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It’s a guy-girl thing..

Women’s fashion marketers are finding that they are appealing to a group for whom price now looms as a larger issue than it does for their male counterparts.

To wit: Women are more inclined to buy less-expensive apparel and renew wardrobes more often, while men are likelier to spend more for items that last longer, enabling them to invest less time in shopping for themselves. These results were found in the “How America Shops…Everyday, Pulse Report,” fielded in September 2004 and published in October by WSL Strategic Retail.

“The desire to [spend less] to change wardrobes more often is ageless,” related Candace Corlett, a principal partner in consultant WSL. “Between 50 and 60 percent of women say they do so.”

In fact, 56 percent of women weighed in as preferring to make more frequent purchases of apparel that’s less costly, compared with 36 percent of men, a tendency that was nearly identical in scale for women under 35 — 59 percent of whom noted it — and for those 55 and older — among whom it was mentioned by 58 percent.

“There’s a lot of cheap chic that has taught women you can look chic and new every six to eight weeks for very little money,” Corlett said.

Indeed, three of seven brands of apparel rated as best meeting women’s expectations, in the Brand Keys 2005 Loyalty Index, were rated most highly for their reasonable prices and easy accessibility: J. Crew, Isaac Mizrahi at Target and Gap.   

Too, there’s a great willingness among Baby Boomer and leading-edge Generation X women to forgo shopping in stores with sales help in order to get better prices on the apparel they buy. And that’s despite the fact that women ages 35 to 54 are arguably the busiest age group. More than three-quarters, or 83 percent, of those women said they would eschew sales help in order to pay less for their clothing, the WSL study revealed.

It was a strong inclination even among women with household income north of $100,000, a group in which 72 percent said they seek better prices rather than paying more to shop in stores where sales associates are available.

This story first appeared in the June 20, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Women have repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with sales help, Corlett recounted. “They give it a ‘D’ and therefore feel it is not worth the price,” she said.

The primacy of price among women’s concerns when apparel shopping is further reflected in their reluctance to shell out more for those fashion goods — even when it’s considered as a special treat.

When asked to prioritize apparel as a self-indulgence, women ranked it in the bottom half of two-dozen products, or 14th, as 37 percent of the group polled by WSL accorded it that status. That put their willingness to “spend more to feel better about clothing” for themselves at a considerable distance from their desire to dish out dollars for their top-ranked indulgence — food for a special occasion — cited by 81 percent of women.

Consumer electronics placed a distant second, noted by 53 percent of women, while food for everyday meals was last, as just 25 percent said they’d spend more to feel better about it.

Those Pulse Report findings are based on interviews conducted online with 1,000 women.

Despite such cost concerns among women, who account for 52 percent of the country’s population, firmer apparel prices have not been discouraging apparel spending by Americans overall. Offering a different perspective, NPD Fashionworld’s consumer data estimates report that while unit sales of apparel bought in the 12 months ended April 30 eased to roughly 16.9 billion items, from 17.1 billion a year earlier, dollar sales grew about 3 percent to approximately $174 billion from $168 billion.

“There is less competitive pricing; the consumer is buying based on desire,” said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at NPD Group. “Color-driven styles are sparking pent-up demand.”

A healthier appetite for apparel has been especially apparent among Gen Xers, ages 28-39, and Millennials, ages 10-27, whose spending on the fashion merchandise marked increases in the 12 months ended in April, compared with declines in the prior-year period. Millennials expended about $64.5 billion in the most recent stanza, more than any other age group and up from $62.2 billion a year ago, while purchases by the Xers amounted to around $30.1 billion, up from $29.3 billion, NPD Fashionworld found.

“It’s very much about fashion moving up a notch on their spending list,” Cohen said of the Millennials and Xers. “They looked in their closet and realized ‘I have nothing [new] to wear.’” Cohen characterized the trend as short-term: one based on strong purchasing this spring and during holiday 2004, but one that has already begun to fade and will probably die this summer.

One population now spending disproportionately on apparel is African-Americans, with black women expending 3.8 percent more on it annually than Americans overall, or $555 per person versus $534 — despite median household income that falls 43 percent below the country’s average, according to Mediamark Research’s fall 2004 data. Black women had median annual household income of $28,993, MRI reported, compared with $51,301 overall.

Further, African-American women spent an average of 1.9 percent of that household income on apparel last fall, compared with the 1.2 percent, on average, shelled out by all women, and the 1.04 percent, on average, expended by Americans overall, based on Mediamark’s findings.

One reason for the disparity, said Jeffrey Humphreys, a specialist in multicultural economics, could be African-Americans’ status as a younger population. The median age of African-Americans is 30.2 years, Humphreys stated, citing Census 2000 figures, or five years younger than the median age of the entire U.S. population, 35.3. 

“A larger percentage of blacks are in the early-to-mid stages of their careers and therefore will tend to spend more to build their wardrobes and find more fashionable clothes,” noted Humphreys, director of the Selig Center For Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

In addition, Humphreys reasoned, changes in body size during pregnancy and after childbirth also may be spurring proportionately more apparel spending among African-American women.

Women’s apparel is one of seven categories of products for which blacks appropriated a bigger share of their funds than the country’s total population. Those categories also include children’s apparel; shoes; personal care products and services; televisions, radios and audio equipment; telephone services, and major appliances.

A particular opportunity for apparel marketers, among others, lies in areas with emerging African-American populations, Humphreys advised. For example, he pointed out Arizona is the state with the 31st largest black population, but is the seventh-fastest growing African-American market in the country. “It might miss the first cut in terms of population size and buying power, but African-Americans’ buying power [in Arizona] is growing at twice the rate of [national] African-American buying power,” Humphreys said.

The Selig Center is estimating black buying power, or post-tax personal income, advanced 24 percent to $723 billion in 2004 from $585 billion in 2000, and will surge 33 percent over the 2004 level to reach $965 billion by 2009. Disposable income of $965 billion in 2009 would represent a threefold increase from 1990, when it stood at $318 billion.

Through 2009, Humphreys expects spending on apparel by African-Americans will continue to climb, but he projected the category will account for a smaller share of the group’s spending as the population becomes more affluent — mirroring the trend in the country at large.

Women’s Value In Apparel Shopping

Share of
Share of Women by Age
Share of Women by Income
Shopping Value
Under 35
Under $50K
$50K -$100K
I buy less pricy apparel, as I want to change my wardrobe more often.
I buy more pricy apparel that lasts longer.
I pay less for apparel by shopping where I don’t expect sales help.
I’ll pay more for apparel at stores where sales help is available to me.
Source: How America Shops … Everyday, Pulse Report, October 2004, WSL Strategic Retail
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