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Tomorrow’s shoppers will play hard to get

In the past year the global fashion industry has taken a hammering.

In the Republic of Ireland, year-on-year sales are down 11%, in the UK 6.5% and in the US 5%. The reduction in spending is due to rapidly and radically changing consumer behaviour in response
to the recession on top of increasing uncertainty and decreasing disposable income.

These changes have every indication of being long term. In a Gallup poll in the US in April 2009, 32% of consumers said reducing spending and increasing savings will be their normal pattern for the future.

Anecdotal evidence from the UK, France and Germany shows similar changes in consumer intentions.However, the situation is not totally negative.

One of the most interesting trends to emerge is the strength of etail for clothing in the recession. In the US, clothing multiples and department stores such as Gap, JC Penney and Sears all saw online sales rise while in-store sales fell. The average difference across the three was a 15% growth in etail sales, while store sales fell an average of 8%.

Equally, consumers are becoming more value conscious; shopping in cheaper outlets and looking to make or repair clothes. One of the startling trends is the accelerated growth in sewing machines, bulk fabrics and clothing repair kits. Knitting wool sales are up 11% and sewing machines up 24% year on year to March 2009, while there is an increasing use of exchange websites and charity shops.

Will the clothing sector recover? Most certainly, but the more value-conscious, option-rich consumer will be far more difficult to satisfy and retain than in the past.

  • James Roper is chief executive of etail industry body IMRG and chairman of global etail industry body IMR World

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