younger Millennials, however, under-index (compared to total Millennials) in the share of wallet they devote to this category. We found this stat surprising, so we asked our Chief Industry Analyst, Marshal Cohen for his thoughts on the trend.

“When it comes to accessories, younger Millennials are not the robust market one would think they are,” Marshal explains. “Traditional thinking has younger Millennials spending more on accessories, as they tend to be more affordably priced than apparel items. But with less discretionary funds, young Millennials need to be very picky about what and when they buy. Spending across a wider scope of ‘necessities’ like phones, data plans, and even food competes for young Millennial spending on experiences—and that means things like accessories will fall short on the priority list for spending.”

6. Older Millennials Use More Loyalty Apps

Older Millennials are more likely than younger Millennials to be a member of a retailer’s loyalty program. But one surprising trend is that older Millennials are more likely than tech-reliant younger Millennials to have at least one retailer’s app downloaded on their mobile device (48 percent vs. 33 percent). The older group is also more likely to frequently use the downloaded app (46 percent often use their app to browse, look for product information, or shop compared to 38 percent of young Millennials). Older Gen Yers substantially over-indexed for use of mobile apps from Target, Walmart, CVS, Dollar General, eBay, Rite-Aid, Best Buy, Gamestop, and Costco.

7. Millennial Youth Need Less Stuff and Shop Less in Store

Younger Millennials are more likely than older Millennials (28 percent vs. 23 percent) to say they have shopped at brick-and-mortar stores less often than last year, primarily because they don’t need to buy as much as they used to (41 percent). This is also a factor of Millennials’ attraction to experiences, and their desire to do more and buy less.

Older Millennials are more likely than younger Millennials to shop less at brick-and-mortars because they cannot afford to shop as much as they used to (32 percent vs. 25 percent)—perhaps a reflection of the financial demands of parenting.

Both groups are similarly likely to have shopped at Amazon and to be members of their loyalty program, though younger Millennials are more likely to be familiar with Amazon as a place to buy consumer electronics. Older Millennials are more likely to have shopped at direct mail/e-commerce sites like eBay.

When it comes to shopping for apparel, younger Millennials are more likely than older Millennials to browse in store and buy in store (62 percent vs. 51 percent), but less likely to browse online and then buy in store (10 percent vs. 16 percent). Younger Millennials are also less likely than older ones to browse in store and buy online (8 percent vs. 14 percent).

8. Younger Gen Yers Are More Adam Levine, Older Are More Metallica

Our BrandLink® solution reports that if you’re looking for a celebrity endorsement that would appeal to Millennials of all ages, B.o.B. and JT are your guys (that’s Bobby Ray Simmons, Jr. and Justin Timberlake to all you non-Millennials). Both would be good fits to target younger Millennials (index 225 and 132 respectively) and older Millennials (index 167 and 137 respectively).

If you want to home in on younger Millennials, Adam Levine and Daniel Radcliffe are good choices (index 138 and 134 respectively), but they could miss the mark for older Millennials.

Only trying to target older Gen Y consumers? Metallica and Guns N’ Roses would fit the bill (index 130 and 121 respectively), but might not have the same recognition, let alone impact, with young Gen Yers.

9. Older Millennials Buy More Kids’ Stuff

Younger Millennials under-indexed compared to the total Millennial segment in child-related categories: baby products and toys. Specifically, older Millennials are more likely to have shopped at Babies R Us, The Children’s Place, Toys R Us, and Party City. This isn’t surprising, since the 18-24 segment is less likely than the 25-34 segment to parent a child. And in today’s day and age, baby photos don’t really start to take over your Facebook or Instagram feeds until you hit your mid-to-late-20s.

The same trend applies to pet products: older gen Yers are more likely than Millennial youngsters to have shopped at pet stores like PetSmart and Petco.

10. Older Millennials Have More Home-Related Expenses

We know it might sound shocking, but younger Millennials also under-indexed in home improvement, appliances, tools, and home textile purchases. Older Millennials are more likely to have shopped at home hardware stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s in addition to home specialty stores like Bed Bath and Beyond, Crate and Barrel, West Elm, and Pottery Barn. But, really—no surprises here. What 20-year-old do you know who is remodeling her new home, buying a fancy KitchenAid, investing in a state-of-the-art power saw, or ordering a new line of linens? Let’s face it, whether you’re in school or starting your first job, it’s all about scrounging up repurposed furniture from older family and friends or simply sticking with mom and dad for a few more years until you get your feet on the ground. And when young Millennials finally do uproot themselves, typically this means moving to an urban environment where there are more jobs and inhabiting smaller, rented, and/or shared homes that require fewer furniture expenses.

Older and Younger Millennials: Two Distinct Segments

In the world of market research, people aged 18-34 are typically grouped into one giant segment for study. But they do not share the same experiences, think, or act the same. Half the group grew up on Britney Spears, the other on Justin Bieber. Some grew up with Facebook in middle school, while the rest didn’t create an account until after having their first child. Moreover, this 16-year span represents a pivotal coming-of-age period, and the differences between the oldest and youngest Millennial can be great, as evidenced by our top 10 list. It’s time to start treating these segments as two distinct groups, to better get to know them and to speak to them directly if we want to earn their precious spending power.

July 29, 2015

Gender-Neutral Retail

How Retail is Becoming Less Gendered, and Why You Should Care

It’s 2015 — and our nation is degenderizing.

Our futures are no longer dictated by the sex organs we’re born with. Girls can be anything they want to be, whether a professional rugby player, engineer, CEO of a startup, or President of the United States. Boys can be artists, dancers, full-time fathers, and nurses. A macho male Olympian can transition into a beautiful woman. A graceful female model can develop facial hair and big muscles. The boys-don’t-cry era is behind us, and gender and sexuality are no longer the black and white concepts they were years ago.

In American business, no area, with the exception of popular entertainment, is blurring the gender lines as quickly as retail. From clothing to footwear to technology, forward-thinking companies are enacting a less binary vision of how we shop, dress, and live — in response to an emerging consumer need. A genderless fashion market is developing. It’s far less saturated than its gendered counterpart, and it is rife with opportunity for new entrants.

This isn’t to say that all Americans everywhere are accepting of all sexual and gender choices. But as we’ve started to talk about it more, there has been an incredible shift in attitudes across the country. Americans, particularly the young adults known as Gen Y, are more accepting of the grey area in between.

In fact, Millennials are the most tolerant U.S. generation to date: half of the age group believes gender exists on a spectrum and shouldn’t be limited to male and female. So retailers and manufacturers with their eyes on this most valued of consumer demographics would be wise to start thinking of shoppers as more complex and varied. They’re more than just male or female. 

Gender-neutral fashion: so hot right now

Time and again, women’s and men’s fashion have adopted elements from each other to rebel against gender norms and stereotypes. The result? Androgynous fashion trends that have waxed and waned over the past century.

In the 1920s, Coco Chanel borrowed the suited look from menswear and designed her iconic trousers and button-down suits for women, emblematic of the post-war woman trying to build a career in a male-dominated workplace.

John Lennon rocked high heels in the 60s, and so did David Bowie in the 70s. 

In 1966, couturier Yves Saint Laurent designed “Le Smoking Jacket,” pioneering long, minimalist, and androgynous lines in women’s clothing. The design made any woman who wore it look unstoppable.

Did you know . . .

The birth of gendered fashion

If you don’t live under a rock, you’re familiar with the iconic symbols for men and women that emblazon public restrooms. The skirt-adorned female stick figure and skirt-less male figure would lead us to believe that from the beginning of time, these have been the standard clothing assignments.

But when we trace back the history of what makes a dress feminine, or what makes the color blue masculine, it’s all pretty arbitrary.

In fact, men and women used to wear the same things — clothing was unisex. Men even wore skirts, heels, and pink.

Though we might not see men and women wearing the same clothing on the street today, the high-fashion world has embraced this genderless trend with open arms. Countless haute couture fashion houses are blurring the lines between feminine and masculine and changing the conversation around gender. A handful of companies have created androgynous labels for women who wish to dress more masculine. Designers from Marc Jacobs, to Rag & Bone, to Giorgio Armani, and more have created clothing that straddles the gender gap. Some designers are even creating apparel intended for everyone, for wear by people identifying as any gender.

Here are some notable gender-neutral designers:

  • Rad Hourani was the first fashion designer to market a unisex line in Paris in 2007. He aims to explore high fashion beyond gender with collections that nod at both masculinity and femininity by producing clothes that can be styled for both men and women.
  • Led by Alessandro Michele, Gucci recently launched a menswear collection that challenged traditional gender lines with delicate lace and slouchy bows, exhibited by both men and women on the runway.
  • Though Miuccia Prada didn’t use the word “unisex” when designing her Spring 2015 Menswear line, she said it felt “instinctively right to translate the same idea for both genders.” The collection’s contours seemed to work for all models regardless of gender at the recent spring fashion show.

Though high-fashion creatives seem to get this idea of fashion independent of gender, haute couture is restricted to the select few who can afford it; retailers for the masses must create lines that will sell to the majority of customers. So the question remains — does the public buy into this vision?

Societal check-in

Are consumers across the board ready to accept this gender-neutral concept? If the public’s reaction to Jenner’s recent transition is any indication, then yes — but women (not surprisingly) are probably more game than men.

In an online survey conducted in May 2015, our partner CivicScience® asked 1,507 U.S. adults aged 18+ years if they considered it brave of Bruce Jenner to come out as a woman to Diane Sawyer.

Less than one-third of respondents answered yes to this question. But this stat reached 53 percent among the Millennial woman demographic. And Millennial women were 60 percent more likely than Millennial men to answer yes to this question.

So what does this mean for future generations?

Though older Boomers and Gen X consumers are less open-minded, younger, female Millennials are more accepting of a less-gendered world.

Do you think it was brave of Bruce Jenner to come out as a woman to Diane Sawyer?

% of people who said yes, by demographic segment

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The high-fashion world is innovating around the gender dialogue. Research indicates Millennials are more progressive when it comes to concepts related to gender and sex. So which brands are taking risks and staying relevant in these changing times?


Did you know . . .

How pants came to be?

In ancient Western times, everyone wore long rectangles of draped fabric. By the time the Middle Ages rolled around, the tunic was born (men liked theirs short). At this time, differences in dress were defined by class rather than gender: elaborate, colorful, and fine-textured clothing was reserved for the wealthy, while the poor stuck to basic wool and linen.

Pants didn’t really come into fruition until the Renaissance, as a solution to men riding horses and covering up. Hose (worn under tunics) gradually evolved into breeches, pantaloons, and then trousers. It wasn’t until the Victorian era that a gender divide developed in dress. As women stuck to longer tunics and dressed bolder and more frivolously, men abandoned jewelry, bright colors, and fancy fabrics; they adopted a more practical, sober look.

But even as pant-wearing men became the norm at the turn of the 20th century, mothers still dressed their children (male or female) in white dresses for easy cleanup and bleaching.

Keeping up with genderless wearables

We’re living in an age of personalization. While there is certainly a place for fashion brands that target particular genders, body type, and more, that market is already saturated. Rather than designing clothes for men or clothes for women, what if brands just kept things simple and created one line for everyone? Which brands are creating apparel, footwear, and accessory product models that work for all people?

NPD Account Manager Joe Hasek has been following this trend closely and doesn’t paint a very promising picture: “There’s been this phenomenon in high fashion for several years now — particularly on the runways. But we’ve yet to see a meaningful trickle-down into any of the typical apparel channels.” There are some exceptions, though. Joe points to the rise in athleisure and athletic-inspired apparel as pushing this universality trend forward.

The comparatively genderless nature of some types of athletic apparel gives brands like The North Face and Patagonia an advantage on this front. A hoodie is a hoodie, and a beanie is a beanie, and we often see men and women sporting the same classic fleeces from these brands.

American Apparel produces cotton basics that by nature are pretty gender neutral. The retailer recently marketed a unisex line with clothing items intended for wear by both men and women.

(The retailer’s marketing techniques toward men vs. women differed drastically and created consumer backlash.)

With the explosion of lululemon and the rise of activewear, many designers are tapping into the high-end activewear market. A new Canadian designer to the scene, Willis Chan, is approaching this gold mine with a genderless design sense. He’s producing unisex “High Athletic” fashion — high fashion with an athletic and techwear element.

Did you know . . .

Boys once wore pink?

In the mid-19th century, pastel pink and blue were added to the formerly all-white baby palette. Around 1918, a department store proclaimed that pink was for boys, and blue for girls—as pink was considered a stronger color, and blue more delicate. In the 1940s, this color assignment was swapped in response to manufacturer and retailer color interpretations. So this blue/boy pink/girl association was happenstance.

NPD Sports Industry Analyst Matt Powell points to the footwear category as offering some options for everyone: “Though they’re not marketed as ‘asexual’, there are shoes that were once strictly men’s shoes that have become gender neutral.” Converse and Van are prime examples; it’s hard to walk down the street without seeing someone sporting a pair. Their websites have sections for men, women, and kids. They also allow visitors to click on any classic shoe model and view men’s and women’s sizing in one drop-down menu. Toms, Sperry, and Birkenstock also produce footwear that has gained popularly across genders. Though these brands do offer gender-specific sizes, colors and designs, their classic designs are marketed to everyone and have achieved a widespread appeal.

At the same time, there are new boutique brands specifically marketing asexual footwear. Sneaker brand Eytys co-founder explains that he never has a gender in mind during his design process. Footwear designer Nik Kacy launched her business on Kickstarter and now sells “luxury, gender-neutral footwear and accessories.” 

There’s been a lot of talk in the press about the rise of the man bag, but there are also designers designing bags to appeal to all genders. At the recent Independent Handbag Designer Awards, there was an award category for The Stand Out & Look Great Work Bag (Unisex). British designer Jennifer Hamley won for her sleek and sexy bag design that appealed to both men and women.

Fashion products for either gender might have the greatest application in the wearable technology market of smartwatches and activity trackers. Aside from personalization of color bands, Fitbit markets the same tracker to both sexes. The Apple Watch focuses its marketing on its functional capabilities and is not offered in men’s or women’s versions, though it too allows for band/case personalization.

Gender usage research for activity trackers and smartwatches shows smartwatch users skew male, and fitness trackers users skew female. Though this affects how tech brands Apple and Fitbit target their marketing efforts, at the end of the day they’re marketing the same product to men and women.

Did you know . . .

High heels were originally masculine?

Whoever said high heels were feminine? Heeled footwear originally emerged in Persia to help men stay upright in their stirrups while on horseback. As this trend traveled to Western Europe in the 17th century, aristocrats began to use the heels’ height to supplement their stature and communicate their status; the higher the heel, the greater the social rank. Women adopted high heels in the 1630s, and men consequently stopped wearing them during the Enlightenment. Considering heels to be effeminate, men switched gears to practical, less elaborate footwear.

Retail therapy

What’s a girl to do when she physically looks “like a woman” and dresses “like a man?” If she shops on the men’s floor of a department store, does she change in the men’s room? Or does she carry her stacks of clothes up and down escalators to try on her items in the women’s section? There is a business opportunity for retailers who create a comfort zone for people who don’t want to subscribe to one category.

Greenwich Village-based Personnel of New York divides its website by “Women,” “Men,” and “Everyone,” carrying different unisex lines on its site.

London-based concept shop Dover Street Market was one of the first to pass up traditional gender-segmented floors in favor of store organization by brand, allowing customers to shop men’s and women’s collections simultaneously.

Perhaps most notably, the London-based department store Selfridges took it one step further by transcending the notions of “his” or “hers.” After the retailer noticed many of its female customers shopping the menswear floor and male customers buying women’s ready-to-wear and accessories items, the retailer launched its Agender pop-up shop. The department store eliminated the divide between men’s and women’s clothing by displaying fives lines of non-gender clothing from more than 40 brands, across three floors, with both men’s and women’s bathrooms on each floor.

More than just a fashion

As the public discussion around gender becomes increasingly sensitive and complex, so does the need for a shopping experience independent of gender. Progressive designers like Rad Hourani, Coco Chanel, and Marc Jacobs have tapped into this niche market, along with a group of fashion-forward retailers.

With a growing Millennial segment that finds sex and gender less relevant to their shopping, it seems time for mainstream retailers  and brands to participate in the dialogue by offering more options. Because this genderless approach toward fashion is proving to be more than just a passing fashion — it’s a trend.

June 15, 2015

Talking Shop

E-commerce is growing in the fashion and beauty world. Last year, 23 percent of footwear sales, 20 percent of accessory sales, 16 percent of apparel sales, and 11 percent of U.S. beauty sales took place online. And these rates have continued on an upward trajectory.

With that said, online retailers still have a long way to go in converting brick-and-mortar consumers to full-time Web shoppers.

To mitigate the risk of online shopping and win over naysayers, a handful of companies have developed advanced technologies that make shopping online more informative and lifelike. Armed with virtual mirrors, 3D body scanners, haptic devices, and 3D headsets, these retail visionaries are doing a pretty remarkable job of emulating the in-person experience so that shoppers can virtually see, feel, and try on products.

But who needs all those fancy bells and whistles when you’ve got people?

Some  companies have passed up virtual avatars and simulators in favor of social networking solutions that work off the collective power of many users.

Enter social shopping.

You wouldn’t buy a skirt without asking your friends  . . .
Online community-based e-commerce sites have taken the concept of asking a friend where she got that great skirt to the Web. Now you can use social media channels like Pinterest and Instagram to follow the activity of brands, designers, and friends whose style you identify with. By following only the profiles you care about, you can curate your own personalized feed and easily click to purchase.

This powered-by-people concept applies to shopping on most retailer sites these days. Whether on Amazon, Zappos, Anthropologie, or any modern retail site, you can use the product comments section to gauge how an item might fit you. See some posts by men who also wear a size 9 complaining that a dress shoe model runs large, and you might opt for a half size down. See a flurry of posts about a sweater pilling after a few wears, and you’ll probably pass. And even if you don’t personally know any of these anonymous posters scattered around the globe, there’s something reassuring about seeing past customers rave about an expensive dress. I guess you just have to have it, then—public opinion supports the decision.

If the shoe fits
Customer comments and trend setters are cool and all, but it still takes time to sift through shoppers’ comments. And it can be a real downer to follow a fashion icon whose body type is so unlike yours that you can’t even begin to imagine pulling off the romper she professionally shot on her Instagram feed. But take the social network concept one step further by adding big data—and now you’re talking!

Tech startup Fitbay connects shoppers of similar body shapes to help share fitted styles, marketed as “a fun way to see what real people like you are wearing.” When you create an account, you enter your general body measurements (height, weight, long vs. short torso, etc.) and the website matches you with real-life "body doubles" who share your figure characteristics. You can follow their posted photos and comments on how specific items fit their bodies to discover the stores, brands, and clothes that are right for your body. So not only can you track the styles you like—but the styles that work for your body doubles.

In a similar vein, retail software company True Fit aims to help consumers buy more and return less by showing them how clothes and shoes viewed on screen will fit in real life. The technology firm collects brand, consumer, and retailer data on apparel and footwear. Users share favorite styles, rate previous purchases, and update their profiles; this activity generates billions of data points on how brands and styles fit shoppers of different body types. True Fit then makes fit and size recommendations for each individual shopper. The company explains that, “the more you shop using True Fit, the smarter it gets at fitting you.” With a network of 2,000+ retail partners like Kate Spade, Macy’s, Uniqlo, and Footlocker, you can record how one pair of shoes fits you and immediately get recommendations of other brand models that promise to fit like a glove.

Power to the people
People-powered social networks are making online shopping better and easier for consumers. It’s much more efficient to browse apparel styles and brands that work for your body type rather than sifting through high-fashion glamor shots of models donning threads that only a fraction of the population can actually pull off.

Social shopping networks help retailers and brands, too, by providing data that enables more informed merchandising and marketing decisions. And they offer an advantage over 3D scanners and virtual dressing rooms by mitigating the barrier to entry for retail companies. (It’s easier to opt into an app than it is to install body scanners at storefront locations or develop content for 3D goggles.)

Interested in how other innovators are changing the retail landscape with back-to-the-future-like technologies?

May 28, 2015

Facing (Virtual) Reality

How smart mirrors, VR headsets, and other tech will alter retail

Pretty soon the lines between physical and digital reality will be blurred.

You’ll be able to sit in your living room, put on some 3D goggles, and shop for a pair of jeans in a virtual store — that does not physically exist.

Or, if that’s too Matrix for your style, you can use your mobile device to see how a pair of jeans fits your virtual “avatar” and even feel the texture of the jeans through the vibrations of your phone.

What if you have some time to (or better yet, what if you want to) stop by an actual store in person? Then you’ll simply peruse a rack of jeans as information on pricing, deals, and customer reviews appears before your eyes on an optical head-mounted display.

The fashion and beauty landscape is evolving as retailers of all types look for creative ways to offer consumers more efficient, reliable, per­sonalized, and enjoyable shopping experiences. What do these Back-to-the-Future-like solutions mean for the retail industry?

Which technologies truly add value to the store experience, whether online or offline?

Which retailers get it?

Digital gets physical

E-commerce boasts a two-decade tenure of advancing the shopping experience by enabling consumers to browse, research, and compare products from anywhere, any time.

And consumers are into it.

The proof is in the data. Both the number of online buying visits and dollar sales have climbed steadily since 2012. In the 12 months ending in March 2015, U.S. consumers made nearly 5.2 billion online buying visits. They collectively spent $358 billion, shown by The NPD Group’s Shopping Activity Services. And this trend is poised to continue on the same track.

U.S. Brick & Mortar visits are on decline while online visits are on rise

The total U.S. market is up 2% for the 12 months ending March 2015, driven by double digit increases in online sales.

For softline products specifically, penetration in the U.S. online market has been on a steady ascent since 2011. Last year, 23 percent of footwear sales, 20 percent of accessory sales, 16 percent of apparel sales, and 11 percent of beauty sales took place online.

Online retailing, however, is not without its limitations.

E-commerce penetration rates have generally been lower for softlines than for hardlines. And this isn’t surprising, since beauty and fashion are emotive.

In this space reaching a purchase decision is not only about how something looks on a screen, but rather, how it looks on each of our unique bodies, and how it makes us feel.

Sure, you can browse product photos and study customer reviews to reach an informed decision — but what about the tangible components? How can we know in advance if a pair of pants will fit well around the waist, but gather awkwardly around the hips? Or if a dress that is knee length on a six-foot model will fall well below the knees on our shorter frames? Or if for some inexplicable reason something just doesn’t work?

Enter augmented reality — and a little bit of virtual reality.

Augmented reality links the real and virtual, enhancing our world view by providing a different perspective with the help of digital technology, usually some type of screen or lens. It is partly immersive, allowing users to see through or around it. (Think Google Glass.)

Virtual reality technologies take it one step further — creating a completely immersive experience through computer generation, transporting users to “closed” virtual universes. (Think 3D goggles that shut out the physical world around you.)

Magic mirror on the wall

On the augmented reality front, footwear and accessory retailers Warby Parker, Converse, and the like have rolled out digital tools that allow users to virtually try on merchandise. In Warby Parker’s “Virtual Try-On” tool, it works like this: you select a pair of glasses from the site, upload your headshot, and the tool overlays an image of the frames over your photo, providing a general idea of how the glasses might look on your real face.

Likewise, Converse launched its Converse Sampler iPhone App a few years ago. You scroll through photos of sneakers within the app, virtually position them over your feet with your phone camera, assess how they look, and order a pair directly through the app.

Makeup manufacturers have joined the virtual bandwagon, too. With YOY U.S. sales growth of $262 million in 2014, makeup is enjoying healthy gains, and brands are rolling out solutions to test makeup away from the store. Avon, Mary Kay, and L’Oréal USA, for example, provide virtual makeover tools on their websites, allowing visitors to try out different face, eye, lip, and nail products virtually. While Avon and Mary Kay use simple photo upload tools to layer on makeup to headshots, L’Oréal USA’s Makeup Genius smartphone app creates a real-time mirror experience: you scan your face with a smartphone camera and try out “looks” while the camera is live, providing immediate feedback as you tilt and turn your face.

NPD Senior Makeup Industry Analyst Kissura Mondesir says we’re in the “age of the selfie”— with photo uploads, effects and filters all parts of everyday life. These “try before you buy” virtual makeup tools are a natural extension of our creative expression, and they are sure to be a big hit with Millennials.

These tools provide a better alternative to simply “winging it” online, and they’re certainly helpful (and not to mention — fun!) in narrowing down beauty and fashion items that don’t work for you. But let’s be honest. Do they really provide a revolutionary perspective that you can’t get from a little imagination? And they unfortunately cannot assess how an item fits or feels on you. Many online retailers like Amazon and Zappos have mitigated this risk with liberal return policies that make returns or exchanges free — but this isn’t always a price performer from the retailer’s perspective.

Karen Grant, NPD’s global beauty industry analyst, knows the space better than anyone else. She says the online space is the most dynamic in terms of prestige beauty product growth. But she prefaces this by saying that beauty is still a category where consumers thrive on touching and experimenting, so there remains a need for an in-store element and/or advisor.

Playing dress-up

What’s the best alternative to trying on clothes in person?

Trying them on your virtual avatar.

Using virtual body doubles for online shopping could one day become a mainstream reality, thanks to 3D scanners that create highly accurate models of the human body. These expensive scanners can exist in offline stores in the form of heavy-duty, advanced radio wave scanners, or

laser-based devices like Microsoft Kinect. Alternatively, consumers could enjoy direct scanner access via mobile device cameras or webcams, though these would produce less precise models.

Bloomingdales has experimented with Me-Ality technology, using body imaging machines to match consumers with their appropriate off-the-rack sizes. Men’s fashion brand Alton Lane takes it one step further by conducting in-person body scans at its showrooms and using these precise measurements to design and produce bespoke suits for its clientele. Armed with their virtual avatars, customers can then make future purchases on Alton Lane’s website and feel confident about fit.

Software company Styku is developing a platform that creates 3D models of both garments and shoppers, recommends sizing, and allows shoppers to see how clothing items would likely look on them (via their virtual avatars).

If retailers are willing to invest in and roll out this technology, body scanners will disrupt the apparel industry and open up the online market to risk-averse consumers otherwise skeptical of e-commerce.

Ya feel me?

In the long term, expect to see a cost-effective solution to e-commerce malaise in the form of haptic devices — technology that allows us to feel the texture of an online product through transmitted touch. Haptic devices recreate the sense of touch through tactile feedback by applying forces and vibrations to user devices. Imagine being able to swipe your finger across a tablet screen to feel smooth silk or coarse wool.

Many technology firms are developing systems they hope to one day roll out for commercial retail use—but in order to go mainstream, haptics need to spark device manufacturers’ interest. As of now they’ve garnered minimal interest due to a lack of compelling use cases, so consumers should not expect to see them on the market any time soon.

A rose by any other name . . .

We’ve discussed virtual sight, fi t, and feel—but what about virtual smell? Beauty and cosmetics brands are getting in on the virtual reality game, but are fragrance retailers also innovating in this space?

Tech companies have developed cell phone plugins that allow users to text the smells of “bacon” or “flowers” to friends for fun. If consumers are game for this, why wouldn’t they be interested in a similar application for fine fragrances? Imagine being able to shop online for perfume without a trip to the store, by sampling different trademarked scents through your mobile device? Or better yet, forgo your own perfume application, and just carry your phone around with you and let it emit the fragrance!

NPD Fragrance Industry Analyst Brenna Phelan warns that while consumers might be apt to embrace this virtual fragrance concept, the industry is not. Luxury fragrance brands succeed in part because of the high-quality ingredients and artistry of the perfumers — qualities that may not translate well through virtual smelling. The absence of this category on the virtual front is worth noting.

Beam me up, Scotty

As long as you’re trying clothes on your virtual avatar, you might as well extend the virtual reality and let your body double make a quick spin at the virtual store, too.

One firm at the forefront of developments in the virtual reality space is Oculus VR, acquired by Facebook for $2 billion in March 2014. The tech company is developing the Oculus Rift, a head-mounted 3D display for virtual reality. Though its primary application is for entertainment, film, and gaming, it also has relevance in retail. This technology would allow shoppers to benefit from any number of the fit technologies described above — except they would exist in a completely “closed” virtual world, through a 3D simulated environment. You could put on a headset in the comfort of your home and immerse yourself in an alternative shopping reality, browse and feel products, see how they look on your avatar, and make a direct purchase.

Though flashy and fun, this device won’t have real potential in the retail world until it is fully developed, and until software companies create the virtual worlds to live within it.

Physical gets digital

So just as e-commerce sites can use new technologies to become more human, traditional brick-and-mortar stores are trying to become more digital.

Retailers like Bloomingdales, Topshop, and Burberry have deployed augmented reality technology in their physical stores to allow shoppers to see how products look — without physically trying anything on. Bloomingdales and Topshop experimented with Microsoft Kinect to create 3D virtual dressing rooms; with the help of a motion-sensor, shoppers could wave their hands to scroll through different apparel items as the technology overlaid 3D clothing images over their real-time “reflections.”

On the beauty front, Burberry created a Digital Runway Nail Bar in one of its London stores, where customers can virtually test out new nail polish colors. By placing a nail polish bottle on the RFID-enabled platform, customers see the polish appear on the fingers of a virtual hand on a screen; they can then select a skin tone similar to their own to compare how different nail shades might look on their own fingers.

Panasonic recently debuted a “smart mirror” at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show with the hopes of rolling it out to department stores. The mirror has an embedded camera that can scan and project an image of your face on top of your reflection, and enables you to try out different looks by applying digital makeup — and even facial hair!

Sounds similar to L’Oréal’s virtual makeover tool — except Panasonic’s mirror analyzes your face using high definition cameras, points out facial flaws (lines, age spots, etc.), and tells you which products can fix them.

The real deal?

Though certainly engaging and fun, these digital dressing rooms and mirrors don’t seem to provide greater insight than does holding up a real shirt against your real body, or applying actual makeup to your face. Though these technologies might be additive online, offline they seem a bit duplicative. And what’s more, they can’t really offer much insight into how something fits or feels. So while you may save time in the short term, you could wind up spending more time returning items later.

It might just be worth it to endure the dressing room queue.

And as for a smart mirror that points out your flaws? Would you want a computer to point out the bags under your eyes and project them onto a public screen?

What works

Retailers from Walmart to Target are experimenting with 3D computer simulations and other technologies to enhance the real-world shopping experience. The ones who seem to get it are those who have found a way to extend the perks of online shopping to the physical store. Here are some examples of what’s working:

  • Sephora and Pantone teamed up to create Color IQ, an in-store digital beauty device that scans the surface of your skin, assigns it a “Color IQ”, and then matches you with the right foundation color from over 1,500 product options.
  • The software company Zugara has developed a technology that allows shoppers to try on one apparel item and digitally view what it looks like in different colors and styles.
  • American Apparel rolled out an application that lets patrons scan items via mobile device to get more information on products, see floor items in different colors, and read reviews by other customers.
  • Israeli mobile app Zikit pushes mobile coupons and offers from retailers to shoppers who walk into stores, providing retailers with behavioral insights on individual shoppers. This eventually allows stores to tailor personalized suggestions to these customers after repeated app use.

If the above technologies one day go mainstream, retailers could learn to know us and our shopping preferences, and never again will we become lost in a store!

Two worlds at the same time

Some brands are putting shoppers into a completely immersive digital world, turning to virtual reality for branding endeavors.

Topshop, for example, gave its fans a seemingly front-row view of a fashion show during London Fashion Week: store visitors were virtually transported to the catwalk with a pair of goggles (while stationary).

North Face employed a similar virtual initiative to elevate its in-store experience and brand storytelling. The outdoor product company transported in-store customers to Yosemite National Park and Moab Desert via Google Cardboard in partnership with technology firm Jaunt. In between shopping at flagship store locations, customers could virtually rock climb and trek the landscapes with famous athletes.

The future is now

So here’s the thing: these new technologies offer competitive advantages of one type or another to everyone. In-store shopping could become more fun. Online shopping could become more real. Consumers who can’t find clothes that fit will find clothes that fit. Even the most tactile and sensory of shopping experiences could move online, and the most dramatic and dangerous of real-world experiences could be enjoyed in the safety of a virtual environment.

Brands like North Face and Topshop, Sephora and American Apparel, Panasonic, Bloomingdales, Burberry, and more are all investing in these new technologies because they know you don’t need a VR headset to see the future. You just have to face it.

Fashion Accessories
Insights and Opinions from our Analysts and Experts

April 27, 2016

Handbag Buying Behavior Revelations

The journey of buying a handbag “seems closer to buying a car than to buying clothing.” That’s the take of Rohan Deuskar, the Founder and CEO of Stylitics, based on insights from a new study entitled “The New Handbag Consumer Revealed.” The NPD Group recently partnered with Stylitics, the creator of an app that tracks the contents of 300,000 Millennials’ closets, to understand the factors that influence women as they look to purchase a new bag.

Rohan’s quote might seem a bit extreme, but he was reacting to the findings that are detailed in the “Customer Journey” section of the report. We learned that women are doing an extensive amount of research prior to purchasing a bag, leveraging a number of resources like websites, retail stores and social media. It is a rational process, as handbags of course serve a functional purpose, but they also serve an emotional one. A woman considers the purchase to be an investment in her style and personality, regardless of price point, and she does not want to make a wrong choice. Just like buying a car, it’s a very personal choice. I can relate to this, and studying the findings of this research offered me the opportunity to do a bit of soul-searching, comparing my own behaviors to those of the women that were surveyed and interviewed, and I learned a few things about myself. What follows is an exclusive tell-all about my handbag ownership and buying behaviors.

The biggest revelation for me was that I’m a “Status Seeker” (there – I said it!). In terms of my closet inventory (the brands that I own and have purchased recently), I fall into the “Luxury Seeker” sub-segment. This means that most of the brands I own are from the Status brand group, but like the typical Luxury Seeker, I do splurge on Designer brands occasionally. That’s where the similarities to buying a car come in – when I’m going to spend a large sum of money that I’ve set aside for a bag, I research for weeks or months before making a decision. Like many of the respondents, I don’t like large logos, but do want others to recognize what I’m carrying (who doesn’t like a little approval from others?). I also learned that I belong to the segment with the smallest collection of handbags (although my husband would never believe it). In this regard, I’m more like a “Luxury Loyalist,” and I suppose my aspiration is to one day have my brand assortment match that of this segment as well.

How much do you know about your current, target, and/or aspirational consumer? How does she approach buying a new bag? Chances are, like I do, she fits into a number of the segments profiled in the study, which means your competition is wider than you may have thought, and that has significant implications on your product and marketing strategies.

And by the way, I’d like to be a loyal luxury car buyer one day too…

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