Byline: Ira P. Schneiderman

NEW YORK — The nation’s major discounters and department stores racked up market-share gains in women’s wear in 1995, while just about everyone else, including off-pricers, warehouse clubs, national chains and catalogs fell behind.
Those were the key apparel findings of The NPD Group, a consumer research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y. The data was gathered from NPD’s consumer panel, a national sample of 16,000 households.
Wal-Mart Stores, Kmart Corp. and Target rang up women’s apparel sales of about $8.6 billion last year, taking 12 percent of the women’s market. In 1994, they had women’s sales of $7.8 billion, or 10.9 percent of the market. Wal-Mart ballooned its women’s sales with the February 1995 launch of the Kathie Lee Collection, which had estimated sales of $300 million in a year and is adding intimate and sleepwear this year.
Kmart had a noticeable boost in sales in the second half, primarily through heavy promotions, which didn’t help the bottom line.
Major department stores, such as Federated Department Stores and May Department Stores, gained share primarily through acquisitions and selling more goods at stores, NPD said.
NPD data show that the top 50 department stores, counting separate divisions of retail corporations, posted a 3.8 percent sales increase to $15.3 billion.
“That’s not great, but it’s a lot better than what everybody else did,” said Michael Hand, vice president and general manager of NPD’s soft goods research. Overall, the 1995 data reveals a “very soft situation” for women’s apparel, he said. Among the NPD findings:
* Women’s apparel purchases at all department stores fell 0.1 percent to $17.7 billion.
* Sales of women’s apparel at all stores last year totaled $71.7 billion, down from 1994’s $71.8 billion.
* Total apparel sales increased 1.9 percent to $137.8 billion from $135.3 billion in 1994, according to NPD.
* Year-long price deflation in apparel contributed to the dropoff in dollar sales.
* Best categories were women’s suits, up 11 percent to 3.2 billion; women’s socks, up 13 percent to $1.2 billion; girls’ skirts, up 24 percent to $311 million; girls’ casual knit tops, up 14 percent to $972 million, and girls’ dresses, up 14 percent to $1.3 billion.
For the total apparel market, NPD estimated that discounters showed the greatest sales increase last year, a 6.2 percent gain to $30.1 billion, and accounted for 22 percent of all apparel sold.
Women’s sales at all discounters totaled $12.7 billion in 1995, compared with $12.1 billion in 1994. As a result, discounters increased their market share in women’s merchandise to 17.7 percent last year from 16.9 percent in 1994.
However, women’s apparel purchases at all other discounters fell 4.9 percent to $4.1 billion in 1995 from $4.3 billion a year earlier.
Despite gains at Sears, Roebuck & Co., NPD estimated that women’s apparel sales at national chains — including Sears, J.C. Penney Co. and Montgomery Ward — fell 3.2 percent to $9.1 billion last year, compared with $9.4 billion in 1994. Market share for national chains dropped to 12.7 percent from 13.1 percent.
According to NPD, women’s apparel sales dropped 2.9 percent at off-pricers to $4.7 billion from $4.9 billion in 1994, fell 1 percent at outlets to $2.4 billion and declined 2.1 percent at single-unit specialty stores to $15.3 billion from $15.6 billion. Specialty chains rose 1 percent to $9.8 billion.
Catalogs grew 4.2 percent to $5.4 billion from $5.2 billion.
Warehouse clubs dropped 20 percent to $304 million, from $377 million.

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