If you're looking to grow your apparel business, the U.S. market is the place to be. According to The NPD Group, total U.S. women's apparel retail sales reached $116.4 billion in 2013, a 4 percent increase over 2012. Men's apparel is growing, too: Euromonitor International reports that the menswear category grew 4.8 percent in 2013 globally, and the trend was especially evident in the U.S.
Apparel is a hot category when it comes to online sales, too. Last year, ecommerce revenue from apparel and accessories sales reached $44.7 billion; that figure is projected to hit $52 billion this year and grow steadily to $86 billion by 2018. In fact, apparel and accessories is the best-performing online retail category, with a compound annual growth rate of 17.2 percent projected from 2012 to 2017, according to eMarketer.
While the percentage of U.S. apparel sales that take place online is expected to remain fairly low through 2016, the percentage of offline sales that are influenced by the web is steadily rising, and by 2016 nearly two-thirds of offline apparel sales will be influenced by the Internet.
So what categories of apparel are hot prospects in the U.S., and what do you need to know to boost your sales? Here's what's hot.
- As mentioned earlier, menswear is actually growing faster than women's wear. Pent-up demand for clothing during the Great Recession, more men returning to work, as well as demand from younger, fashion-oriented male Millennials are factors in this growth.
- The Polar Vortex - an extremely cold winter that gripped much of the U.S. in 2013-14 - had a big effect on driving outerwear sales. According to The NPD Group, sales of outerwear increased 12 percent to $6.3 billion in 2013 compared to 2012. Smart apparel retailers will keep an eye on long-term weather forecasts.
- Women's tailored clothing. Women are dressing up more and buying clothes specifically for work. 2013 saw an 11 percent increase in sales of women's blazers, suits and suit separates.
- Plus-sized women's clothing. This category grew 5 percent from May 2013 to April 2014, according to The NPD Group, and generated $17.5 billion in sales. Plus-sized apparel sales via ecommerce grew by 31 percent in the past two years. Consumers ages 55 to 64 account for the largest dollar share of the plus-size market, at $4.2 billion, but sales to the 18-to-24-year-old age group are growing the fastest, surging by 27 percent in the past two years.
Ready to boost your U.S. apparel sales? Here's what you need to know:
It's all about the Internet. Even when consumers buy clothing in a brick-and-mortar store (where the vast majority of apparel purchases still take place), the Internet hugely influences their buying habits. Over two-thirds of consumers with Internet access perform some of their shopping online, including reading reviews, researching apparel or comparing prices. Smart retailers will optimize their websites for search, use online advertising and employ email marketing tactics to attract customers and keep them buying. (One study found apparel industry emails have an open ratio of nearly 35 percent, making this a highly effective marketing strategy.)
Specifically, social media is having an outsized effect on the apparel industry, with top fashion labels scoring huge fan bases on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Take advantage of the latest visually oriented social media networks to promote your apparel products.
In addition, consumers expect seamless integration between their online and offline shopping experiences. They want the ability to order online and pick up or return in store, to order in-store for home delivery and to get the same prices and discounts online as offline.
Plunkett Research offers this advice for U.S. apparel retailers hoping to attract consumers of all income levels:
- Luxury apparel is on the upswing. However, beyond just luxury, consumers at all price ranges want to feel they're getting value for money. Your apparel should offer value, quality and durability so customers feel their money is wisely spent.
- Brand reputation matters as much as style: Consumers want to buy from companies that put customer satisfaction first. If you also offer great style, that's the cherry on top.
- Cheap chic can sell, but with caveats: If you hope to profit from cheaply made, trendy apparel, you've got to offer a really great value so consumers will feel comfortable spending money on items they know won't last more than a season.