IMRA SURVEY: STORES SEE CASUALWEAR SPARKING SALES OF APPAREL FOR HOLIDAY

Byline: Thomas J. Ryan / Don Kaplan

NEW YORK — Mass retailers expect casualwear to ignite robust apparel sales for holiday.
According to a national survey conducted in October by International Mass Retail Association, the casualwear gains should be led by denim, fleece, nylon windsuits, flannel shirts, lounge pants, boxer shorts and pajamas.
In disclosing the results of its national survey of 1,009 adults Thursday, IMRA said the study found that the average participant planned to boost holiday spending by 20 percent, to $806 from $655 last year. Men planned to spend $934; women said they would spend $684.
The outlook for licensed apparel is also upbeat, led by activewear and outerwear featuring National Football League and National Basketball Association teams, as well as the “Space Jam” movie. Character licenses are also expected to score with children’s shoppers.
Other hot holiday items anticipated by IMRA include body and bath goods, designer and brand-name fragrances, pins and basic jewelry, women’s coats made from new microfiber and faux silk fabrications, hiking boots and branded sneakers.
Big slides this Christmas are expected in computer hardware, home furnishings and small household and kitchen appliances. Also projected to see less consumer spending this Christmas are outerwear and dress clothes.
Discounters are likely to see the biggest comparable-store sales upswing for holiday, said IMRA participant Marie Beninati, retail analyst at CSC Consulting. Projected gains are 8 to 9 percent for discounters, 3 to 4 percent for department stores and 1 to 2 percent for apparel specialty stores.
A sunny economic outlook coupled with the reelection of President Clinton helped solidify consumer confidence, while new credit card programs at Sears, Roebuck, Wal-Mart and Kmart are extending the credit available to shoppers, Beninati added.
At the checkout line, credit and debit cards are expected to be used by 27 percent of the respondents versus 20 percent in 1995. Cash was cited as means of payment by 55 percent, down from 68 percent last year.
Overall, 13 percent of those surveyed by IMRA said they planned to spend more, compared with 12 percent last year. Most of those saying they would increase spending were making more than $35,000 and were older than 35.
Discount stores were mentioned by 76 percent of the study participants as the place they plan to shop this holiday. Department stores were cited by 55 percent; specialty stores and category killers each drew a 43 percent response.
Price was listed by 37 percent of those surveyed as the reason they decide where to shop, with convenience noted by 28 percent, selection by 23 percent, and service by 6 percent.
Joseph R. Ettore, president and chief executive officer at Ames Department Stores, and a member of the IMRA panel making Christmas sales forecasts Thursday, predicted strength in denim and fleecewear.
“We see a big upswing in apparel,” Ettore said, citing sales of women’s plus sizes that “have been absolutely terrific,” and forecasting robust jewelry business.
Further, the Rocky Hill, Conn.-based discounter’s 5.3 percent comparable-store sales growth in October was driven by double-digit gains in apparel, Ettore said.
Nonetheless, Ettore expects Christmas will be “highly promotional” at Ames, given the difficulties of other discounters in the Northeast, including Bradlees Inc., Braintree, Mass., and Caldor Corp., Norwalk, Conn.
Kmart Corp. is planning a big advertising blitz tied to the movie release by Walt Disney of “101 Dalmations,” said Ron Hudgens, divisional vice president of visual merchandising at the Troy, Mich.-based discounter.
The campaign begins on Thanksgiving weekend when each Kmart store will give out 500 gift bags of “101 Dalmations” merchandise. “And in every department in the store you will be seeing a lot of black and white,” Hudgens added.
IMRA panel participants generally didn’t expect sales to be hurt by the five fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.
Reached by telephone at his office in Bentonville, Ark., Dale Ingram, director of public relations at Wal-Mart Stores — who was unable to attend the IMRA conference due to bad weather — said the retailer does not anticipate any change in consumer spending trends due to the shorter holiday selling season this year.

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