Phil Kowalczyk

Angry women in tight pants.” That’s how Phil Kowalczyk, managing director of Kurt Salmon Associates, described the vast majority of America’s female consumers after they enter fashion stores seeking style, fit and comfort and leave...

Angry women in tight pants.” That’s how Phil Kowalczyk, managing director of Kurt Salmon Associates, described the vast majority of America’s female consumers after they enter fashion stores seeking style, fit and comfort and leave squeezed at the waist and thoroughly dissatisfied with the experience.

This story first appeared in the November 17, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

It’s an overly simplistic depiction, of course, but there’s some truth to it. Consumers are getting tax breaks and are open to buy, but according to KSA’s latest consumer survey, they’re reluctant to purchase much of anything because stores and suppliers are plagued by poor fits and stockouts, as well as unimaginative design and uninspired display.

“Your customer is mad, and you know an angry customer just doesn’t spend,” Kowalczyk said during his presentation.

He disclosed the results of a KSA survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers conducted during the summer, which concluded that the number-one reason consumers will pay full price is if the item fits well and flatters the figure. Being an innovative retailer or supplier “may be as simple as masking a figure flaw or highlighting a figure feature,” Kowalczyk said.

Among the survey’s other key findings:

  • Two-thirds of consumers feel they are not the primary concern of the stores they shop.
  • Eighty percent think manufacturers produce too many styles for customers that are young.
  • Seventy percent of the women surveyed said products don’t fit. “That’s a lot of angry women in tight pants,” Kowalczyk noted.
  • Nearly half of the consumers said it’s easier to find products online than in the stores, half like shopping from catalogues, but the direct channel only accounts for 4 percent of apparel purchases.
  • Forty percent of the customers see no reason to buy something new because everything looks the same. Even more agree that they will have a hard time finding apparel that everyone else doesn’t have. “It’s about personalization,” Kowalczyk said.

KSA data also shows that 90 percent choose comfort over fashion, 74 percent don’t care much for fashion trends and 70 percent of consumers are frustrated because they can’t find what they want in the stores when they want it.

Offering the right products at the right time of year is more complex than ever because of the buy-now, wear-now philosophy, Kowalczyk said. “Less than 20 percent of the women and less than 16 percent of the men surveyed buy clothing before the season starts. [Designers and manufacturers] put the product out there two to three months before they are ready to buy it. That’s a problem for them and a problem for us.”

There is some good news, however. “Consumers are giving us the green light to give them a reason to buy,” Kowalczyk said. “Our economic analysis indicates that this year we may see the unwrapping of the merriest holiday season since 1999. But better yet, after the festivities are over, the consumer is telling us they are going to spend more even in 2004.”

Kowalczyk suggested the retailers be aware that where consumers shop and where they purchase are no longer necessarily the same; shoppers are smart and savvy and looking for inspiration and ideas; it is no longer an option to be a multichannel retailer or brand because customers expect it; retailers must close the gap on stockouts by focusing on lead time and reinventing the merchandise and need to improve conversion since raising it 1 percent adds 4 percent to the top line, and stores must focus on reducing lead times and collaborate with supply chain partners.

“You need real big-time innovation. Big-time innovation gets you big rewards…To achieve that kind of innovation, retailers have to invest with suppliers in true research and development to understand what consumer needs are and to push further for the unarticulated need. Retailers can’t expect suppliers to do it alone, and suppliers shouldn’t be expected to bear the cost of real research and development only to have the retail partner knock it off with a cheaper source next year. You’ve got to have a longer-term perspective here in the common interest of the consumer. We are at a turning point.”

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