Byline: Ira P. Schneiderman

NEW YORK — Even though pundits claim the country is overstored and consumers are spending less time shopping, the square footage for apparel retailing continues to expand.
The fierce competition this brings to apparel retailing makes methods of attracting customers even more vital.
According to the latest WWD survey of shopping habits, it appears the tried-and-true methods of attracting customers — sharp prices, regular sales promotions and lively in-store displays — still work.
In the survey, WWD asked consumers, “What would it take to get you to try a new store while shopping for apparel?”
The top four responses, representing 76 percent of replies, focused on sales, prices, displays and advertising. The responses continue to show that shoppers are looking for value, which to a large degree translates to a sale or a focus on price.
Discount promotions remain foremost in the minds of apparel shoppers, according to the survey. The number one choice of unaided responses, representing 21.7 percent of respondents, fell into the category of “A store having a sale.” A close second choice, garnering 21.2 percent of responses, was “Prices lower than where regularly shop.”
In third place with a 19 percent response rate was “Display attracted me,” followed by 13.6 percent of those surveyed choosing “Saw ad for sale” as their reason for shopping a new store.
The national telephone survey was conducted for WWD by International Communications Research, a market research firm in Media, Pa. The research was done June 27 to July 6, polling 514 women in households with annual incomes of more than $25,000.
The survey provides a nationally representative and projectable estimate of 47.5 million women age 18 or older with an average annual income of $54,730.
The issue of price was also evident in consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates’ 1996 Consumer Pulse Survey. Ninety percent of respondents said they “wonder if they’re paying too much when they pay full price,” 70 percent said they “buy almost all of their merchandise on sale” and 63 percent said they “go to certain stores because of low prices.”
In the WWD survey, the other 24 percent of those polled responded to the question of what it would take to shop a new store with a variety of factors that reads like a wish list of things consumers want from retailers.
This includes such categorized responses as:
A friend or relative recommended the store.
The store offered a premium/coupon or giveaway and regularly mailed out circulars.
The store had a good selection of quality, name brands, appealing styles and a wide range of sizes and offerings.
The store had a good reputation or location.
The store had good prices and customer service.
Consumers were also asked: “What would make you want to return to a new store as a repeat customer?”
Once again, the dominant factor was monetary value. More than 60 percent said a “good price” was the key reason, followed by 36 percent claiming “better quality than bought elsewhere” was most important and 31 percent feeling “helpful personnel” was the most influential factor.
Other reasons cited by consumers were proper fit, appealing merchandise, convenient location, easy-to-find merchandise and store ambience.
Analyzing top responses by income and age provides some additional insights for retailers competing for customers.
Among consumers who consider store ads the key factor in shopping a new store, the largest single income group to respond were consumers from households with annual incomes of $50,000-$74,999. The age groups of consumers most sensitive to ads for new stores were 25-34 and 35-44.
Store displays had the greatest appeal among upper-income groups, with a 31 percent response rate for $50,000-$74,999 income households and 18 percent for consumers from households earning more than $75,000 annually. Store displays had a strong influence on attracting new customers among consumers 25-34 and 25-44.
Low price was a key factor for middle-income consumers, with 28 percent of those in the $30,000-$39,999 income bracket choosing it as a key factor, 22 percent in the $40,000-$49,999 range and 31 percent in the $50,000-$74,999 category.
Sales were factors in attracting all income levels, but were particularly strong among consumers from households earning $50,000-$74,999, with 28 percent citing it as an important factor. As for age, the group most drawn to new stores by sales are consumers 35-44, with a 36 percent response rate, followed by 29 percent of shoppers 25-34.
As to what draws repeat business in new stores, the key factors of price, quality, staff and fit are all strongly influenced by the baby boomers — the 35-44 and 45-54 age segments.
Among respondents who selected good price as important for repeat business, 30 percent were 35-44, 26 percent were 25-34 and 17 percent were 45-54. The largest single income group citing good price as a factor in repeat business, with a 28 percent response rate, were those with household incomes of $50,000-$74,999.
Quality was particularly important to all incomes groups over $29,999 in terms of influencing repeat business, with consumers from households above $50,000 annually representing 41 percent of those who thought this an important factor in repeat new-store business.
Helpful personnel was strongly favored by all income groups as important to repeat business, but those in the $50,000-$74,999 bracket showed the highest interest in this factor at 26 percent. The survey indicated that a helpful staff was least import — only 14 percent of responses — to those in the highest income bracket with household income more than $75,000.
About 11 percent of those polled noted correct fit was important to repeat business. Of those, 55 percent were from the highest income groups — 32 percent from the $75,000-and-over bracket and 24 percent in the $50,000-$74,999 segment. Fit was most significant for the aging baby boomer, cited by 35 percent of those 45-54, followed by 19 percent of those 25-34.
According to the survey, if retailers want to lure shoppers to their new stores, the traditional methods seem to remain constant: Stick to sales and price promotions, and don’t forget to change displays frequently. For return business, the best apparent route is to focus on price and quality and have sales associates knowledgeable about merchandise and fit.

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a monthly series. Next month: “How frequently do consumers combine eating or other entertainment, like going to a movie at the mall or walking for exercise, when they go shopping?”

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