Retailers re-evaluating how best to reach petites

Filed under: Retail |

When three major retailers — Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s — began eliminating their petite departments, women protested. And it seems like more than a few retailers have noticed.

Petite sizes hit the retail scene in the early 1990s to meet consumer demand, but were far from stylish. Retailers are just now beginning to understand the petite market.

Nationally, sales of petite clothing climbed 11 percent to $10 billion in 2005, according to NPD Group, a market research firm. Petites also had the highest growth of all women’s clothing categories, including juniors, misses and larger sizes.

Petite clothing is typically designed for women 5 feet 4 inches and shorter and there are an estimated 45 million women under that height. Some garments are only cut shorter, but true petites are designed with smaller proportions, such as narrower shoulders in a jacket.

According to Saks, petites weren’t a bad business — the retailer was just more interested in a younger, hipper customer and not the client buying the traditional suits found in petite departments.

But, it appears that the petites have won a gigantic victory. Saks has announced it will reinstate its petite department in November.

Neiman Marcus has cut back to selling petite sizes in just eight of its 36 stores nationwide. However, the company will offer petite sizes and styles online and through its catalog.

Some department stores and specialty shops want more of the petite market.

Stores such as the Gap, Banana Republic, Dillard’s, Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft are expanding store selections, updating brands and courting customers through catalogs and the Internet.

Ann Taylor began offering petite clothing in 1993, and now has petites in 83 percent of its stores.

Macy’s private brands, like INC International Concepts, cater to petites, and the company will continue to carry Karen Scott, an in-house brand at Foley’s (soon to become Macy’s) available in petite sizes.

Dillard’s has begun upgrading and expanding brands offering petite sizes and adding more modern styles.

Pier 1 Imports anticipates turnaround

Pier 1 Import’s chairman has announced plans to role out a new merchandise line and advertising campaign in an attempt to boost declining sales.

Pier 1’s same-store sales have been trending down for more than a year and a half. During the first quarter, sales at stores opened more than a year were down 6.6 percent. On May 27, the company posted its fifth consecutive quarterly decline, with a net loss of $23.2 million.

Pier 1 had intended to close 27 stores this year, but that number has risen to 38. The retailer also plans to close about 50 unprofitable stores in 2007. Pier 1 has 1,266 stores.

The retailer is stepping up efforts to reach customers through catalogs, television, Internet and ads in home-oriented magazines.

The company’s new merchandise line includes Modern Craftsman, which in addition to wicker and rattan, offers fabric-covered couches and chairs. Loft 21, its newest merchandise collection, will roll out in mid-July.

Independence Day shopping trends survey

American consumers plan to take advantage of the extended July 4th holiday weekend special sales and promotions, not letting record high prices at the gas pumps affect their festivities.

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2006 Independence Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, the majority of consumers (87.2 percent) plan to celebrate Independence Day this year.

More than half of consumers polled (53.2 percent) said that increased gas prices will not impact their holiday spending.

Retailers will be stocking their shelves with plenty of red, white and blue merchandise. According to the survey, 25 million consumers plan to purchase patriotic goods this month and more than a quarter (28.4 percent) of those polled plan to take advantage of sales.

Popular shopping destinations include discount stores (39.8 percent), department stores (34.5 percent), online (14.6 percent), specialty stores, such as greeting card/gift stores and electronics stores (12.6 percent), and specialty clothing stores (10.2 percent).

This year 91.1 million people will celebrate with fireworks or a community celebration, up from 77.7 million in 2005, and 22.9 million people plan to travel or take a vacation this Independence Day, up from 18.6 million in 2005.

Chain store sales strong in June

Father’s Day and school graduation purchases helped retailers during the first weeks of June.

According to Redbook Research, chain stores sales were up 1.9 percent through June 17. Also, sales at major retailers were up 3.3 percent compared to the same time a year ago.

“Father’s day and school graduation brought shoppers into stores and drove traffic in sales of stationary, men’s apparel, gift cards and other typical gift categories, and also produced positive spill-over business,” the report said.

The Johnson Redbook Index is a sales-weighted index of year-over-year same-store sales growth in a sample of large U.S. general merchandise retailers representing about 9,000 stores.

Joan Johnson covers retail for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.