It's changing consumer lifestyles, not problems with fashion, that are driving changes in the women's apparel market
For several years, women's fashion designers and retailers have celebrated the surge in interest in the fashion accessory. Starting with Carrie Bradshaw's famous addiction to Manolo Blahnik shoes on Sex and the City, and continuing through years-long waiting lists for an Hérmes Birkin handbag, the women's fashion accessory had been the bright spot for designers and retailers during the recession.
Now, however, the women's apparel industry is expressing concern that women seem to be shying away from making purchases of women's apparel, and that the interest in shoes and handbags has masked a change in consumer behavior regarding fashion.
Get Inspired >> Fashion Isn't the Problem; Rather Its Changing Women's Lifestyles and Expectations
In a recent cover story in WWD on June 4 by David Moin, entitled "Women's Fashion Needs Retail Jolt," industry experts point to challenges faced in the women's apparel industry. For example, Karen Katz, president and CEO of Neiman Marcus, says, "Fine apparel is particularly challenging right now...There are lifestyle changes. Customers have become very discerning. They want something very unique, very fashionable, something lasting for her wardrobe."
Saks Fifth Avenue chairman and ceo Stephen Sadove concurs, "Certain areas with classic brands aren't doing as well...The women's business [is] being driven more by fashion - where it's more contemporary." And Gary Muto, president of Loft, says, "It's really important to realize that today, women have one wardrobe. Years ago, they would have a wardrobe for work and wardrobe for weekend clothes."
The WWD article goes on to explain, "The bulk of the business - designer apparel, classic and
traditional sportswear, suits, tailored looks, outerwear, basics, missess' and juniors - has been in the doldrums for some time." Author Moin identifies these problems besetting the apparel industry:
- Too much inventory
- Insufficient innovation
- Sameness and
- Failure to keep up with the changing lifestyles of women.
In addition, the article blames the industry for failing to keep pace with women's perceived need for work-to-evening dressing and a craving for unusual details like colored denim and asymmetrical hems. Allen Questrom, former chairman and CEO of Penney's, Federated Department Stores and Barneys New York, put it succinctly, "I don't see much out there that's new and different. There's a lot of stuff. If something is new and different, people will buy it."
Women may indeed be looking for a cool detail or a versatile piece when shopping for an addition to their closet, but industry experts who try to predict the future by watching women shop are destined for disappointment. The fact is, the lingering effects of the recession and the differing desires of the generations combine to make women's clothing and fashion an entirely new world segmented by age, lifestyle, sizes, psychology. Designers, marketers, and retailers need to look to research to understand their new fashion customer.
Take Action>> Delve Deeply into the Psychology of Your New Fashion Consumer
Women's fashion marketers need to look beyond their own stores to understand their consumer, integrating research findings into marketing strategies. Rather than centering their approach around product design or merchandising, they need to construct customer-centric organizations that can anticipate consumer's needs and desires. By drawing on the power of research, especially qualitative market research, marketers can hear consumers talk about their desires in their own words. Combined with quantitative data, this is a powerful tool for understanding what draws consumers to the store and gets her to buy. Hint: it is going to take more than a change in hemline.
The chart is from the new Unity Marketing Luxury Clothing and Apparel Snapshot Report, 2012.
In marketing, perception is reality. Customers define what value is, but marketers can influence customers' perceptions. Starting with a firm understanding of consumer behavior - not just where people shop and what they buy, but also how they shop - marketers can provide these new experiences. Women's fashion marketers should take a close look at the surge in interest among affluent consumers in brands like Ann Taylor and Banana Republic. These more accessible retail fashion brands are delivering an experience the customer desires, and the message from this behavior cannot be ignored.
Finally, women's fashion marketers must inspire consumers to choose their brand by controlling all of the "Ps" of marketing, both the tangibles (place, price, product, promotion) and the intangibles (perception, performance, peripheral, people). Building a brand is a long-term investment, and a focus on brand-building now will enhance customers' perceived value in the future.
Women's apparel marketers must look as deeply at their customers' desires as they do at next season's designs. The key to enticing the new fashion consumer to buy lies not in a work-to-weekend outfit with a cool new detail, but in a consistent branding message that stresses value and understanding of the consumer's wants and needs.
Let me help you bridge the gap between research and action. Call me for a customized solution at 717.336.1600.