Study Shows Signs of More Apparel Demand

Month-over-month trend up for women's apparel.

Consumer attitudes about holiday purchasing of apparel appear to have improved slightly.

This story first appeared in the September 12, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

A monthly survey of more than 7,500 consumers conducted by BIGresearch of Columbus, Ohio, found that the share of shoppers who intend to buy women’s casual and women’s dress apparel in the next three months moved up in September from August. The reasons for the uptick weren’t clear, but gas prices have dropped and the government has bailed out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the largest U.S. mortgage finance companies.

However, the trend compared with September 2007 remained negative. The same was true of men’s casual apparel; toys and games; CDs, DVDs, videos and books; electronics; groceries; home furniture, and linens, bedding and draperies.

The month-over-month trend remained negative for children’s, shoes and sporting goods. All segments were down in comparison with those for September 2007.

Specific figures will be available later this month.

BIGresearch determines the direction of consumer intentions by subtracting the share who intend to spend less from those who intend to spend more in a particular category.

Asked what steps they would take to economize in the next 90 days, the largest number, 35.8 percent of respondents, said “pay down debt,” the same figure as in August. Next on the agenda came “decrease overall spending,” at 32.2 percent, a figure below the 34.1 percent registered last month. Just over a quarter, 25.7 percent, said they would increase savings, down from 27.5 percent in August, and 21.8 percent indicated they would pay with cash more often, down from 22.5 percent last month.

The results add to the growing indications, including last month’s Consumer Confidence index,that public attitudes about the economy might be improving, even if the economy itself still faces a difficult final third of the year.

Even with an improving attitude about apparel purchasing, the longer-term picture isn’t positive. When consumers were asked a year ago what they were doing about higher gas prices, 23.3 percent replied that they were spending less on clothing. That figure swelled to 38.5 percent in this month’s report.

In addition, 50.9 percent said they were driving less, versus 35.1 percent a year ago; 46.3 percent said they dined out less, versus 28.4 percent; 44.2 percent said they decreased vacations or travel, versus 29.2 percent; and 28.9 percent said they delayed a major purchase, versus 18.9 percent.