By and  on June 13, 1994

NEW YORK -- Accessories are alive and well at the mass market retail level.

A recent look at area units of four big discounters -- Wal-Mart, Kmart, Caldor and Bradlees -- revealed the following:

  • Current fashion trends, including ethnic and natural looks, were well represented in areas such as jewelry, handbags, hats and belts.
  • Recognizable brand names showed up in many classifications.
  • Departments were centrally located, extensive and well organized.
  • Merchandise displays, while not elaborate, were generally neat and systemized.
The single biggest problem almost everywhere was a lack of mirrors, and in several locations lighting was poor, though neither fact seemed to deter shoppers who were browsing and stocking up on summer items, such as hats and sunglasses.

Overall, pricing emphasized value. Individual items rarely exceeded $25, except for fine jewelry. But inexpensive didn't necessarily equal low quality. Wal-Mart, for instance, offered medium-sized all-leather handbags for $17.88 and silk scarves in patchwork prints for $6.96. Several stores carried braided leather belts for $10.

With mainstay merchandise such as vinyl handbags and tailored fashion jewelry, there seemed to be little price competition between stores. All four had vinyl bags for $6.99 to $7.99 and tailored gold-tone earrings for $2.99 to $3.99. Sunglasses could be had for $10 or less anywhere, with soft eyewear cases to boot for 97 cents.

Several of the brands that showed up in every retailer's mix were clearly mass market staples. Chief among these was Gitano, the licensed line made by Accessory Network that spans all classifications except fashion jewelry.

Other name brands that popped up frequently included Jordache and Chic in handbags and hair accessories, Timex, Cassio and Armitron in watches and Foster Grant, Revlon and OptiRay in sunglasses.

Here, a closer look at what each store had to offer.

WAL-MART

The accessories department at this unit in New Brunswick, N.J. was in the center of the store, where, unfortunately, some of the overhead lighting didn't seem to be working.

Handbags and tote bags represented about 50 percent of the total department. Most of the more basic merchandise was arranged by color and design and displayed on freestanding fixtures. Mixed in were some trendier pieces, such as mini-backpacks and items styled in the manner of Dooney & Bourke bags, with contrast trims and stamped duck logos. Most of the merchandise was branded and much of it was from vendors such as Gitano, Bag Bazaar and Mitzi.

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