Women’s apparel buyers return

After a bit of a lull, women’s apparel buyers got busy placing orders again. For the third quarter of 2006, the names of 33.3 million 12-month buyers from women’s clothing catalogs were available for list rental or exchange, according to New York-based list brokerage ParadyszMatera. That’s up 5% from the third quarter of 2005, during which 31.7 million active names were available.

Given the size of the women’s apparel sector, the rise in active buyers bodes well for the consumer apparel market overall. Buyers from women’s clothing catalogs account for about 60% of the entire consumer apparel universe, which includes men’s apparel titles, children’s clothing titles, and mixed-gender apparel books such as J. Crew and Lands’ End.

Some of the growth in the size of the active-buyer universe was due to the release of two new lists during the third quarter: Urban Outfitters’ newest title, Free People (more than 33,000 12-month buyers) and TravelSmith spin-off IOS (27,000 12-month buyers). But a number of established women’s books managed to grow their house files too. Victoria’s Secret, for instance, gained 480,000 names between the third quarter of 2005 and that of 2006, for a growth rate of 10%. Even without that influx of new buyers, however, Victoria’s Secret would have remained the merchant with the largest active buyer file. With nearly 5.27 million 12-month buyers, the Victoria’s Secret Catalog Buyers file is more than twice as large as that of the number-two list, the J.C. Penney Women’s Apparel and Accessories Buyers file.

Victoria’s Secret was the greatest gainer in terms of number of customers, but several smaller catalogers enjoyed much greater growth in terms of percentages. Essentials by Anthony Richards, an intimate-apparel spin-off from multititle mailer AmeriMark, grew its 12-month buyer file 191%, to 171,000 names. Another lingerie spin-off, plus-size catalog Roaman’s Intimate Promise, from Redcats USA, saw its active-buyer file increase 98%, to 222,000 names.

The growth of buyers among the women’s apparel merchants came without an appreciable growth in incentives — a good thing, as the sector was already pretty generous in its use of promotions. For the first three quarters of 2006, 43% of the women’s apparel books received offered at least one type of purchase incentive, compared with 41% of the women’s apparel catalogs received in all of 2005 and 42% of those received in 2004. Deferred payment was the most popular promotion, with 21% of the books offering it. Among the most active deferred-payment mailers were Newport News and its sister title Spiegel, and Hanover Direct’s plus-size catalog, Silhouettes. Eighteen percent of the catalogs offered free shipping, up from 13% in 2005. A.B. Lambdin, Bra Smyth, and Peruvian Connection were among the titles that offered free S&H for the first time this year.

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