Showing posts with label apparel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label apparel. Show all posts

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday sales strong, but still discounted

Holiday Shopping
(Reuters) - With six days until Christmas, the U.S. holiday shopping season is better than expected, with discounts deep enough to bring in shoppers who are searching for bargains but not showing the desperation seen in the recession.

Department stores like Macy's Inc are shaping up to be among the big winners, while apparel retailers are being hurt as mild weather limits demand for winter clothes.

"Some of the women's retailers that were doing well earlier in the year are getting hurt this holiday by the resurgence of the department store," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consulting firm.

Customer Growth Partners, which has been one of the most bullish forecasters of sales heading into the holiday season, estimated that U.S. retailer sales on Saturday were $26 billion, just shy of the $27 billion spent on "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving, which traditionally kicks off the holiday shopping season.

Johnson was one of the most bullish forecasters coming into the holiday season. Now others are joining suit.

ShopperTrak, which monitors traffic at shopping malls, now expects sales in November and December to rise 3.7 percent, up from its September forecast of 3 percent.

Last week, the National Retail Federation raised its forecast, calling for holiday sales to rise 3.8 percent. In October, it forecast a gain of 2.8 percent.

To be sure, that NRF forecast is still less than the 5.2 percent increase reported for 2010. Unemployment was still 8.6 percent in November and lower-income shoppers have been making use of such plans as layaway to paying for holiday items.

So many analysts said sales are not exceptionally strong or exceptionally weak.

"There's more that's normal here than people want to let on," Edward Jones analyst Matt Arnold said.

ShopperTrak cofounder Bill Martin said that discounts were more in the 30 percent to 40 percent range, instead of the 50 percent to 60 percent seen last year.

On Saturday, he said it was hard to find parking spaces at the malls he visited and he saw lots of people with packages. In other words, it was a typical weekend before Christmas.

"It's been a typical shopping pattern," he said.

Overall, traffic to stores may be off a couple of percentage points. But that's because more people are shopping on line, he said.

IBM Benchmark, which tracks transactions on the websites of hundreds of the top retailers, said on Monday it now expects online sales to rise 9.5 percent to 10 percent in December from a year ago.

Trutina Financial Chief Investment Officer Patty Edwards said what she saw at Target this weekend was stocked shelves and normal discounts.

"There weren't any specific markdowns that were overly compelling, but conversely, there didn't seem to be any shortages of items at all," Edwards said


Even with retailers managing their pace of discounts and avoiding desperation, higher costs for cotton and other materials are taking their toll. Many retailers' gross margins are likely to decline this holiday season, according to data from Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Over the weekend, 40 percent discounts "seemed to be the cost of doing business," said Nomura Equity Research analyst Paul Lejuez, who follows apparel retailers, adding that "promos are likely to intensify this week."

Among the retailers offering such discounts were Abercrombie & Fitch Co, American Eagle Outfitters Inc, Ann Inc, Gap Inc and Wet Seal Inc, Lejuez said.

Mild weather has cut into sales of winter clothing, said independent retail analyst Brian Sozzi.

"Coats are offering some of the best deals in the mall right now," he said.

One of the featured items on on Monday was women's coats for 40 percent to 50 percent off.

"Those cold temperatures that you typically experience in December just haven't been there," said Joe DeRugeriis, senior marketing manager at Planalytics, which provides weather consulting services for businesses.

"People are still going to spend the cash," he said, "but the cash is moving to things more like electronics and not those items that normally sell well this time of the year."

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Want to buy clothes online? New technology may help

Buy Clothes
(Reuters) - Asaf Moses is in the midst of displaying a new way to measure body dimensions.

A virtual instructor prompts him to turn 90 degrees to the left and adopt various poses such as "The Penguin," aimed at capturing over 20 different measurements using a device that many people have embedded in their laptops -- a simple webcam.

"It's capturing everything that's needed to tailor a shirt to your measurements", said Moses. And it's all online.

Shoppers generally flock to malls during the holidays beginning on Black Friday, although in recent years many have headed to the Internet. A recent survey by analytics firm comScore predicted online shopping would increase 15 percent this current holiday season.

Yet buying apparel from a website can cause problems finding the right size, look and fit for your body type and personal tastes. As a result, several technology companies have created new ways for people to size themselves up at home.

Moses, the co-founder of one such technology company from Germany, UPcload, said his system takes just three minutes and generates measurements as accurate as a tailor.

Once measured, shoppers will be able to access their measurements at supporting retailers' websites so they can see, for example, if a size small-sized t-shirt will fit around their chest or be long enough to drape down their torso. is taking the task of finding the perfect fit a step further by using robotic mannequins with dimensions similar to a shopper's in a sort of virtual fitting room.

"Robots are a fantastic tool to see how garments look on differently sized human bodies", said Heikki Haldre, co-founder and CEO of the Estonia-based company.

Each garment is photographed 2000 times, accounting for the permutations of body measurements that the robots morph into.

"When the customer goes online to see the garment on their body measurements, they are seeing one of those pre-recorded images," said Haldre.'s virtual fitting rooms are currently being used by retailers such as Thomas Pink and Ermenegildo Zegna.

Haldre said that users of the technology are almost 10 times more likely to make a purchase.


That boost is significant. Forrester Research forecasts that only 10.9 percent of apparel and accessories transactions will be conducted online by the end of 2011, far less than the 25 percent for books and 17 percent for consumer electronics.

"Books and electronics are the most penetrated categories because they're easy to purchase online -- you don't need to touch or feel them," said Sucharita Mulpuru, vice president and principal analyst of eBusiness for Forrester Research.

Mulpuru said the apparel shoppers' online hesitancy is complex, extending beyond finding the perfect fit.

"It's not just a science. A lot of it is personal preference," which is difficult for technology to address.

Moses of UPcload said accounting for people's varying tastes is something the company considered during development.

"When we started, we had this intention to tell you your size ... (but) people's preferences play an enormous role. Some people want their clothing tight, and some want it loose," he explained. Now UPcload just provides details on the fit.

Haldre of agrees. "The fitting room looks at size from the perspective that 'it's a matter of a style', he said.

"It's surprising how many people choose a size that is not recommended by the size chart. Almost half would go for a size smaller, or even a couple sizes larger."

Looking ahead, Haldre envisions an online shopping world where people will "see how clothing will look on them -- with their face and other apparel they might be wearing."

For instance, another company, Zugara, lets customers overlay garments on themselves using a webcam.

Haldre predicted the convergence of various technologies would create a big shift in shopping, eventually leading to online making up 30 percent of apparel purchases.

But Mulpuru was more skeptical.

"I don't know that we'll ever get to 30 percent, because ultimately it's a very personal decision," she said.

"So much of what happens in a store is not just about fit. It's also about someone saying 'that looks great on you' and getting social validation for a product -- and that's something that an algorithm definitely can't account for."

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