GETTING INTO THE SWIM

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — The surveys say: swimwear shopping is still not a lot of fun for many women.
Based on recent results from studies commissioned by the NPD Group, DuPont and Miraclesuit, women are pretty selective about what they’re looking for in a swimsuit, with fit and comfort being key priorities.
Finding suits with a fashion flair is also important, especially with younger shoppers, and that is an opportunity for swimwear makers anxious to build their sales year-round.
Kim Blanck, senior analyst with the NPD Group, said, “If consumers aren’t finding what they like, they might pass on a season and hang on to their old suit.”
This week, NPD, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based research house that tracks consumer trends, is preparing to release its 115-page “Swimwear Exposed 2000” report, which highlights the shopping habits and buying plans of 500 women over the age of 18.
Fit and comfort remain important selling factors, but merchandising is becoming more important with swimwear shoppers, Blanck said. Consumers also said they were interested in online shopping and sought swimwear with dual purposes, such as a hip minimizer and a bust maximizer, she said.
For the 2000 swimwear season, which ran from November 1999 to November 2000, women’s swimwear retail sales were $1.7 billion — a 7 percent increase compared to the previous year. Sales are expected to continue to grow at the same rate this year, Blanck said.
In NPD’s survey, three out of four female shoppers said store displays had the greatest effect on their most recent swimwear purchase.
“That should serve as a wake-up call for retailers and merchandisers,” Blanck said. “There’s a real opportunity to use some marketing dollars that may have been placed into advertising.”
Catalogs, personal recommendations, the Internet and seeing a swimsuit worn by someone else are other key factors that affect shoppers’ decisions, according to the “Swimwear Exposed 2000” report. Somewhat surprisingly, commercials and outdoor advertising for swimwear had the least impact on consumers, Blanck said.
As general apparel sales slow down due to consumers investing more in travel and entertainment, swimwear makers have an opportunity, Blanck said.
“If consumers are doing more traveling, they’re going to buy more swimsuits. They want swimwear on a year-round basis,” she said. “That’s something stores have to consider.”
NPD’s report, which is being sold throughout the industry for $2,250, features recommendations for swimwear makers from consumers. One participant noted, “Swimwear appears to be styled by teenagers or senior citizens. It would be nice to have sophisticated suits for women above the age of 25 and below the age of 70.”
DuPont went ahead with a consumer swimwear survey this fall, since more than four years had passed since its last one. Results are offered to swimwear manufacturers and pertinent information is being used for DuPont’s marketing, said Karen Capone, intimate apparel and swimwear brand manager.
Survey information will be used to update DuPont’s Suitable Solutions, a three-year-old hang tag program set up with the Swimwear Manufacturers Association of America that helps women find the most flattering style for their body types.
They quizzed 200 women between the ages of 18 and 45 who had purchased a suit within the last year. Of the women polled, 75 percent said they wanted tummy-control styles that would make them look 10 pounds slimmer.
Consumers’ preference to shop alone, their interest in finding slimming silhouettes, their willingness to spend more money for a suit with an added value and younger shoppers’ enthusiasm about swimwear shopping were some of the results that surprised Capone.
Some respondents to the DuPont survey were confused about chlorine resistance, wondering if it helps decrease the garment’s fading or increase durability. Given that, DuPont plans to highlight in point-of-purchase material how it should improve durability.
Shoppers are not concerned about price, according to the DuPont survey. More than half the women polled said they would spend $5 to $10 more for a suit with a special feature, such as chlorine-resistant Lycra spandex.
Interestingly, of the respondents under the age of 25, 75 percent said they would spend more, which disputes the notion that younger shoppers are most interested in disposable fashion, Capone said.
Unlike their elders, juniors and younger shoppers described swimwear shopping favorably, with 14 percent saying it was comparable to “a day at the spa.”
“A lot of women think of it as being a negative experience, but for younger women who are comfortable with their bodies or going on spring break, it’s fun,” Capone said. “They look at it with a different outlook.”
The survey cost DuPont $5,000, which is an investment many manufacturers won’t take on, due to the current business climate, she noted.
“It’s an expense. This is a tough market,” Capone said. “Manufacturers are getting squeezed on price and they’re getting squeezed on cost. This is a service we provide them.”
“We would like to do one with more people. We wanted to do a quick peak,” she said. “Next year we’ll do closer to 500 people.”
Of the three surveys, Miraclesuit’s takes the least serious approach, asking such questions as “Which is more painful? Shopping for a swimsuit or labor contractions?” and “Which would be worse, getting arrested and going to jail wearing your swimsuit or dressed in drag?” Of the 800 women polled, 80 percent said they would give up a night of rapture to find a suit that fit them.
Last month, to play up what it considered “miraculous” survey results, Miraclesuit staged a fashion show in a room decorated with images of puffy clouds and models wearing white wings.
After discussing how emotional shopping for swimwear is, Miraclesuit executives decided to ask fun questions comparing the process to other things that are disagreeable to them, said Lisa Stephen, director of product development. Case in point: 59 percent said they would rather clean their litter box than shop for a suit.
“Whether it’s because of their body type or perceived figure flaws, shopping for swimwear is something that terrifies most women,” she said.
Asked if the survey’s questions perpetuated women’s dislike for swimwear shopping, Stephen said, “We were coming from a fun point of view. There was no negative feedback.”
Having never done a consumer survey like this, Miraclesuit plans to use the results for product development, Stephen said. The company has increased its coverups, especially sarongs, since 66 percent of the women surveyed said they wear a sarong to hide a body flaw.
Since 90 percent of the women said they suck in their stomachs when they wear their suits in public, Miraclesuit has added extra control in that area. Women also said they try on up to 20 suits before buying one.
Stephen said, “This gives us a heads-up about the things we can incorporate into our line.”

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