Friday, January 15, 2010

Sales Frustration

The war between stores and consumers appears to wage on. Yesterday, I popped into Barneys and the Chelsea Co-Op on a circuitous route to acupuncture. I am trying not to spend too much money (last year was a little out of control) and saving for Mayle, not that anything has been available recently (another topic for another day). Still, I assumed there would be some rock bottom prices, and I'd be coming home with at least one Barneys bag.

I couldn't have been more wrong--the items I liked were few and far between and on 40% discount. Extra reductions were limited to specific racks, most of them filled with t-shirts, boring blouses from the likes of Tucker and DVF rejects. Everything else was on first markdown--and this is usually the point where the price tags have been marked down twice or three times. Nobody was shopping. The Chelsea Co-Op was the same, as was the Soho one earlier in the week. I had hoped to pick up a couple more No. 6 dresses but those had sold out (my dress was the sole one available, probably because it was ordered in greater quantity and a little more formal). Most of the shoes in the Co-Op weren't on sale at all and many of those that were came from earlier seasons. Inventory was low, but I chalk that up to reduced orders and people snapping up items early on in the sale in case they sold out.

The same picture was repeated elsewhere. Lyell evidently isn't taking another markdown until March, with its fall collection a mere 10-30% off right now, and some pieces remaining full price. Refinery 29 had sent out an email touting their second round of reductions--up to 60% off--but that appears to be a miscommunication. [EDIT: Lyell has dropped prices--on final sale, final markdown prices are max 40% off but many are unchanged or at 25-30% off, making much of the stock costly for this time or year]. Bird has discounts, but not as steep as in the past, and the more covetable pieces are either sold out or not discounted (or not in my size). The same applies to all the online boutiques in my usual search.

As for the chains, J. Crew has decent markdowns but dismal frumpy stock, save for some jewelry, cords (by this point, in very odd sizes--lots of 26S), and their amazing pajama pants. Club Monaco has barely reduced anything and as its designs are heading downhill fast, I smell trouble ahead--a shame as they used to be good for basics with an interesting twist. Now most of their stock seems dull, dated or just off, and any notable pieces aren't being reduced (and they don't appear to be selling either). After all, by mid-January, nobody wants to pay full price for sweaters that have been on the shelves for two or three months. That won't change unless the clothing arrives in stores much later. Retailers--we know you will need to get rid of it at some time and we'll either wait it out for the discount we want or pass.

This fall, I bought mainly J. Crew jewelry because it was inspiring and well constructed, despite the price tags (I still wish they had more earrings that were pretty and lightweight). I also got my Lyell skirt because it was so beautiful on and would be a valuable wardrobe basic (it was on sale, but still pricey). I've also bought a couple of Fletcher by Lyell items and some J. Crew Mayle knock-offs (so much of the store is dull, but they have expanded out and provided some interesting pieces). But still, this isn't inspiring. It's not accidental that most of my new pieces were basics (jeans, tee-shirts, cardigans) or accessories--tights, jewelry and the like. I'd buy new dresses in a second if there were any good ones out there. With just four exceptions, all my new dresses last year were Mayle--whether they came from the store, from the sample sale, Septieme Etage, tthe Outnet or ebay.

Fortunately, there isn't that much I want--except for those Mayle covets. There just aren't many inspiring items out there and at this point, Topshop's designs are as good as any, even though execution isn't always that great. I'm still looking for a good pair of winter shoes that aren't super high, aren't Oxfords, aren't totally flat and I've struck out.

If the stores want people to buy, they can't just keep inventory low--they have to up their design game so we consumers feel we have to have an item (or an entire collection). This applies throughout--to small designers, department stores, boutiques and chains. Significantly, Topshop is the best performer of all--and they have kept inventory high and worked on design. They don't need to reduce as much because people have continued shopping because they produce piees that make their target customers' pulses race. They don't have to wait until March for their real sales or keep items priced high in the hopes that someone, one day, will buy. Of course a giant on this scale is not comparable to small, barely profitable venture like Lyell, but from the consumer's perspective, the point remains--make us want a piece, thrill us, and if you fail to do that (or price it too high), reduce it and move on. If you want to keep winter items in store in January and February at full price (not a bad idea), you can't put them on the shelves in Sept-October. That thrill of the new and exciting pales, and as it leaves, so does your chance of a full price sale.


erica said...

have you tried stuart and wright for no. 6 dresses? they had a few different styles when i was there mid-december, and they just recently did reductions.

Moya said...

I haven't. Thanks for the tip, Erica!