By  on June 28, 2007

Accessories continue to sizzle at retail, and whether in the luxury, midtier or mass markets, they provide consumers with a jolt of fresh fashion, instant access to the latest trends and, in many cases, a piece of a designer dream.

According to WWD's shopping survey, 73 percent of consumers polled reported that they've purchased accessories in the last year. That's only second to casualwear, which 83 percent of those surveyed said they purchased in the past year.

Among accessories shoppers, 32 percent buy their accessories at department stores, compared with 26 percent who shop through discounters and 20 percent who purchase accessories at specialty stores. Just 10 percent of those polled buy their accessories online.

"We are seeing an 8 to 12 percent increase in accessories purchasing in department stores," said Andrew Jassin, managing director of Jassin & O'Rourke Group, a New York industry consulting firm. "This reflects a trend that we are in the middle of a rotation out of apparel and into accessories in the better and department store zone, but it holds true across the board. Accessories are more meaningful at the moment."

Wal-Mart came out on top as the leading retailer where consumers regularly buy accessories, as well as the one store where they shop for accessories most often. Its popularity dipped by 9 percent from 2006, however — 35 percent of consumers polled last year shopped the megastore's accessories aisles compared with 26 percent this year. The slump comes as no surprise. Wal-Mart has been struggling in its effort in the last year to move toward an upscale market. At its third annual media conference last year, the retailer recommitted itself to bringing back bargain prices and rollbacks. It wasn't the only discounter to suffer, however, as Target fell 8 percent this year to 22 percent.

Second to Wal-Mart by only 2 percent, Kohl's climbed up two notches in both categories — 24 percent of consumers regularly shop there for accessories, and for 14 percent of consumers, it's the one place where they buy accessories most often. Customers appear to be appreciating its innovative offerings of lower-priced yet well-designed labels. The store is introducing Vera Wang's affordable yet still highly directional label, Simply Vera Vera Wang, this fall and has done well with its apt. 9 and Nine & Co. handbags."Everyone we see at Kohl's is up 12 percent," said Jassin. "It has done a good job in bringing brands in and marketing those brands and creating a consumer franchise in the accessories world for them."

Kohl's Corp. said its first-quarter earnings for the quarter ended May 5 surged 25 percent to $209 million, up from $167.2 million in the year-ago period. Sales jumped 11.8 percent to $3.57 billion from $3.2 billion, while same-store sales increased 3.9 percent.

Other retailers that made the list include J.C. Penney, which has an 18 percent share; Macy's, which rose to 15 percent this year from 11 percent last year, and Claire's, where 9 percent of shoppers regularly go to buy accessories, up from 6 percent in 2006.

After Wal-Mart and Kohl's, 9 percent of consumers stated that Target is the one place they shop for accessories, while Macy's rang in with 7 percent.

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