By  on June 15, 2005

NEW YORK — Fashion brands ought to mind the gap — the rapidly widening one between people's expectations and what they think they're actually getting with the goods.

Indeed, this year, Americans' expectations of apparel brands — including qualities such as style, fit and price — advanced 8 percent, while the success of the category's seven leading brands in satisfying those desires declined by 17 percent, according to the 2005 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Index. The resulting difference of 25 percent means fashion ranks as the fourth least satisfying among 36 categories of goods and services, a group in which the most disappointing were long-distance phone service providers, where the gap extended to 30 percent.

"It's enormously high," Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, said of the 8 percent increase in people's expectations of apparel, which was 3 percentage points, or 60 percent, higher than the 5 percent average increase for the 36 categories considered.

A better-educated consumer and the growing availability of a variety of brands offering similar styles at different price points have combined to create fashion shoppers who have become more demanding, Passikoff posited. In addition, with an estimated 163 million adults online, or about three-quarters of Americans aged 18 and older, he said, "There has been a proliferation of sources for consumers to get information about products, [like] comparing prices."

That's a sizable surge in the online adult population compared with 1995, when it stood at just 9 percent, according to Harris Interactive.

"The advent of the wise shopper hasn't made it any easier," Passikoff added in disclosing the fashion findings exclusively to WWD.

People's expectations of apparel brands were based on four loyalty drivers, led by designs that are stylish and look great while being worn. "Fits well" was rated as the second most-important desire, followed by "reasonably priced/easy to find" and "quality materials/well constructed." Those four qualities, pegged to a baseline of 100, combined to create an average expectation indexing 151 for apparel, up 8 percent from 140 in 2004.

Even the study's top-ranked brand, Ralph Lauren, fell 20 points below that average, indexing 131, among a representative sample of 1,200 men and women, aged 21 to 60, drawn from the country's nine census regions. Giorgio Armani was next, scoring 129, followed by J. Crew at 126; Isaac Mizrahi, 125; DKNY, 123; Brooks Bros., 120, and Gap, 116.

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