Women’s apparel universe sees some wear and tear

Although it accounts for 19% of all 12-month consumer catalog buyers available for list rental or exchange, the women’s apparel universe continues to contract. According to New York-based media brokerage services firm ParadyszMatera, for the third quarter of 2005 there were 32.6 million 12-month buyers of women’s clothing catalogs, down 2.6% from the previous third quarter and down 8.4% — nearly 3 million names — from the third quarter of 2003. (These figures do not include names from mixed-gender apparel files such as L.L. Bean.)

ParadyszMatera blames the decline of 12-month buyers in part on the removal of several sizable lists, including those of Nordstrom and Target Direct/Marshall Field’s. Catalog closures, such as that of Blair Corp.’s Crossing Pointe title, played a part as well.

Of course, a number of companies are doing their part to try to reverse the downward trend. Upscale merchant Anthropologie, for instance, more than doubled its 12-month buyer file, to 166,000 names. Also posting impressive gains were J. Marco (31% increase in 12-month buyers, to 104,000 names) and plus-size merchant Junonia (up 23%, to roughly 64,000 names). And while Victoria’s Secret grew its 12-month file “only” 7%, it saw the greatest increase in terms of individual names — an additional 330,000 buyers, bringing its active buyer file to nearly 4.8 million customers. (And although the name of its list is Victoria’s Secret Catalog Buyers, the company estimates that at least 40% of those buyers purchased via the Web.)

Victoria’s Secret remains the women’s apparel mailer with the largest 12-month buyer file. Last year’s number two, off-price merchant Chadwick’s, swapped places with last year’s number three, J.C. Penney. Both Chadwick’s and the mailer with the fourth-largest active buyer file, plus-size catalog Lane Bryant, are owned by Redcats USA, whose other women’s apparel books include Lerner, Roaman’s, and La Redoute.

Use of incentives has held steady: During the first three quarters of 2005, 41% of the catalogs received offered at least one incentive, such as free shipping, discounts, or deferred payment. During 2004, 42% of the women’s books had offered at least one incentive, as had 39% of those mailed in 2003. The use of deferred billing increased, from 13% in 2003 and 16% in 2004 to 20%, making it the most popular incentive for the first nine months of 2005.

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