By  on July 1, 2014

A marked increase in purchases of plus-size apparel among female Baby Boomers helped lift the category to its strongest sales increase in the last three years.

According to data compiled by The NPD Group, overall sales of plus-size women’s wear in the 12 months ended in April rose 4.7 percent to $17.53 billion, easily eclipsing the 1.7 and 0.3 percent increases registered in the years ended April 2013, when sales totaled $16.74 billion, and April 2012, when the figure hit $16.46 billion.

The performance for the 12 months strongly outpaced the growth in overall apparel and women’s apparel sales, which rose 0.9 and 1 percent, respectively.

Driving the plus-size increase was an 8.7 percent pickup in purchases by women between the ages of 55 and 64, to $4.16 billion from $3.83 billion in the earlier period, allowing that age bracket to repeat its performance from past years as the dominant purchasers of the category.

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The magnitude of the increase was surpassed by the one for women in the 65-and-up bracket, who purchased $3.99 billion worth of plus-size apparel during the 12 months, a 9.1 percent rise.

Together, women 55 and up were responsible for $8.15 billion in plus-size apparel purchases, just less than half the market and collectively 8.9 percent higher than in the prior-year calculation.

Millennials aged 18 to 24 bought 23 percent more plus-size apparel than they did in the prior year, for a total of $1.08 billion, and 25- to 34-years-olds’ purchases were up 11.5 percent to $1.98 billion.

The increase for women between 35 and 44 was smaller — up 0.4 percent to $2.52 billion – and those in the 45-to-54 bracket reduced their purchases 7.6 percent to $3.39 billion.

“The plus-sized market segment is seeing light at the end of the tunnel after being hit particularly hard by the recession,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD. “With that, retailers and designers are now viewing this area as a growth opportunity, and today there are indeed more plus-sized choices in stores.”

With retail metrics slowly improving, vendors and broadlines stores are moving more aggressively to capture the plus-size customer. Among specialty retailers vying for the business, Ascena Retail Group Inc.’s Lane Bryant division’s sales for the nine months ended April 26 rose 5.2 percent to $795.7 million, with comparable sales, including e-commerce, up 5 percent during the period.

NPD said that e-commerce sales of plus sizes rose 31 percent over the two years ended in April, while department stores registered a 7 percent increase during that time span, during which department stores saw their market share in the category rise to roughly the same level as mass merchants, whose share and total sales declined slightly.

Specialty stores continue to hold the largest block of market share in plus sizes although their percentage in the category, unlike their total sales, diminished slightly from the prior year. Together, specialty and department stores and mass merchants hold nearly two-thirds of the dollar share in women’s plus sizes.

National chains gained sales but lost some share while off-price retailers gained both share and sales, NPD said.

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