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Today’s customer wants more bag for her buck and retailers are ready to give it to her.
This story first appeared in the July 27, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
On main floors across the country, department stores are gearing up for another fall season amid a sluggish economy. Intent on offering shoppers more, they’re keeping a close eye on pricing and banking on styles that offer multiple options.
In the 12 months through May, handbag and tote sales were estimated at $7.5 billion, down 5 percent from the previous year, according to The NPD Group market research firm.
“With handbags, it’s all about newness, that’s what the customer is gravitating toward,” said Russell Orlando, Macy’s Inc.’s fashion director. “We are all about convertibles, multistraps, messengers and mini messengers, cross-bodies. She’s getting a little bit more with these great items.”
Paula Lewandowski, divisional merchandise manager of accessories at The Bon-Ton Stores Inc., based in York, Pa., also noted that cross-bodies and convertibles, offering “dual-purpose functionality in one bag,” are expected to perform. “They offer style, functionality and convenience at a terrific value,” she said.
Both retailers cited berry shades as a top fall trend, from lines such as Alfani, Style & Co., Nine West and Fossil, all priced for less than $200. Orlando found women are looking for a cleaner, “less is more,” polished look.
“Our customer still wants fashion, but a cleaned-up version of fashion,” he said. “What she considers fashion is something she gets more use out of. If she can wear something two different ways, it’s going to get her.”
Dillard’s cited Michael Michael Kors leather totes retailing at $198 and Dooney & Bourke hobos at $235 as on-trend and priced appropriately.
“The tote trend from last fall continues, but we have worked with our vendors to have great bags at a great value to enhance sales for fall 2009,” said Gail Webb, divisional merchandise manager for handbags for the Little Rock, Ark.-based chain.
At Lord & Taylor, vendors have been “very realistic” when it came to fall pricing, according to Mary Anne Morin, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for accessories.
“If a style was $325 last year, the similar style this year is $298, but they didn’t take anything away from the bag to hit the lower price point,” said Morin. “Unexpected details are very important — color trims, hardware detailing — anything that gives the consumer a reason to buy something she doesn’t already own. It’s all about value and ‘wow.’”
Stage Stores Inc., the Houston-based chain, said this fall’s hot bag is anything “animal” or items with ruched details. Marketing manager Kim Bell anticipated animal-print bags from Jackson and Bueno retailing for $35 to $50, as well as embossed styles by Marc Ecko, to be top sellers this coming season.
“She still wants great quality and great looks at a great price,” Bell said. “These bags offer great fashion looks and high-quality styles at compelling prices.”
Fred Levine, owner of M. Fredric, a contemporary chain in California, said his customers love the look of exotic skins and that anything in the $300 range moves particularly well. Key labels include Big Buddha and Leatherock.
“What we’re moving a ton of is the imitation leather faux,” Levine said. “It’s such a hot category because of the economic times, and the chemistry and production of man-made textiles is so advanced now that it’s just amazing.”
Levine also cited neutrals and other earthy tones as bestsellers.
“People say they want pops of color, but those are never the ones that sell first, probably because neutrals and basics are a better investment,” Levine said. “If you buy it in lime green, orange or violet, it will be a little limited in use.”