NEW YORK--Value is supposed to be one of the cornerstones of mass market retailing, but how far can $20 really go in the typical mass merchant's accessories department? It can cover at least the basics for those consumers willing to search out the bargains, as recent visits to five area mass merchants revealed. By shopping for sale items, the consumer looking to accessorize a business suit, for instance, can expect to get at least one major piece--a handbag or belt--plus a smaller item such as a pair of earrings or a scarf for $20 or less. Those in the market for a career-appropriate, $20-or-under watch can also find respectable merchandise, particularly by talking to the salespeople behind the counters and inquiring about specials. Here, a look at what each store had to offer.
WAL-MART The Bricktown, N.J., store was relatively busy, especially considering it was 9:30 on a weekday evening. Six days a week, the store is open until 11 p.m., much later than any stores in the surrounding area. The late-night shoppers were focused on sale items as well as new fall merchandise. The accessories area is located in the center of the store, off a main aisle. Handbags occupied most of the space, offering both casual looks and trendier pieces appropriate for business attire, such as an unbranded private label sling bag in black, leather-like vinyl for $12.96. A polyester, semisheer oblong scarf in a black and ivory pattern by Gitano for $4.96 provided a coordinating item. The watch department adjacent to accessories was staffed by one young woman, floating between several customers at once. She indicated that the selection for under $20 was limited, pointed to a few styles in the cases and returned to other customers. Most of the selection carried prices from $16.96--on items that were too casual or sporty for the office--to about $39 for brands including Gitano Studio, Lorus, Bonjour, L.A. Express and Timex. A nearby table was stacked with sale watches, among them a watch by Eternity, with a silver-tone face and black strap, that could be worn with the handbag and scarf, for $9.96.KMART The Bricktown, N.J., store combined most accessories with legwear and was positioned to the right of the main entrance. Jewelry and watches were nearby, directly behind the checkout counters. The spacious department displayed each category of merchandise on freestanding fixtures, with handbags, the largest classification, along the wall and at the end of the area, organized in a sort of L-shape. On a fixture closest to the main aisle, Accessory Works' fall tapestry patterned bags in several styles were marked with a sale sign instructing customers to follow a chart below to figure further reductions off already-reduced ticketed prices. A box-shaped bag was originally $10.88, reduced to $10 and, according to the chart, could now be bought for $6.50. A tailored, black split-leather belt with brass buckle was $5.99, and a black, woven headband by Chic was $3.99. Both complemented the handbag and could be worn with a business suit or dress, as could a pair of gold-tone hoop earrings in a bamboo-etched design similar to those seen in many higher-priced stores, here for $2.99. Kmart had a freestanding, full-length mirror placed next to hats and hair accessories, making it easy to try on these impulse items before buying them. Although the watch department had Jaclyn Smith, Gruen and Elgin brand watches on sale, they were above the $20 limit, ranging from $24.99 to about $49.99. The sales manager was busy unpacking and pricing new stock, but pleasant when asked to open a case containing L.A. Express watches. Although they were marked at $19.99, she eagerly explained that they were on sale, reduced to $14.99, and pointed out several office-ready looks. A quartz style with gold-tone bezel, black strap and round face was the most suitable, and the saleswoman placed it in a gift box, noted the warranty and offered to ring up purchases from other departments at her register.
CALDOR This chain is known in the industry for devoting a lot of space to accessories, and the venue on Route 70 in Bricktown, N.J., is no exception. However, the handbag section, the largest in the area, contained only summer closeouts on casual totes or new fall backpacks that were geared for the back-to-school crowd. Hats for fall were fun and trendy, with a variety of caps and cloches in wool and corduroy. One of the trendiest items was a black crocheted skull cap for $5.99. Caldor's private label jewelry line, called Laura Tyler, displayed a wide variety of trend jewelry ranging from pearl, romantic, ethnic and denim-inspired motifs. A particularly versatile group was a vintage-looking series in silver-tone metal with fake black onyx accents, with earrings for $5 and matching bangle bracelets for $4 each. The nearby fine jewelry and watch counter displayed looks by Gitano, tagged at $19.99 each, including a vintage, fake marcasite-trimmed style with a narrow black leather strap to coordinate with the jewelry. Although a salesperson with the key to open the unit had to be paged, she appeared in under a minute and, after opening the case, commented on the watch's "pretty, old-fashioned look." She also explained that she had to ring it up at the store's main registers because the ones in the jewelry department were down. She opened a separate register rather than depositing the watch with another cashier who had a line waiting. It was only after the sale was completed and a sales receipt handed over that it became apparent the watch was on sale, reduced to $15.88.SEARS Accessories and fine jewelry are just inside the mall entrance of this unit in the Ocean County Mall in Toms River, N.J. It was by far the neatest of all the stores surveyed and was well staffed. Merchandise was displayed in Continued on page 16 Continued from page 14 orderly fixtures specifically designed for each category. Several salespeople were on hand to assist customers in the various areas. Prices reflected the more upscale environment, ranging from about 10 to 40 percent higher than the other stores. The accessories department echoed Sears' strong career presentation in ready-to-wear, with tailored looks far outweighing casual themes. The handbag area featured several items styled in the manner of Dooney & Bourke, Coach and MCM bags, for $15 to $28. A versatile vinyl bag printed with an equestrian theme by VR Classics was reduced from $25 to $20.99 and on special now at $15.74. Tortoiseshell sunglasses coordinated with the bag and were half-off, at $3. The saleswoman packed them in a separate small bag so they wouldn't be lost or scratched. The watch department was bustling due to a sale in fine jewelry and watches, but the three saleswomen were cheerful and knowledgeable. After pointing out suitable styles and asking about price range, a saleswoman figured the exact cost of a tailored watch with a silver and goldplated face and brown leather strap, which was on sale. While it was $3 higher than the $20 limit, she pointed out that Armitron was a "known brand with an excellent reputation and one-year warranty." She also included a flannel carrying case with Armitron printed across the front.
JAMESWAY The Point Pleasant, N.J., unit was practically empty around 8:30 on a weeknight. Most of the handbags were around $20 and up, with the exception of a small suede and leather day-into-evening shoulder bag with a tassel-trimmed zipper closure for $10.99. The jewelry area, however, had a relatively wide variety of necklaces and earrings, suitable for the office or weekends. One of the best buys was a medium-size strand of fake pearls, by AAi for $3.99, and a three-pair set of fake pearl stud earrings in white, pink and gray for $3.49. The watch area featured only sport and children's watches, like Casio styles with rubber bands and assorted brands featuring cartoon characters, and there wasn't anyone staffing the area.
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