Apparel and accessories improved on their already dominant share of purchases for kids during the first quarter of 2012, but it hardly enhanced their popularity.

In a study by The NPD Group of expenditures for children through age 14, apparel and accessories accounted for 37.3 percent of purchases for kids, or just under $9 billion of the $24 billion laid out for kids’ merchandise during the first three months of the year. That represented not only the largest share of kids’ purchases by far — toys and board games were a distant second at 10.5 percent — but also the biggest leap in share when compared with the first quarter of 2011, when apparel and accessories constituted 36 percent of purchasing and toys and board games 11 percent.

Apparel’s 1.3 point jump in share of purchases was more than twice the second-highest pickup, a distinction earned by sporting goods, which climbed to just 2.1 percent from 1.6 percent in the 2011 period. Footwear was the third most purchased category for kids, accounting for 9.3 percent of expenditures, down from 9.9 percent a year ago.

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While clothing and items to embellish it scored highest on the basis of outlays, they fared less favorably — in fact, nearly worst — in NPD’s query into kids’ requests for various types of merchandise, better than only the rarely requested category of baby and infant products. Less than a quarter of kids — 23.2 percent — asked for clothing versus a survey-low 9.4 percent for baby and infant products. Girls were more likely to request apparel than boys, and the likelihood of an apparel appeal grew as the ultimate end users aged.

Led by music, requested by 71.4 percent of children, most in-demand categories included video game software and hardware (69.7 and 65 percent, respectively) and other types of consumer electronics products, according to NPD. Sporting goods were requested by 61.1 percent of children. Purchases were up for kids aged 6 to 8 and 12 to 14, with other age subgroups experiencing declining sales.

Sales of licensed children’s products grew to $5.8 billion in the first quarter, from $5.6 billion in the 2011 period, while nonlicensed product sales slipped to $18 billion from $19.1 billion.

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