Byline: Ira P. Schneiderman

NEW YORK — Discounters keep gaining a bigger share of U.S. apparel sales.
Last year, the sector surpassed 20 percent for the first time, according to a review of 1999 sales across selling channels by The NPD Group.
However, Americans still spend more money on apparel in specialty stores than any other channel, while discounters rank second, according to NPD, the Port Washington, N.Y., marketing information service.
Discount stores surpassed department stores in total market share in 1995 and have been widening the lead, NPD added. While discounters paced other sectors, catalogs and specialty stores had higher gains in women’s apparel sales than department stores, off-price retailers and factory outlets.
Overall, U.S. consumer purchases of women’s apparel rose 3.7 percent; total apparel gained 3.9 percent. A year ago, women’s sales showed a similar gain, while total apparel was up 4.7 percent. According other NPD data:
Mail-order sales registered an 11 percent gain, while discounters gained more than 7 percent and specialty stores rose by 4.5 percent. All other retail channels failed to match 1998 levels.
Direct-mail sales of women’s apparel hit $8.6 billion, from $7.7 billion a year ago.
Women’s sales through discounters hit $15.8 billion, up from $14.7 billion in 1998, representing a 16.4 percent share of all women’s apparel sales.
Women’s sales at specialty stores — taking a 26 percent share — rose to $24.7 billion from $23.6 billion. Department stores with a 21 percent market share of women’s apparel had sales of $20.3 billion, up from $19.8 billion in 1998.
The major chains, including J.C. Penney, Sears, Ward, Mervyn’s and Kohl’s, had sales of $13.5 billion, up about 1 percent from $13.4 billion a year earlier, but market share slipped to 14.1 percent from 14.5 percent in 1999.
Off-pricers suffered a 2.6 percent decline in women’s, dropping to $5.5 billion in sales from $5.6 billion. Market share dipped from 6.1 percent to 5.7 percent. Factory outlets also showed a sales decline to $2.7 billion from $2.8 billion.
NPD data is based on information from the NPD American Shoppers Panel, a monthly survey of 16,000 nationally representative households.
In 1999, of every dollar spent on women’s apparel, 21 cents was spent in department stores, 26 cents at specialty stores, 14 cents at major chains, 16 cents at discount stores, 6 cents at off-price retailers, 3 cents at factory outlets, 9 cents on catalogs and 5 cents at all other channels.
Purchases of petites showed the greatest increase during the year, up 11 percent to $3.9 billion from $3.5 billion a year ago. Large sizes were also strong, up 10 percent to $26 billion from $23.7 billion, representing 27 percent of all dollars spent on women’s apparel.
Misses, the largest apparel market, gained 2 percent to $51.2 billion, from $50.4 billion. Juniors slipped 2.5 percent to total $9.9 billion, from $10.2 billion in 1998. Last year, juniors represented 10.4 percent of the women’s apparel business.
Tops were among the strongest performers, increasing about 6 percent to become a $29 billion market. Within the category, sweaters led with double-digit gains.
Bottoms were less robust, growing about 3 percent from $15.5 billion to $15.9 billion. Casual slacks showed double-digit gains, and jeans had a 2 percent gain to hit $4.3 billion. Tailored clothing also grew by about 2 percent to $23.3 billion. Suits were up about 8 percent to hit $4.9 billion, while dresses showed a 4 percent gain to $10.8 billion.
Sales of intimate apparel showed significant gains, up almost 7 percent to $11.7 billion. Bra sales topped the category and were up 8 percent to $4.6 billion.
NPD data indicates sales of coats and jackets rose by about 5 percent to $4.8 billion from $4.6 billion.
Hosiery was off about 3 percent to $3.9 billion. While socks showed gains, declines were registered in sheer hose and tights, the largest group within this category. Sheer hose declined by about 7 percent to $2.3 billion, compared to 1998 levels. Sweats and warm-ups were basically flat, off 0.8 percent to end the year with sales of $2.5 billion.
NPD indicates that the top income group — households with incomes over $60,000 annually — increased spending by almost 9 percent. The segment accounted for 46 percent, or $44.3 billion, of all women’s apparel purchases in 1999, up from 44 percent a year ago.
Households with income from $40,000-$59,999 cut apparel spending by just above 1 percent, to account for 19.2 percent of total women’s purchases, or $18.4 billion.
The report indicated that purchases by females ages 14-24 increased by 4 percent to account for $13.9 billion or about 15 percent of sales, a slight increase over year earlier levels. Consumers aged 35-44 showed gains of about 5 percent to register $12.4 billion in sales or 22 percent of the market.
The biggest gains were reported among shoppers over 65, up more than 10 percent to $5.9 billion or 10 percent of the market.
Shoppers 55-64 accounted for 12 percent of the market and purchased $6.5 billion in apparel, up more than 8 percent.

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