Catching the Elusive Consumer

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Catching the Elusive Consumer

By Susan Nichols - 09/04/2013

What is changing as I write this and more fluid, elusive and diverse than ever before? Why the consumer of course. So says Marshal Cohen, Chief Industry Analyst, NPD Group, and he is dead right.

Speaking at Sourcing at MAGIC in Las Vegas last month, Cohen encouraged brands and retailers to find and act on the hidden markets and opportunities. As one example, he referenced the man purse or  “murse.” This European trend is the result of men having more electronics and grooming products to carry and no place to put them — and also by the fact that men are wearing tighter pants and clothes, making it even harder to find a spot to stow keys and other items.  Cohen says while most U.S. men would scoff at the idea of carrying a purse, the trend is creeping into the States.  To wit, as of July, men’s bag sales are up three percent; over the shoulder totes are up 12 percent and backpacks are up 27 percent over the previous 12-month period.1

Cohen also noted young male American consumers are wearing a little more tailored clothing, paired with casual footwear.  (They think they are the first generation to discover the suit, he joked.) And yet the market has been  “sluggish” in responding to this.  There also has been huge growth in colorful men’s socks, giving men more options to be a tad edgy.

It comes down to understanding lifestyle changes, Cohen says.  “But as lifestyles change, are we really changing the way in which we run our fashion businesses?” he challenged.

Fueling the passion for fashion is also needed to win more market share.  “We used to care about our outfit — every little detail of our fashion — more than our phone,” he said, urging brands and retailers to find a way for fashion to be paramount again.  As it stands, other products continue to outpace fashion, such as U.S. prestige beauty product sales that are up seven percent as of July over the previous 12-month period.2 Lightweight, high-tech running shoes in bright colors are also dominating, and crossing both gender and age lines.

Cohen noted that men’s base-layer performance wear is starting to bore the consumer and will need a boost.  And he asked why we can’t create more innovative product, questioning for example, why women’s dresses couldn’t have built-in shapewear.

As to which audience to pursue, big opportunities await with the baby boomers, with 50-plusers having deep pockets and turning their interest back to consumption. The post-millennial bunch, or Generation Z, also will bring a new market and new interests.  And clearly there is much speculation about the millennials, which Cohen encourages as well, but he points to some facts that can help shape realistic expectations. For example, while there will be 88 million millennials by 2020 and they spend $1.3 trillion, they also have a current average income of just $27,000; have an average individual debt of $45,000; 36 percent live at home; and 86 percent don’t have enough money to save.
When you are targeting millennials, keep these stats from NPD in mind:
• They are four times more likely to be influenced by Internet content.
• More than half do online reviews.
• Thirty-five percent post live statements while watching TV or movies.
• While they do spend more on apparel vs. shoes and accessories, they spend five times greater on technology.
• They are 77 percent more likely to be influenced by in-store kiosks.
• Their tolerance for the frequency of texts, etc. is high, but tailoring the message is important.
No matter the audience, Cohen says we are in squarely in the era of more.
It takes more communication to get your voice heard; there is more competition from outside the industry; and there is more of a demand for connection and sharing.

Indeed, winning in fashion is no one-trick pony. Read more intelligence on the challenges and opportunities for apparel brands and retailers in the following pages of our “Annual Guide to Software & IT Solutions,” which includes Industry Insights from a number of executives who are deeply invested in finding creative strategies across the supply chain.

Susan S. Nichols is publisher of Apparel.
She can be reached at snichols[email protected]

1 Source: The NPD Group, Inc. Consumer Tracking Service
2 Source: The NPD Group, Inc. BeautyTrends®


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