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Off Price

The WWDList: What’s on sale? Everything, according to a breakdown of the frequency that merchandise types are bought on sale at department stores.

Percent of department store units of casual apparel bought on sale, by product category.

This story first appeared in the March 13, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Consumers have been playing a game of chicken with retailers for years. The mantra, “Why pay more?” has been heard loud and clear, especially since stores hate nothing more than having excess inventory going into a new season. Last year, three out of four women’s casual sportswear items in department stores were bought on sale. Casual pants were the most frequently marked down item. The most steeply discounted items were dresses, blouses and pants. On average, women paid $14 below the ticket price for department store casual sportswear. The situation may not improve any time soon. The industry faces a flood of cutthroat-priced imports, weakening domestic and global demand, and deflation.

1

CASUAL PANTS

Percent of department store units bought on sale: 82.7

Average sale price paid: $21

Average regular price paid: $35

Between the craze for yoga pants and and the popularity of cargo pants, you’d think this category would have been spared the markdowns. Problem was, everyone had the same idea and ordered too much.

2

SWEATERS

Percent of department store units bought on sale: 81.4

Average sale price paid: $24

Average regular price paid: $37

Sweaters are a cornerstone of many a department store’s private-label offerings, from thick cotton to soft cashmere. Then there’s the ubiquitous merino. Problem was that last year, customers failed to buy them in bulk, and many remained on display tables and shelves.

3

KNIT SPORTSHIRTS

Percent of department store units bought on sale: 81

Average sale price paid: $16

Average regular price paid: $25

Oversupply and continued softness at retail contributed to declines in prices for knit sportshirts last year, beginning with the all-important back-to-school period. Sportshirt prices fell 4.8 percent in September 2002 against the same month the previous year. In October, prices dropped 5.6 percent against October 2001.

4

SHORTS

*Percent of department store units bought on sale: 80.7

Average sale price paid: $15

Average regular price paid: $23

Worried that consumers’ concerns over the economy and a lack of newness and freshness in the apparel business would hamper sales, retailers got out their red pencils and slashed prices on summer shorts, among other seasonal staples. The move drove shoppers to stores for a better-than-expected July 4th weekend, but margins suffered.

5

WOVEN SPORTSHIRTS

*Percent of department store units bought on sale: 80.7

Average sale price paid: $18

Average regular price paid: $28

In an item-driven market, woven shirts were among the key trends last spring, and they performed well for some retailers. Others, however, found themselves bogged down with a variety of styles, from traditional polos to highly embellished and tricked-out tops. Out came the sale signs.

6

SWEATS-WARMUPS

Percent of department store units bought on sale: 78.8

Average sale price paid: $24

Average regular price paid: $34

With sport-inspired apparel making its way to the office in the manner of hooded tops and fleece cardigans, and hip-flattering workout pants and cargos turning up at the gym, sweats and warmup suits have been relegated to the most down-and-dirty activities, like taking out the garbage or working up a sweat on the track.

7

SKIRTS

Percent of department store units bought on sale: 78.6

Average sale price paid: $26

Average regular price paid: $39

Long or short, feminine and wispy or crisply tailored, the profusion of skirts styles in 2002 may have caused some fashion confusion. The message for fall has been clearly communicated: short, it is. Now, the question is, will women take the bait?

8

BLOUSES

Percent of department store units bought on sale: 77.8

Average sale price paid: $18

Average regular price paid: $32

Ruched blouses were everywhere last year, from the runways of designers such as Alexander McQueen to the racks of Macy’s. The style was also ubiquitous at specialty chains catering to juniors. Bohemian-style blouses were another familiar sight that spanned many distribution channels and price points. When fickle customers see too much of a good thing, they can be counted on to rebel.

9

DRESSES

Percent of department store units bought on sale: 75.8

Average sale price paid: $50

Average regular price paid: $78

Talk of a return to more tailored dressing didn’t materialize last year, which was bad news for dressmakers. Dress sales declined 29 percent in the first nine months of 2002, according to NPD Group. But the future may be brighter: Dresses starred on many fall runways, from Donna Karan’s polkadots to Sixties-inspired frocks by Jill Stuart and Nicole Miller.

10

T-SHIRTS AND TANKS

Percent of department store units bought on sale: 73.5

Average sale price paid: $14

Average regular price paid: $24

The popularity of Juicy Couture’s Ts has brought the formerly unheralded staple into the spotlight. T-shirts and tank tops are no longer relegated to the gym; paired with a skirt or pants, they can even pass muster in many offices. Then again, $38 may be too much to spend on a simple cotton garment.

SOURCE: STS MARKET RESEARCH IN CAMBRIDGE, MASS., BASED UPON ACCUPANEL, A REPRESENTATIVE CONSUMER PANEL COMPOSED OF MORE THAN 10,000 MEN AND WOMEN AGES 13 AND OLDER WHO REPORT EACH MONTH ON THEIR CASUAL PURCHASES. *INDICATES THE SAME PERCENTAGE FOR TWO CATEGORIES, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER.