The apparel marketplace is beingtransformed by consumer buying habits that often don’t jive with traditional retailpractices, according to the latest Retail Intelligence System® (RIS) Softgoods RetailPreview report of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

Highlights of the proprietary report -which was based in part on data collected from more than 6,200 consumers in fall 1998 -indicated that manufacturers and retailers need to acknowledge changes that reflectunderlying consumer behaviors and attitudes in order to gear their lines and supply chainstrategies to stay current with market trends.

One thread running through the report wasthat the shopper base is shrinking for core products such as men’s and women’sapparel, and eroding at core retail channels such as discount, specialty apparel andtraditional department stores. In contrast, the consumer base is expanding for productsthat fall under smaller categories, such as youth clothing and footwear. Moreover,”breakaway” retailers, including super centers, off-price specialty stores,off-mall specialty stores and upscale department stores, are growing their purchaserbases. These trends are unlikely to change soon, given an anticipated slowdown in apparelspending growth this year, PricewaterhouseCoopers predicted.

The “Buyer’s MarketOpportunities” section of the study, prepared by principal consultant Lois Huff, ineffect posits that consumers are in the catbird seat these days. Huff emphasized to Bobbinthat chief among changing attitudes and behaviors is price-driven shopping. For consumers,”it was on sale” was the No. 1 reason for making a casual clothing purchase at aparticular store, Huff noted, and the second most important reason for making a dressclothing purchase. Similarly, the desire to look for a lower price was cited as the No. 1and No. 2 primary reasons for not making a purchase at a particular store for casualapparel and dress apparel shoppers.

Interestingly, Huff’s research foundthat underlying attitudes about apparel shopping make the soft goods arena quiteattractive compared with many other sectors of retailing. For instance, one out of twoshoppers enjoys shopping for clothing. The same number enjoy watching for saleadvertisements from their favorite retailers, and more than one-third wish they had moretime to spend browsing for clothing. Less than half shop for clothing only when they needto replace an item. This is much lower than the eight out of 10 who shop for major homepurchases only on a replacement basis.

Despite respondents’ positivepredisposition toward apparel, barriers are preventing many shoppers from being the loyaland lucrative customers retailers covet, Huff observed. One of the biggest barriers is thelack of synchronization of the retail supply cycle with the consumer’s buying cycle.

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Shoppers are increasingly on a just-in-time(JIT) buying cycle: While a large share know what they want when they venture into astore, Huff stressed, they aren’t “forward buyers.” Few buy most of theirclothing in advance or at the start of a new season. And they don’t buy in bulk.Instead, they make smaller purchases throughout the year. They also buy more items thanoutfits. This JIT buying cycle is reinforced by a strong predilection for getting a goodprice, which in turn encourages year-round opportunistic price buying.

Not in keeping with this trend, manyretailers still rely on predetermined cycles and large shipments, thePricewaterhouseCoopers research pointed out, and when these shipments languish in thestores, prices are slashed to encourage movement.

The firm concluded in its report thatretailers able to flow merchandise more appropriately can reduce price-driven shoppingbehavior while reducing their inventory carrying costs and improving margins. Finally,they can invigorate top-line sales by being the source for the right clothing when it ismost needed by the consumer, Huff explained.

For more information about the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, calltel.: 614-414-7035.