NEW YORK — Women would dish out at least 9 percent more money for apparel if they had a more enjoyable experience trying it on.

That’s the word from Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group, who cited a rising level of frustration in the past three-and-a-half years among women who are having a harder time finding clothes that fit well, are growing less patient with inconsistent sizing, and are finding their experiences in fitting rooms less than enjoyable. These problems are reflected in the shoppers’ need to make more trips from fitting rooms back to apparel displays to find the right size — often with little, if any, help from salespeople.

Those dynamics, coupled with women’s diminishing desire to devote time to shopping, Cohen said, have “created an uphill battle to turn consumers into apparel purchasers.” Exacerbating the problem, he added, has been the decreasing number of different items on offer. Currently, women are spending roughly one hour on any type of shopping trip, on average, compared with about two hours five years ago.

The 9 percent of business lost for these reasons would have boosted sales of women’s apparel by $8.6 billion in 2004, to $103.6 billion.

“The fashion business struggles with the fact our society is very different than it used to be,” observed Lois Huff, a senior vice president and consumer behavior specialist at Retail Forward. “There are more older people, and they are just as into fashion” as are younger consumers, she said of people north of age 60. The challenge, in Huff’s view, is how fashion players reconcile this group’s larger body types with their aspirational tastes. Among three sizes of women’s apparel — regular, plus and petite — plus sizes saw the strongest sales advance in the 12 months ended this June, rising 4.2 percent to $17.4 billion from $16.7 billion a year earlier, NPD found.

Further complicating the matter, Huff said, are the older cohort’s increasingly fragmented income levels and tastes.

Almost half of female teens and women — 47 percent — “hate” to try on clothes or simply don’t do so, according to a size study of 31,300 females conducted in August by NPD Group. That percentage grows slightly with age. By the time women are 45 to 54, half of them “hate” to try things on, a share that subsides only slightly among the 55-and-up set, among whom 49.4 percent can’t stand to do so.

This story first appeared in the October 5, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

While just 3 percent of teens and women don’t try on clothes at all, 26.4 percent said they’d pay more not to have to try on clothes, a share that climbs to 30 percent at age 30, when the time demands of household formation and job advancement, among other things, shift their priorities.

In addition, 40.6 percent of females find it “somewhat difficult” to find sizes that fit well and another 10.5 percent find it “very difficult” to do so, based on the NPD study. By comparison, only 24.3 percent of men found it somewhat hard to find clothes that fit well and 5.9 percent found it very difficult.

Sizing Up Women’s Apparel Purchases
Purchases of women’s plus-size apparel grew four-and-two-thirds times faster than purchases of women’s apparel overall, in the 12 months ended in June.
Size
Purchases in 12 Months Ended June 2004
Purchases 12 Months Ended June 2005
% Change
Regular $44.8 billion $45.0 billion +0.4%
Plus $16.7 billion $17.4 billion +4.2%
Petite $8.8 billion $8.5 billion -3.4%
Total Sales $70.3 billion $70.9 billion +0.9%
Source: NPD Group
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