NEW YORK — Where are people buying most of their apparel? That depends on whom one asks.

In WSL’s "How America Shops 2002" survey, department stores led the way, with 46 percent of consumers polled saying that’s where they shop for clothes most often. That preference fell from 53 percent, a year ago. Mass merchants ranked second, cited by 18 percent in the WSL survey and followed closely by specialty stores, which surged to the most frequent apparel shopping spot for 17 percent, up from just 3 percent in 2000.

By comparison, Retail Forward’s 2001 survey of purchasing frequency by format found discounters the top choice of apparel shoppers: 36 percent said they most often bought women’s casualwear there; 20 percent said it was where they usually bought women’s dress clothes. Department stores were next, chosen first by 14 percent of women’s casualwear purchasers and 21 percent of women’s dress apparel buyers.

Meanwhile, market researcher Zandl Group found specialty stores have become more popular places to buy fashion among 24 percent of 13-to-24-year-olds during the past five years, while department stores have become less popular in that regard, for 17 percent of that group. Females’ favorites included American Eagle, Express, Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap and Old Navy.

No surprises there. But among adults polled by Retail Forward, Wal-Mart was the big winner, named by 21 percent and 12 percent, respectively, as the place they most frequently bought women’s casualwear and dress apparel. The big losers? Sears and J.C. Penney, listed by just 3 percent and 8 percent, respectively, as stores where people buy women’s casual clothes most often, and by 4 percent and 11 percent as their premier places to snag women’s dress apparel.

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