By  on July 9, 2007

Even with the newest gadgets vying for teens' attention, back-to-school is expected to remain a top-selling season for apparel and accessories.

This was the consensus of a panel of analysts, retailers and fashion forecasters at a recent roundtable, who also said they were placing their bets on American Eagle Outfitters and J. Crew to score big with teens this season. The panelists concluded the teen apparel segment tended to be immune to the effects of higher fuel costs and a softening housing market.

"Our concern is not so much gas prices or mortgages, it's the other categories vying for the kid dollar," said Kathy Bradley-Riley, senior vice president of merchandising at The Doneger Group. "The right electronic equipment, the right cell phone, the iPod; there's only a certain amount of dollars to spend, and those categories are getting first preference as opposed to, ‘Do I have the right shorts?'"

Participants in the panel discussion also included Dana Telsey, founder and chief research officer at Telsey Advisory Group; Tim Bess, market analyst at Doneger; Irma Zandl, principal from the Zandl Group, and Betsy Thompson, director of public relations at Talbots. The roundtable was held at WWD's editorial offices and was hosted by Berns Communications Group.

On the trend front, the panelists said baby-doll tops and the continuation of Eighties-inspired styles should give teens a strong reason to shop this season.

"With the newness out there and what retailers are doing to draw traffic to their stores, and with their marketing investments, we certainly feel we should have a better second half than first half of the year," Telsey predicted.

This year, retailers are doing a better job of targeting the customer and using multimedia functions, such as Web sites and e-mail, to better communicate what is happening in the stores.

Among the panelists, American Eagle Outfitters was cited as the clear winner for b-t-s. "They have a track record, they're trend-right, they have merchandise that the kid understands, their prices are correct," Bess said. "I also think their Web site is brilliant; it's really easy to navigate, while some of the others out there are difficult. And I think that the kid is actually on it."

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