The back-to-school blitz is around the corner — and the stakes are higher than ever.
The season comes as there are growing fears among executives and analysts of “a double dip” recession. On top of that, weak consumer demand in May and June has created rising inventories and the potential of steeper markdowns in a reminder of the nightmare days of late 2008.
Stores ranging from Macy’s to J.C. Penney to Wal-Mart by mid-July will begin to bombard families with b-t-s campaigns, and the agenda is robust, built around digital initiatives, celebrity tie-ins, price promotions and new merchandise they can call exclusive, as retailers scramble for market share amid consumer lethargy. For these retailers, b-t-s represents the second-biggest volume period of the year, behind only Christmas.
“There seems to be a frantic quality out there,” said a chief executive officer of a major specialty chain, who requested anonymity. “Everyone is concerned about second-half comparisons. Everyone must battle for someone else’s business.”
Store executives are seeking low-single-digit gains for the season and are prepared to face the worst, having kept inventories and expenses down. According to Mike Berry, director of industry research for MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, current spending trends suggest flat to moderate growth. “Until consumer confidence recovers, consumers will be cautious with discretionary spending,” Berry said, explaining that kids are waiting until school is in session to shop for apparel, and that retailers probably won’t see a bump in sales until September or October. But he added: “I don’t want to paint a bleak picture….Kids grow, even in a recession.”
More hopeful was Betty Chen, an analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities. She expects the bulk of b-t-s shopping to occur in August, as consumers look to take advantage of tax-free apparel periods in various states, such as in Florida from Aug. 13 to 15 on books, clothing and footwear under $50 and school supplies under $10. There may be some residual shopping in September and October, she added. “Consumers are very event driven this year. Back-to-school will be a catalyst for them to spend.”
Among the retailers she cited as potentially faring well were Aéropostale and Gymboree, for the values they offer based on their prices and level of quality, but other sources see fast-fashion retailers Forever 21, H&M and Zara eating into such businesses as Abercrombie & Fitch and Aéropostale.
At The Children’s Place, “We will have a much, much greater focus on marketing and our fashion-value equation for this back-to-school period,” said Jane Elfers, president and ceo of Children’s Place Retail Stores Inc. “We really want to get across to the consumer the value we have in our products. That’s our space.”
On Wednesday, Macy’s characterized its b-t-s initiatives as “aggressive” and geared to make the store more appealing to tweens, teens and college coeds. “Macy’s will be extremely competitive….,” said Martine Reardon, Macy’s Inc. executive vice president of marketing.
Macy’s initiatives include the launch of Material Girl by Madonna and her daughter Lourdes Leon, as well as a new young men’s fashion brand, line extensions for three current juniors brands, exclusive “Glee”- branded product, a new Mstylelab sitelet for teens, and a partnership with Microsoft for an exclusive preview of the Kinect for Xbox 360.
J.C. Penney will battle back by launching exclusive MNG by Mango fast-fashion shops next month. Penney’s is also using “hauls” for the first time, which entail Webcams with b-t-s consumers critiquing the retailer’s merchandise. They’re not censored at all except if the language gets salty, Penney’s said.
Generally, pricing will be competitive, Chen said, though she doesn’t see price wars as part of the scenario, with retailers preplanning promotions, unless something “catastrophic” occurs or if there’s a cold snap.
Wal-Mart, the biggest b-t-s destination, is another wild card. The company could unleash an early round of price rollbacks to preempt price promotions at competitors, as it did last Christmas. While a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spokeswoman said the retailer “doesn’t have any big b-t-s plans to announce right now,” the apparel departments of its newest stores will be easier to shop. In juniors, for example, all of Wal-Mart’s own brands will be merchandised as shop-in-shops in a brand alley, with Faded Glory in front. Wal-Mart will carry a new Hannah Montana collection from Disney Consumer Products featuring sequin-embellished T-shirts, vests, jeans and hoodies, priced under $17. There’s also a Hannah Montana beauty line, including a lip balm concealed in a toy microphone.
“Wal-Mart is the acknowledged price leader and can be expected to drive traffic to their stores via price. It’s the kind of thing that happens at the beginning of every important promotional season,” said Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategies at Kurt Salmon Associates.
At Target, “the big news is that our Shawn White apparel line is moving into shoes, bowing July 11. Mossimo is the big go-to for boys and girls. A lot of the trends you’re seeing in magazines for celebrities are hitting the floor pad for girls — the trends that we’re seeing for adults, such as embellishment on Ts, is going into girls’ in a cute, fun way,” said a Target Corp. spokeswoman.
Target will sell for tweens a line called D-Signed, based on wardrobes of Disney Channel characters. Described as a Garanimals for tweens, each character’s group of 12 pieces can be worn 40 ways and will be priced around $20. Disney’s product rollout also involves trendy princess-themed apparel to be sold at Macy’s, while Forever 21 is getting an updated, leggy take on what Minnie Mouse would wear.
For the student body, Macy’s cited layering in varying fabrications and textures, rich colorations such as burnt ocher, chestnut brown, deep purple and midnight blue, a vintage mood in contemporary sportswear, and soft fleece fabrications as taking center stage. Among Macy’s exclusives: “Glee”-branded Ts and hoodies, retailing from $19.99 to $34.99, and a Slade Wilder collection for young men, priced from $19.50 to $39.50, that will be launched with sky banners, floor decals, digital kiosks advertising in more than 20 malls and mobile marketing offering a free T-shirt while supplies last.
Macy’s American Rag private brand is adding plus sizes, and the juniors floor is adding Jenni Intimates for activewear and fashion pieces. Macy’s Jessica Simpson brand is extending from shoes, handbags and jewelry, to ready-to-wear for juniors.
“There is uncertainty, but retailers are in a much better position to withstand less-than-stellar increases,” Aronson said. “Right now, there’s less clearance clogging the system. So retailers will look fresh for back-to-school.”
There'll be no rest for those headed to Europe for men's, as Paris just closed the gap with Milan. According to a provisional calendar released by the Chambre Syndicale, Paris Men's Week will now open a day earlier on January 16. See new highlights on the official lineup on WWD.com. #wwdnews #wwdfashion (📷: @kukukuba)
BREAKING: Jonathan Saunders is leaving @DVF. The designer has resigned from his position as chief creative officer of Diane von Furstenberg, the company said in a statement on Friday. At the time of his hire, von Furstenberg said Saunders’ arrival symbolized and facilitated her stepping back from the day-to-day duties that occupy the work of a full-time creative director. The British designer joined DVF in May 2016 and was in charge of all product categories. #wwdnews
For @versace_official’s spring ad campaign, the brand emphasized the archival prints from the spring tribute collection dedicated to the late Gianni Versace. Closing out the show were five of Gianni’s favorite models: Cindy, Naomi, Carla, Helena, and Claudia. Bowing on December 18, the new campaign is yet another tribute to supermodel-dom as the images by Steven Meisel are fronted by @iamnaomicampbell, @cturlington, @gisele and more. #wwdfashion
Four-time Oscar-nominated actress Annette Bening has been waiting 20 years to play Gloria Graham in "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool," which will be released on December 29. The movie about Graham – a Hollywood star known for her controversial relationship with a younger Englishman named Peter Turner – is based off a memoir Turned wrote. "She felt vulnerable to him, because she loved him, she really did love him. And anyone that we really truly are in love with, we re vulnerable to in a very deep way," said Bening. Read our full interview with the modern icon of an actress on WWD.com. #wwdeye (📷: @ninebagatelles; Styled by @cristinaehrlich)
The crisp white button down: a staple that can be dressed up or down and accessorized throughout the decades. Here, on a Art Basel-goer in 2017 on the left and on the iconic Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday” in 1953 on the right. #tbt #wwdfashion (📷: Andrew Morales)
Known for her work with @victoriassecret, 25-year-old model @georgiafowler is raising her profile in Hollywood. Fowler stars in @vincecamuto’s holiday campaign, which launched in partnership with “Pitch Perfect 3.” “Almost every shoot with Vince Camuto, I’ve had to face a fear…It was definitely a challenge. I’m so grateful for it, though. I’ve always wanted to be a pop star, so that was the perfect chance,” Fowler said. Head to WWD.com to read about Fowler’s experience modeling, including at the #VSFashionShow, and her relationship with Nick Jonas. #wwdeye (📷: @jilliansollazzo)
EXCLUSIVE: Huda Kattan just became the first beauty influencer to land a major beauty deal. Kattan's business, @hudabeauty, has received a minority investment from private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners. The brand, which industry sources say is on track to do $200 million in retail sales for 2017, will receive support on product, retail and geographic expansion through the deal. Get all the details on the deal and read @_a_collins' interview with Kattan on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: @jgreenery) #wwdbeauty #wwdnews
Peruvian model @juanaburga_official – who is known for walking the runways of @rodarte, @viviennewestwood and @torybuch – is making the move to the big screen with drama “Los Últimos.” The film premiered in Argentina in November and arrives in the U.S. and Europe in 2018. On making the switch from modeling to acting, Burga told WWD: “It’s a completely different thing – a lot of people think it’s similar or try to connect things, especially like getting used to the camera or being looked at all the time or playing these different characrers, but film is a completely different story.” #wwdeye (📷: @jgreenery)
London’s newly opened @designmuseum will look back on the life and work of Azzedine Alaïa in a show that the designer helped to curate before he died of heart failure last month. The retrospective, which Alaïa had worked on with Mark Wilson, chief curator of the @groningermuseum, will look at the impact of his work worldwide. The show, “Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier,” will run from May 10 to October 7. Read more about the exhibit on WWD.com #wwdnews #wwdfashion (📷: @zefashioninsider)