Reaching the Chinese Consumer

China continues to top the AT Kearney Retail Apparel Index, which shows the top 10 emerging countries viable for the retail sector. Strong growths in population and in income make it an increasingly attractive market for western brands looking to expand. Yet reaching the Chinese consumer poses unique challenges.

According to Euromonitor International, Chinese clothing expenditures are projected to nearly double within the next 10 years, from 1.2 trillion in 2012 to 2.2 trillion in 2020. Even in 2011, a year of slower than predicted growth, Chinese real GDP still amounted to 51.1 trillion RMB.

And while the Chinese population is expected to grow 2% by 2020, income growth will continue to outpace population growth — which means more consumers with more buying power. Per capita disposable income is expected to grow 75% between 2012 and 2020, according to projections made by Euromonitor International.

As the population continues to grow, though, it is also shifting towards more urban areas. This stands to benefit western retailers first expanding into larger cities, since urban consumers tend to spend more on discretionary purchases like apparel and textiles. [Read more...]

Consumers Are Talking…Are Brands Listening?

The Robin Report

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Consumer Facts from Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™

Once consumers became comfortable purchasing apparel online, brands and retailers sought to enhance the experience through social media sharing options, crowdsourcing — and online customer comments sections. What may have begun as a means of increasing sales via search engine optimization has grown to be a barometer of what’s in and what’s out of favor with the buying public.

Customer Comments
Project Reveals Key Apparel Complaints

Cotton Incorporated set out to quantitatively measure these customer comments, and the result – the Cotton Incorporated Customer Comment Project – reveals what makes apparel consumers rant or rave about their purchases. [Read more...]

The Red, White & Blue – and Green

CottonplanetThe Cotton Incorporated 2013 Environmental Survey reveals that more than 50% of U.S. consumers identify themselves to be “green”. And, although participation in basic household environmentalism has shown only incremental growth, higher income consumers constitute a markedly greater level of engagement. Survey data indicate that personal income and larger economic concerns are changing the ways in which consumers perceive and participate in environmental activities. Several factors, including a significant increase in consumers’ pursuing apparel made in the U.S.A, and apparel made from natural fibers, suggests that these are emerging as new forms of environmental engagement.

“It is clear that consumers are aware and concerned about the environment,” says Kim Kitchings, VP of Corporate Strategies and Program Metrics at Cotton Incorporated, adding that the majority (60%) of survey respondents say that they often think how their actions affect the environment. “What is less clear to them is the cost of making a difference.”

Kitchings points to five years of data showing that participation in relatively low- or no-cost household environmentalism, including recycling, conserving water, and investing in energy-efficient appliances, is consistently greater among consumers with higher incomes. The divide is also seen in the 34% of consumers who say they put effort into finding environmentally-friendly apparel; that figure jumps to 40% among consumers making $75,000 or more per year. [Read more...]

Rules of Engagement

Cotton’s 24-Hour Runway Show and Push-Pull 2.0

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The retail universe has long-since expanded beyond the confines of physical floor space and time. Online retail outlets have made shopping a 24-hour option for brands with or without brick-and-mortar complements. Brand marketing, too, is now a brave new digital world in which presence and consumer engagement are essential cogs in the machine. To succeed, there must be a synchronicity of disparate channels that encompass traditional advertising, digital advertising, social media and most importantly, the often-unpredictable consumer.

Hyper-dimensional marketing, or Push-Pull 2.0, plucks multiple messaging strings in the hopes of striking a chord with consumers. In traditional push-and-pull strategy, push referred to offering incentives to the supply chain, and consumer marketing was the pull. Today, Facebook, Twitter and the like, have shifted the strategic emphasis squarely on the consumer; push is now defined as brand outreach to the consumer, and pull is their outreach to the brand. The objective is to enthusiastically engage the co

nsumer in the brand experience; to have them participate, promote, and eventually purchase. [Read more...]

Sleight of Hand

The Touch, the Feel — but Not the Performance — of Cotton

The recent ruling by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to fine four retailers, including Amazon.com and Macy’s, for mislabeling textiles made from bamboo rayon as simply “bamboo,” underscores the seriousness with which the government is enforcing truth and clarity in labeling. Some onus, however, is also on consumers, some of whom are largely unaware of recent fiber substitutions in traditionally cotton-dominant apparel—a shift that can impact the care and thus, perceived value, of their purchases.

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The ubiquity of cotton in apparel and home textiles has made it the fiber to beat, or at least the one to imitate. Manufacturers of synthetic fibers and some wood pulp rayons have become adept at duplicating the tactile softness long associated with cotton. To consumers, cotton is a known quantity, especially where the feel, or hand, and laundering are concerned. Many consumers have discovered, to their dismay, a sleight of hand in the form of fiber substitutions in traditionally cotton-rich apparel. [Read more...]

Well-Wrapped at Retail: Savvy Consumers Meet Smart Retailing This Holiday

Consumers may be wary this holiday season, but there are bright spots ahead. According to the National Retail Federation, overall holiday spending is projected to increase 4.1% this year, from $563 billion in 2011 to $586 billion in 2012. Technological advances have made it easy for consumers to shop from anywhere, at any time, and this year they are taking note; the NRF also projects that online holiday sales will grow 12% from 2011 to 2012, reaching $92 to $96 billion.

On average, holiday shoppers plan to spend approximately $568 on gifts this season, up 14% from $497 in 2011, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey.

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“What consumers give year to year doesn’t necessarily change much – but the way they’re making those purchases has changed tremendously over the last decade,” says Kim Kitchings, Vice President, Corporate Strategy and Program Metrics, Cotton Incorporated. “The rise of e-commerce and its ease of use, and now the increase in smartphone usage as a means to make purchases, have enabled consumers to shop wherever, whenever.” This is certainly a boon to the more than half (52%) of consumers who say they find holiday gift shopping to be stressful, according to Monitor data.

That stress may be due in part to procrastination; only about a third of consumers (32%) start holiday gift shopping in November, while an equal percentage (18%) start shopping in October and December. Just 14% of consumers say they buy holiday gifts throughout the year, Monitor data reveal.

Savvy shoppers plan to rely on a variety of mechanisms to ensure they get the best price; from doing more comparison shopping (45%), looking for deals on days like Black Friday (45%), to shopping around to find the best deals (43%), according to Monitor data. [Read more...]

How Do You Give People What They Want?

The Robin Report

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The Global Recession has left retailers with overstuffed inventories and rapidly declining margins, as cash-strapped consumers pulled back on all but the most necessary of purchases. In response, some retailers have revamped the consumer experience with a variety of strategies, from flashy celebrity endorsements and hefty back-to-school discounts, to new pricing strategies and a more holistic approach to in-store versus online.

But are any of these giving consumers what they really want?

Leveraging the power of celebrity appeal is a popular tactic that shows no signs of slowing. Ann Taylor recently announced that Kate Hudson will continue to be their spokesperson for the third year running, while H&M recently revealed its continuing partnership with David Beckham.

Despite the prevalence of star-powered promotion, 3% of consumers cite celebrities as being most likely to influence them to purchase new apparel, though 22% say clothing worn by celebrities is still influential in their own clothing choices, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey. Most say (53%) friends are the most influential source in their purchasing decisions. [Read more...]

What’s Up With Today’s Active Wear?

Over the past year, the volatility in cotton fiber costs compelled some manufacturers and brands to, at least temporarily, experiment with using alternative fibers. Now that the price of cotton has settled in line with historic averages, there is renewed interest in cotton for performance athletic apparel. And as the line between fashion and active apparel continues to blur, cotton is coming into focus as the common thread.

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Take Charged Cotton®, the performance enhanced cotton-rich line launched in 2011 from sports retailer Under Armour®. Famous for compression clothing and strictly synthetic blends, the company attracted significant attention when it replaced the tagline “Cotton is the Enemy” with “Mother Nature made it. We made it better.” It appears consumers have responded positively; Under Armour’s 2011 Annual Report speaks to the potential that the Charged Cotton® line holds for the company: “We see Charged Cotton® as a path to nearly quadrupling our addressable market in ‘active use’ apparel while blurring the lines of the much larger active wear market over time.” Others agree; Morgan Stanley analysts recently predicted that the line will account for 3 percent sales growth in 2012 and as much as 6 percent total sales growth for the company in 2013. [Read more...]

Eastward and Upward: Chinese Consumers Spend with Optimism and Open Wallets

A study in contrasts, China is showing signs that its rapid economic expansion may be  unsustainable, even as western companies continue to develop a presence there to woo a growing middle class.

Some on Wall Street are bearish on China, including Jim Chanos, who said in a recent CNBC “Squawk Box” interview, “If you looked at the performance of the banks over the last two years… they have been great shorts. They have been going down — they’re down 30 percent over the last two years.”

The country has targeted economic growth of 7.5% in 2012, representing a decrease compared to recent years, according to a recent article in IBTIMES. But China’s National Bureau of Statistics recently reported that the country’s GDP decelerated to 8.1% during the first three months of 2012, compared to the previous year, a figure that is lower than the 8.4% analysts had expected.

The Robin Report

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Yet these economic developments have not slowed expansion plans for many western companies. From Levi’s to Louis Vuitton, and from Proctor & Gamble to Starbucks, the last eighteen months has seen a veritable explosion in companies looking to gain a foothold in China, eager to attract its booming middle class.
Just as in the U.S., where “middle class” is an ambiguous term, “middle class” in China also continues to defy classification. Many analysts peg it as those making between $6,000 and $15,000 a year, which represents about 350 million households. Based on international dollars, that figure is about one-third of the average spending power (GDP per capita) in the U.S. [Read more...]

Diluting Cotton Content Compromises Quality and Brand Perception

Consumer Facts from Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor

The Robin Report

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A year ago the rising costs of materials, labor and fuel put pressure on apparel brands and manufacturers to maintain margins and pass minimal costs onto the consumer. In re-thinking sourcing strategies, many brands sought to cut corners by substituting cotton with synthetic fibers. Cotton, a mainstay of apparel, had historically high prices last year. One year later, the landscape is different and so is the consumer perception of quality; begging the question, is there a higher cost for diluting the touch and feel of cotton?

The run-up in cotton fiber prices a year ago was mistaken by some as the sole reason for increased apparel costs at retail. Indeed, the jump to $2.43 a pound on the A Index was unprecedented. However, other factors, such as: increased labor costs in textile manufacturing regions; increased fuel costs; the increased price of fibers competitive to cotton; and a 15-year cycle of deflationary apparel pricing in the U.S. all played a part in the slightly elevated prices consumers are seeing at retail. At the retail level, apparel prices increased year-over-year 4.2% in February, the most recent data available. Interestingly, although apparel prices have increased over the last few months, consumer demand for apparel has shown signs of resiliency. In January, when prices were higher than in February, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported consumer apparel spending was stable on a priceadjusted basis relative to a year prior. [Read more...]

How Green Is My Product Line? Measuring Sustainability Success

What is more vital to the survival of an apparel manufacturer or retailer today: commitment to environmental consciousness or keeping production costs low? Five years ago, the answer would have been strongly in favor of being green. Today, amid global debt crises and the rising costs of raw goods, labor and fuel, the emphasis has for many shifted towards the economic from the environmental. Perhaps a better question is: Can an apparel manufacturer or retailer be green while remaining in the black? The answer is “yes,” when a thoughtful, long-term vision fuels the actions.

Prior to 2010, U.S. consumers had enjoyed 15 years of deflationary apparel pricing. Big box retailers attracted an increasingly diverse consumer base, fueled by low prices for apparel staples and the addition of specialty lines by popular, high-end designers and celebrities. Marketers in the highly competitive apparel category seized upon being “green” as a saleable point of brand differentiation. Low-priced and high street brands began trumpeting new and niche ‘sustainable’ fibers within their mix.

The challenges arose, however, when these sustainable fibers proved unsustainable in cost, processing or both. Bamboo, for example, was embraced as a stellar textile fiber because it grew quickly and did not require pesticides for protection. However, the process to convert the bamboo from a plant to a rayon fiber was discovered to be quite chemical intensive. [Read more...]

Channel-Surfing: Recession-era Quest for Deals Continues

Consumer Facts from Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor

With a focus on shoring up household savings in the face of still high unemployment and renewed fears of a European recession, American consumers have become increasingly deal-driven at the registers. Once drawn to mass merchants for their consistently low prices, consumers are now searching across channels, and of course across the Internet, to find the best price for their clothing purchases. But will this trend continue as the economy improves?

“We’re seeing the emergence of a new consumer – one who isn’t driven by brand or channel but rather comparison shopping and price,” says Kim Kitchings, Senior Director, Corporate Strategy and Program Metrics, Cotton Incorporated. “These consumers may have previously favored mass merchants, but are now doing their research online to find the best price and letting that dictate where they shop, whether at chain stores, specialty stores, or even department stores as the case may be.”

On average, consumers spend approximately $53 per month on clothing, which is down significantly from the average spent during the same time period in 2008 ($76), 2009 ($64), and 2010 ($60). These figures represent an overall decline of 30%, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle MonitorTM Survey.

“Today’s consumers are keeping a strict eye on expenditures,” Kitchings says. “Not only are they spending less on apparel each month than they have in years past, but they are also planning those purchases to ensure they stay within budget.” [Read more...]