Apparel Market Research & Business Solutions

No other industry changes as rapidly as fashion. What’s hot today is blasé tomorrow. Innovation becomes retro. Seasons change. Hemlines rise and fall ... and so do your sales figures. A celebrity makes a fashion statement on the red carpet and suddenly your financial statements are covered in red.

How do companies win in such an environment? The apparel, footwear, and accessories markets have depended upon The NPD Group for fashion market research and solutions for decades. Leading brands rely on us for comprehensive information and analysis about consumer spending and shopping behavior plus customized solutions that drive better business decisions.

How do we do it?  We collect information from more than 1,200 retailer partners representing 165,000 stores worldwide, field 12 million consumer surveys each year, and mine the receipts of millions of consumers -- to tell our clients what, where, and why people are buying.   We bring those robust data assets along with our 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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Products


Retail Tracking

Monitor sales of men’s, women’s, and children’s apparel in department stores, specialty stores, and national chains. You also can use this service to track sales of women’s accessories in department stores and national chains. It delivers the most detailed point-of-sale (POS) information available for the fashion industry to guide your critical business decisions.

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Consumer Tracking

Understand who is buying apparel and accessories, and how, why, and where they are shopping. Based on market research information from nearly 2 million consumers, the service delivers an unmatched view across all retail channels in the U.S. In Canada, the Consumer Tracking Service focuses on apparel.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Solutions


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 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 solutions to solve their business challenges in our Solutions Case Study Library.


Reports


November 6, 2015

Explore the Bra Purchase Journey

This report is designed to help you target new customer segments, inform product design, refine strategic messaging, and activate brand communication throughout the bra-purchasing journey. Learn how women shop for bras, what influences bra purchase decisions, and how brands influence those perceptions. It’s how to get the right products in the right places for the right people.

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July 9, 2015

2015 Women's Special Sizes Report

You can use the 2015 Women's Special Sizes Report to understand how the special-sized shopper thinks, how she shops, the brands and retailers she chooses, and more. You’ll discover how special-sized women classify themselves by size, how they prefer to be marketed to, and where your best opportunities exist in this growing segment of the U.S. apparel market.

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June 15, 2015

Checkout Tracking Online – Footwear Industry Insights

Comprehensive information on consumer buying behavior at the market basket level, straight from consumers’ purchase receipts

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June 15, 2015

Do You Know How Much More Loyal Customers Are Worth in Underwear?

If a man is loyal to an underwear brand, how much more is he willing to spend for that brand compared to a brand he is not loyal to?

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June 15, 2015

Do You Know How Much More Loyal Customers Are Worth in Casual Footwear?

If a man is loyal to a casual footwear brand, how much more is he willing to spend compared to a brand he is not loyal to?

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June 15, 2015

Do You Know How Much More Loyal Customers Are Worth in Activewear?

If a woman is loyal to an activewear brand, how much more is she willing to spend for that brand compared to a brand she is not loyal to?

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Press Releases


June 6, 2016

Sports Bras are a Staple of Millennials’ Bra Wardrobe, Reports NPD

Port Washington, NY, June 6, 2016 – Sports bras are the go-to bra for Millennials. With sizing ease and long-term comfort top-of-mind, Millennials start their bra wardrobe with sports bras and these seamless, activewear bras remain a wardrobe staple. While 41 percent of Millennials said they wor Sports bras are the go-to bra for Millennials. With sizing ease and long-term comfort top-of-mind, Millennials start their bra wardrobe with sports bras and these seamless, activewear bras remain a wardrobe staple. While 41 percent of Millennials said they wore a sports bra in the past seven days, that number was much lower, just 21 percent, among non-Millennial women, according to the 2015 Bra Journey Insights report from global information company The NPD Group.

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March 31, 2016

The Number of Teens Buying Plus-Size Clothing Has Nearly Doubled Since 2012, Reports NPD

Two-thirds of U.S. females consider themselves to be a special size; one-third identifies as plus-size Port Washington, NY, March 31, 2016 – Teenage females in the U.S. are changing when it comes to the types of clothing sizes they are purchasing, according to the 2015 Women’s Special Sizes Study Teenage females in the U.S. are changing when it comes to the types of clothing sizes they are purchasing, according to the 2015 Women’s Special Sizes Study from global information company The NPD Group. While there has been a sizeable decline among U.S. teens purchasing in the junior size category – from 81 percent in 2012, to 73 percent in 2015 – the percentage of those purchasing plus-size clothing has grown almost two-fold – now 34 percent, compared to 19 percent in 2012.

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March 7, 2016

Warmer Weather and Interest in the Outdoors Spurs Growth in Camping Equipment Sales

Port Washington, NY, March 7, 2016 – The fall and winter months are more commonly associated with warm coats than camping tents, but with 2015 being the second warmest year on record in the U.S. (behind 2012), annual outerwear sales were flat and camping-related equipment helped to grow the ou The fall and winter months are more commonly associated with warm coats than camping tents, but with 2015 being the second warmest year on record in the U.S. (behind 2012), annual outerwear sales were flat and camping-related equipment helped to grow the outdoor industry in 2015, according to global information company The NPD Group.

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February 22, 2016

Millennials Have Triggered an Evolution in the Way Women Shop for Bras, Reports NPD

Port Washington, NY, February 22, 2016 – Bra shopping is a complex process for women of any age, but the way Millennial women shop for and select bras differs significantly from the behavior of older generations, according to the 2015 Bra Journey Insights report from global information company The N Bra shopping is a complex process for women of any age, but the way Millennial women shop for and select bras differs significantly from the behavior of older generations, according to the 2015 Bra Journey Insights report from global information company The NPD Group.

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January 28, 2016

Small Personal Accessories Brought Big Business Opportunity in 2015, Reports NPD

Wallets, wristlets, and key fobs are driving significant dollar volume growth, when priced right Port Washington, NY, January 28, 2016 – Approximately 20 million small personal accessories were sold in U.S. department store, national chain, and direct-to-consumer retailers in 2015, a 4 percent incre Approximately 20 million small personal accessories were sold in U.S. department store, national chain, and direct-to-consumer retailers in 2015, a 4 percent increase over 2014, according to Retail Tracking Service data from global information company, The NPD Group. This unit growth, combined with an increase in average selling price, drove 6 percent dollar growth for the category, bringing sales to more than $708 million for these channels*.

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Infographics


Insights


April 25, 2016

Do These Pants Make Me Look Vegan?

Wellness. The term is so ubiquitous nowadays that we rarely stop to think about it outside of the context of juicing, yoga, and expensive sweatpants. What does it actually mean to be well, and what does it mean to adopt a healthy lifestyle?

From spiralizers and coloring books, to burritos and boots that are sustainably-produced – consumers are buying all sorts of products to help them feel and look better. What else do they eat, buy, and wear to embody healthy living?

Read on for shopping trends in food, home, fitness, tech, fashion, beauty, and more industries. Discover what the top-growing retail categories have in common, how the wellness craze is playing out across different generations, and what it means for you as a manufacturer or retailer.

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March 3, 2016

Winning Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers With the Five Ws

Every journalist and student in America knows the so-called five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why. It turns out the same five Ws are also the most basic forms of consumer segmentation.

But relationships among the five Ws of shopping are a bit more complex than they are among the five Ws of writing. And the tales they tell are illuminating.

We shared online and brick-and-mortar, receipt-based data from our Checkout TrackingSM service with researchers from the Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania. The study revealed the what and the why of consumer purchases are linked to the when of consumers’ lifestyles. In other words, when people have babies, they buy baby things. But the how and where of purchases are tied to who a consumer is by generation.

Even when the other four Ws are the same, it’s who we are – Boomer, Gen X, or Millennial – that makes all the difference.

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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.
 

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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.

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September 9, 2015

Footwear Industry Scorecard

It’s been a strong year for footwear, which reached total sales of $64 billion in the 12 months ending in June 2015—a YOY increase of 5 percent. Sneakers were the top-performing category, generating $1.2 billion in sales and responsible for 38 percent of the footwear industry’s growth. Nike, Skechers, Vans, Brand Jordan, and Under Armour stood out as the brands with the highest YOY growth. And we can give a big thanks to the Millennial segment (aged 18-34) for their strong industry support. This group’s footwear fervor contributed to one-third of total footwear sales and fueled nearly two-thirds of the industry’s growth.

What accounts for the strong growth in online sales? NPD Sports Industry Analyst Matt Powell attributes sneaker e-tail success to the inability of retail storefronts to carry all sizes and color combinations. “Since most adult sneakers come in more than 20 sizes, it’s virtually impossible for a single retail door to stay in stock on every size. The Internet, however, is rarely out of stock,” he explains. Likewise, the style and color selection of shoes is much broader on the Web than in store. Matt also points out the heavy influence of Zappos, which pioneered the “free shipping, both ways” model, allowing shoppers to buy shoes online with little risk. Most retailers offer this incentive now, so buying shoes online is simple and risk free.

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September 1, 2015

Apparel Industry Scorecard

It’s been a healthy year for the apparel industry, which enjoyed $214.2 billion in total channel sales in the 12 months ending in June 2015—a YOY increase of 2.8 percent. What drove that growth? In case you missed it, we’re in the midst of an activewear golden age. Consumers want to dress in a way that supports a healthy lifestyle, and this has been reflected in robust sales growth of active bottoms, swimwear, outerwear, and socks. But it’s worth noting that conventional categories like suits, tights, dress shirts, and dresses have also seen strong gains in the past year.

Perhaps the most striking trend is the shift to e-commerce: apparel brick-and-mortar sales were relatively flat (down slightly by 0.7 percent YOY), while online sales skyrocketed more than 19 percent. This indicates consumers are more and more willing to buy online as brands offer faster shipping, liberal return policies, and virtual ways to better experience and assess items online. What does this mean for brick-and-mortars? They’re going to need to step up their in-store game to meet increasing customer expectations, be it integrating virtual technologies into store displays, building true store “experiences,” or blurring the lines by creating a less gendered shopping environment for consumers.

You’re probably tired of hearing about them, but it’s impossible to discuss the health of the apparel industry without acknowledging the role Millennials play in its success. Fashion categories are growing faster among younger generations: Gen Y consumers increased their apparel spend by 7 percent, while the 35+ segment decreased spending by 2 percent. And Millennials invest more in apparel than they do in beauty, health, footwear, or accessories. Even the jeans category, which has seen a tough past couple of years, can find hope in this younger segment. These consumers are buying new jeans at a faster rate than all other age groups.

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August 10, 2015

What feels longer than a school day to a 10-year old?

This year’s Back-to-School season

Ahh the Back-to-School shopping season! That make or break time of year for many of the manufacturers and retailers who toil in the world of academic supplies and related paraphernalia. 

It can be a stressful time. And although the stress levels this year are likely no worse than usual, the stressful time is extending.  The back-to-school season is now much longer than it used to be.

The reasons are numerous -- rapid delivery and the ease of shopping online let consumers procrastinate; retailers themselves have looked to drive BTS sales earlier in the year by promoting items at the start of the summer; and those early-summer promotions tend to lead to discounting as the start of school approaches, rewarding bargain-conscious consumers who wait until the last minute.

The result is that that the BTS season is stretching on both ends.

Research from Google shows that consumers are beginning their search for BTS purchases earlier and earlier. This year’s BTS-related searches began a week earlier than in 2014, and three weeks earlier than in 2013.

At the same time, research from The NPD Group shows that consumers are doing their BTS clothes shopping later than usual. The majority of consumers surveyed didn’t start shopping until early August, which is generally considered the end of the season. And many consumers aren’t expecting to finish shopping until after the school bell rings.

As The NPD Group’s Marshal Cohen put it: “When so many consumers are planning to do their back-to-school shopping in the months not traditionally considered part of the season by retailers, it’s time to break with tradition and change the way we market and measure this shopping season.”

So just when will the BTS season hit its peak? Below are the dates when BTS sales peaked last year in a number of retail categories. Assuming that the early indicators of a lengthening season hold true, then the next few weeks will prove to be the top of the slope.

Peak Week in Sales in 2014

Grocery Stores = August 30

Drug Stores = August 23

Brick & Mortar = August 23

Online = August 16

Average School Start = August 23

Making the (up)grade

Among the more interesting developments in this year’s BTS season is that one of the bigger items in the shopping cart -- the notebook PC -- is facing some unusual challenges.

Microsoft is in the process of rolling out its Windows 10 release. And the timing of that -- in the middle of what is traditionally the second-largest season for notebook sales -- presents challenges to both retailers and PC manufacturers.

“Traditionally an OS release has been a positive occurrence for hardware sales, but this year that typical cadence has been called into question,” according to Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for consumer technology at The NPD Group. “Windows 10 has been positioned by Microsoft mostly as a software upgrade and with the short window of time between the release of the OS and its general availability the stock of Windows 10 PCs in retail stores, primed to take advantage of the season, is likely to be fairly limited until around Labor Day which is probably too late for an incremental burst of selling.”

Sis-boom-bah

In other markets, things look a bit better.

For example, early indicators suggest that sales of athletic footwear will be quite high. Dollar sales in the category grew 8 percent in the first half of the year, while the average selling price rose 7 percent.

“June is a prelude to back-to-school, making this mid-year performance a positive indicator for the back-to-school season,” according to Matt Powell, sports industry analyst, The NPD Group. “These sales results in the first half of 2015 bode well for a strong second half of the year.”

The big winners for BTS are likely to be retro running shoes, which saw sales soar in the first half.

Pencil it in

As you’re waiting to see what the final numbers are for BTS 2015, you may want to do some shopping for the teachers in your life. As it turns out, teachers spend a fair amount of their own money for classroom supplies. That hardly seems fair.

So if you’d like to help, check out our infographic on what teachers need for the classroom this year.

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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

Macintosh HD:Users:katrina laino:Desktop:Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 4.44.25 PM.png

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.

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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? 
Check out this in-depth review of how smart mirrors, VR headsets and other technology are altering retail.

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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.

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Insights and Opinions from our Analysts and Experts


June 7, 2016

Style Me!

Helping to fix my clothing conundrum

When my maternity leave came to what seemed like a very quick end, I began to mentally prepare myself to return to the working world. This meant no more yoga pants, getting eight hours of sleep, and coordinating my head-to-toe outfits each night…I wish! What this really meant was adjusting my body to function on no sleep and figuring out how I can look presentable after realizing…I have no clothes!

All my pre-baby clothes were no longer flattering, functional, or comfortable. I know what I’m looking for when buying clothes, but struggle in putting the outfits together, and I’m not alone. While women are more apt to pair an outfit together than men – nearly two-thirds** of women have bought pieces to make an outfit in the same purchase – close to a quarter (24 percent)*** agree they don’t know how to coordinate their outfits. And who has the time to coordinate these comfortable yet trendy outfits? This is where the personalization aspect comes into play and the internet is helping make this an affordable option. 

There are lots of possibilities available for those of us who want (a.k.a. need) the help. Close to a quarter of women (23 percent)*** said they would definitely/probably try an online clothing service that personalizes to their style. Then you have about a third of women (31 percent)*** that said they are not sure, but something tells me once they try it they may be hooked…I’m a prime example of that. Subscription type services like StitchFix, Wantable Style Edit, and Trunk Club for Women are becoming increasingly prevalent. I have personally tried two of these subscription sites recently and both exceeded my expectations. They allowed me to express what I was looking for without having to do the searching myself. Net/Net…they took a personal interest in helping to fix my clothing conundrum.

Since 2010, online apparel dollar sales have grown from 11 percent to 18 percent in 2015*. But when you compare apparel to other fashion categories like accessories and footwear, which capture nearly a quarter of total online sales, there is still room to grow. Though these subscription-type sites are still very new, they are changing how consumers shop and retailers (large and small) are taking note. Fit finders, shopping by outfit, or simply offering free shipping and free returns are just a few ways that make shopping for complete outfits online easier. And sometimes just a little help goes a long way. 

Personally, I welcome the idea of having someone else style me, even if that means filling out a fashion survey at 2AM while also rocking my baby back to sleep…at least I’ll look put together!

 

*Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Consumer Tracking Service- 12ME December 2015
**Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Omnibus February 2016
***Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Omnibus April 2016

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May 25, 2016

Time to Realign

There is a growing gap between the retail world and the apparel consumer. The seasonal selling cycle is off, the emphasis on fashion vs. function is out of balance, and there is an overlooked opportunity when it comes to dressing U.S. consumers for work. In order to get back on track, especially in the wake of recent lackluster retail earnings, the apparel industry needs to realign itself with the consumer.

It’s the end of May, the weather forecast in New York is just now showing signs of warmer temperatures, and retailers have been selling spring clothing for months. But most consumers began spring shopping in April, as these now “old” styles were being discounted. The majority of consumers (83 percent) told NPD that they shop for clothes during or after the changing seasons. Retailers should put a longer selling season in place for key items in order to capitalize on both early and late selling opportunities.

On the scale of very fashionable to very traditional, 82 percent of consumers said their style of dress falls somewhere between the middle and the very traditional end of the spectrum. Consumers tell us they want mainstream product with a touch of trend, but the industry puts most of their focus on flashy, high-end, avant-garde fashions – which the average consumer won’t buy. Manufacturers need to focus on function, before fashion.

Last, but not least, it’s impossible to underestimate the importance of marketing a lifestyle to today’s consumer. The athleisure trend, for example, appeals to consumers who buy into a more casual, healthier way of living. And this casualization has also extended to the workplace.  Half of consumers told NPD that what they wear for work is somewhat the same as what they wear when they are not working. Another 16 percent said that what they wear is completely the same in and outside of work. This means that 65 percent of U.S. consumers have at least some overlap between the clothes they wear to work and the clothes they wear when they are not working.

The lines are blurring everywhere we look, and the apparel industry is faced with the challenge of developing product and marketing approaches that effectively address a new kind of fluidity among today’s consumers. When they shop, what they buy, and how they dress is no longer clearly defined, but each of these things is clearly guided by the consumer. It’s time to realign. Now is the time for retailers and brands to wake up, catch up, and deliver what consumers are asking for. 

Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / April 2016 Omnibus

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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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April 18, 2016

April Showers And The Email Flood

Springtime bloomed in stores months ago, though the season is only a few weeks old and, moreover, it hasn’t felt much like it in many parts of the country. For all this time, retailers’ heaps of promotional emails and text messages touting skirts and spring essentials have likely been overlooked by consumers.

Over 196 billion emails were sent and received around the world each day in 2014, and that figure is projected to rise to over 227 billion by 2018. Looking at business email alone, each user receives, on average, nearly 90 emails per day*. Add our personal accounts and text messaging into the mix and the result is a burdensome amount of content to filter through and read, day after day.

According to a recent NPD survey**, regardless of age, almost one-third of consumers responded that they receive “too many” emails and/or text messages about apparel clothing. About the same percentage said they “don’t get any” of these types of communications, and just over one-third said the quantity is “just right.” These results are somewhat unexpected, and pose a real challenge for marketers. In order to attract, connect with, and maintain consumers across such equally divided groups, brands and retailers need to delve deeper and ask some questions to understand each of them.

  • How can frustration and negative feelings about digital communications be turned around?
  • Is there a missed opportunity with the consumers that don’t receive any of these communications?
  • Are the consumers that feel things are being done just right being more selective by subscribing to retailers that are ‘doing it right’, or do they simply have a higher tolerance for these types of communications?

There are numerous scenarios at play; nonetheless, the fact that promotions are a strategic and effective way to reach consumers and boost ROI is consistent across the board. As consumers turn their minds toward spring, this is prime time for brands and retailers to set their sights on a fresh approach.

As we experienced on the East Coast, spring took its time to arrive; the season began with high 60-degree days overlapping with snow showers and below freezing temperatures. More than one-third of consumers did not yet have spring apparel shopping on their radar**. Despite the unpredictable weather, by now many consumers are getting spring shopping fever and have grown tired of sweaters and turtlenecks. In stores, which abide by the retail calendar regardless of the temperature outside their doors, April is the month when they begin to mark down spring-related product after months of stocking it in their stores. Digital promotions provide an opportunity for retailers to tailor the message they use to reach consumers, tout these promotions, and drive traffic when it’s more in line with the consumers’ wants.

One key to achieving optimal balance across consumer segments is through greater customization and personalization of digital communications. Brands and retailers need to tailor their messages by age, demographic, geography, and by paying attention to past interaction and behavior. Identifying with consumers in this way could breathe new life into digital communications.

*Email Statistics Report 2014-2018, The Radicati Group
**The NPD Group, Inc. / March 2016 Omnibus

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January 21, 2016

Holiday Shopping Remorse

Despite the abundance of promotions designed to lure consumers to shop early and often throughout the 2015 holiday shopping season, the final sales results have been mixed. In reality, there may have been too many promotions for consumers to digest. A great sale can result in an impulse purchase, and that’s what you want in the world of retail, right? Yes, impulse purchases are an important part of retail success. However, as with any impulsive decision, regret can follow.

This holiday season, buyer’s remorse took root. According to a recent NPD survey, 17 percent of shoppers said they returned, or planned to return, products they purchased for themselves while holiday shopping, while only 12 percent planned to return gifts they received from others*.

Holiday sales captured the attention of consumers; there is no question about that. More than seven out of every 10 shoppers took advantage of sales offered when making purchases for themselves or others this holiday season*, but the early and constant promotions may have altered the consumer’s shopping habits to a point where it worked against retailers. Whether shoppers didn’t give a lot of thought to their pre-purchase decision making, or they returned and re-purchased items to get a better deal, the heavy promotion approach appears to have backfired to some degree.

The shopping experience remains challenged by the lack of new products, confusion from blurred channel lines, and an evolving consumer base that simply demands more. Retailers looking ahead towards holiday 2016 should be careful what they wish for – earlier promotions may bring earlier shopping, but that doesn’t ensure greater sales results in total. Retailers need to do a better job of pacing the holiday, putting sales in place at strategic and necessary times, rather than the shotgun approach we have seen for the past few years. Consumers have just so much money to spend, and just so many people on their gift lists. Deliver new and exciting merchandise, and put the excitement back in holiday shopping. That will drive consumers to buy on impulse (because they really want something, not just because it is a good deal), get caught up in the holiday spirit, and ultimately bring growth to the holiday season.

*Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / December 2015 Omnibus

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January 11, 2016

Decision 2016 – Boots Edition

Even if you remain undecided in terms of which presidential candidate to back, I’m sure by now you’ve taken a stand on one of the key issues on the trail that has recently emerged – Marco Rubio’s boots.

Last week, The New York Times reported on the “surprising focus on Senator Marco Rubio’s shiny, stack-heeled ankle boots.” Other candidates weighed in via Twitter. Senator Ted Cruz’s communications director posted “A Vote for Marco Rubio Is a Vote for Men’s High-Heeled Booties.” Carly Fiorina posted a photo of her own high-heeled boots and the comment “Yeah, @marcorubio, but can you rock these?” The media weighed in as well, trying to guess the brand and comparing Rubio to musicians and other celebrities.*

Rubio’s campaign shared that the boots are from Florsheim, likely the Duke style that has a retail price of a relatively modest $135. And it turns out that he’s right on trend. According to NPD’s Retail Tracking Service, for the fall retail season so far (August-November ’15), men’s fashion boots grew 6 percent vs. the prior year, compared to the total men’s fashion footwear market which increased 4 percent. This growth was driven by ankle-height shaft styles, like Senator Rubio’s.

However the fuss is not really about the shaft height of Senator Rubio’s boots, it’s about the height of the heels. At 1.75 inches high, I wouldn’t exactly call these “high-heeled” – I don’t think any woman that is used to struggling with four inch heels would. Yes, they are taller than what we typically expect to see on a man. And at 5’10”, Rubio is among the shortest of the presidential candidates, so I don’t blame him for wanting to pick up a couple of inches. At 5’1”, I’ve certainly been there.

What do you think about the boots?

Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Retail Tracking Service
*Source: The New York Times, Marco Rubio’s Shiny Boots Stir Up the Presidential Race, January 7, 2016

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February 5, 2014

Activewear Is Not Just For Athletes Anymore

Have you noticed just how many people are walking the streets or shopping the stores in sweat pants?  How about the number of people wearing yoga pants (by day and by night) to the gym, in the gym, and after the gym? These pants are now perfectly acceptable by most standards.  Consumers have inspired their own fashion trend, and many manufacturers and retailers are just now catching up.  Activewear has been around for a long time, but not since the 90s-inspired Juicy Couture Warmup suits have we seen so much attention to the activewear market.  Activewear is up 9% for the 12 months ending December 2013, compared to the total apparel market, which is only up 2% over the same time period.

This consumer driven trend is beginning to be offered in stores as the seasonal change of merchandise is happening in stores now.  Most of this growth has come from the athletic market, as well as a few tried-and-true active brands.  Activewear makes up 16% of the total apparel market, a trend that will likely change as we see more men and women shift to this truly casual style.  Consumers tell me they love the feel of being able to wear such comfortable clothes without the need to “fuss” over what to wear.  Whether consumers are running errands or meeting friends, it is now all about doing it in casual style.  Even pajama pants are getting into the act, which demonstrates the continued migration towards casual wear.

Activewear is doing well across the range of categories, too: tops and bottoms are both up 6%, outerwear is up 17%, intimates are up 14%, and even socks are up 11%.

Consumers are loving activewear and the active lifestyle. In fact, when asked about their 2014 New Year’s resolution, consumers placed health and fitness as their number one resolution. This marks the first time in over a decade that NPD has been tracking resolutions that consumers didn’t rank diet/food as their top resolution. Regardless of how many of us actually stick to our resolutions and live active lifestyles, most will continue to stick to activewear clothing well into 2014.

Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Consumer Tracking Service, 12 months ending December 2013, dollar sales


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December 1, 2013

What’s Selling So Far?

Holiday weekend shopping results (Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Saturday) are looking good for both brick and click retailers.

The top ten categories that scored well are filled with a few surprises. Topping the list was apparel (no surprise) with 28 percent of purchases, followed by toys at 11 percent (no surprise there, either). But here is the kicker: footwear, which was one of the items we called out in an earlier blog as a hot category to watch for this holiday season, comes in third at 9 percent. Movies and food were both at 9 percent as well. Video games followed at 6 percent, and apparently, appliances make great gifts these days, also securing 6 percent of purchases (so much for the rule about not buying a gift with a plug for a loved one). Gift cards and tablets both started off hot again this year at 5 percent, and the perennial top 10 ranked, books, came in at 4 percent of purchases.

With footwear being a popular “self-gifting” item, the rise of footwear to the top three illustrates the influence that self-gifting has on holiday sales. This, combined with retailers doing a better job of including footwear in their doorbuster sales, made it a force to be reckoned with. For example, one area in stores that saw some of the biggest crowds (and the most chaos) were shoppers grabbing the big shoe boxes filled with boots at great prices. With 4 percent of purchases, TV’s did well, too. I don’t know many people that give a big screen TV as a gift, which leads me to believe that this part of the holiday shopping season is as much about self-gifting and deal hunting as it is about purchasing gifts for others.

Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Anatomy of Black Friday study, November 2013

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August 20, 2013

Say It Isn’t So. The “Murse” Is Back.

While many of us may have noticed others might have not, recently men have been quietly carrying around what women have been addicted to for decades – a bag for their essential items. Men have been silently learning just how important it is to have a bag to carry their “stuff.” “Stuff” such as electronics, chargers, headphones, glasses, grooming tools and products, and even good old fashioned books. And just think about the practical side of this. Men’s clothing has gotten tighter again. Now where do men put those keys or phone?

With this change in fashion and lifestyle, men now do need to carry a bag. The question for most men is just what type. The clutch is growing in popularity in Europe and Asia again but here in the states the European designers are providing a more commercial version with smaller over the shoulder bags and messenger styles. The NPD Group, Inc. Consumer Tracking Service reports that men’s handbags and totes are growing again, 3 percent from July 2012 – June 2013 vs. July 2011 – June 2012. Backpacks, which have been the most popular choice for the past few years, continue their growth spurt with 24 percent more dollars being spent from July 2012 – June 2013 vs. July 2011 vs. June 2012.

So what does all this mean? With more and more devices and tools to lug around in order keep up their image, men are taking a page out of the women’s play book and gravitating to the bag. The real question is going to be just what type of bag will he carry. Might this be the quietly emerging gift to give that special guy this holiday?

So no longer is it just clothes he needs, it’s a bag too.


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September 12, 2012

The Importance of Fashion Week to the Business of Fashion

So just how important is Fashion Week to the business of Fashion? Well, according to the numbers that the NYC Tourism Bureau released – very important. New York Fashion Week contributes more revenue to the city than any other annual event in the NY Metro area. More than the U.S. Open tennis tournament, football games, and concerts. Restaurants, taxi cabs, hotels and even street vendors experience a major lift in their businesses when Fashion Week is in full swing. The short-term objective for Fashion Week – to drive sales for the local businesses – is always a success.

What about the national retail community? Do the “looks” that march down the runway actually make it in-store and influence the consumer buy the new product? The answers are yes and yes. As we see the annual evolution in how the brands and designers utilize Fashion Week as a platform, we find the runway is becoming more accessible to the consumer. They have more access to the shows via the media and internet allowing them to view the shows first-hand. This component, part of the larger strategy for the more cutting-edge designers and brands to connect with their consumer rather than the couture fashion crowd, is working.

The use of unwearable fashion is not obsolete, but the smartest brands and designers today find a way to get the right balance to be able to sell the brand to the retailer as well as to the consumer. Fashion is relevant again. Men have already shown signs that image matters by their desire to invest in their wardrobes to look good. Women were missing in action the past few years but in the past four months they have started to update their tired wardrobes to show a renewed fashion sense. This year, Fashion Week has elevated retailers and brands in the eye of the consumers and as a result, got them back in the game.


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