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Ready To Tap Fashion's Potential?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ready To Tap Fashion's Potential?(GIFTBEAT)Fashion accessories remain one of the top sellers in specialty retail, yet many gift store owners haven’t explored the full potential of this category. We asked author, retailer and editor of Fashion Advantage magazine, T.J. Reid, to share her expert advice on the category. Her insights reveal which fashion accessory items will be winners with shoppers, along with tips on selling more of the category using gift-with-purchase promotions and other creative methods.

Q. Has the tough economy hurt accessory sales for retailers?

A. When money is tight, it’s proven that accessories do well. When people have less money, they feel more confident buying accessories than going out and buying new outfits, even though they may spend about the same amount on these items as they would have on clothes. A woman doesn’t feel as guilty about spending money on little extras to refresh her wardrobe.

Overall spending per purchase is down. The most important thing right now is to get more bodies in the store instead of concentrating on getting each customer to buy more. In the past we have spent a lot of time trying to up-sell each shopper. From all the surveys I’ve read this year, more cash will be spent instead of plastic and overall tickets will be smaller. Retailers need to give shoppers reasons to come back. That can mean hosting events, offering return coupons good for the next week or targeting e-mails to shoppers with offers on the items you know they want. Stores need to do something every day to make customers want to come back.

Q. Will fashion accessories continue to be strong for fourth quarter? What are shoppers looking for in this category?

A. Fashion accessories are one of the No. 1 selling items right now. It’s not just the basic items you think of as handbags, jewelry and scarves. Fashion accessories have gone into an entirely new realm we call fashion solutions or problem-solvers.

There’s something on the market for every fashion problem in the world. There are fashionable footpads that keep people’s feet from sliding in shoes yet have fun designs that make a high-fashion accessory. Other popular items include cleavage helpers called Tweakerz ( that provide hooks to keep your bra straps from showing, or can draw in the straps to help make your bust look fuller.

There are five or six new brands of products called cleavage covers that provide extra color and style to an outfit while providing coverage. Second Base ( is the most popular of the cover brands. It is a cropped camisole meant to be the second basic worn over a bra. Other covers hook from each bra strap to show just a little fabric under the shirt.

IsABelt ( is a fun product because it is a virtually invisible belt that works when a traditional belt won’t look right with an outfit. At the same time, shapewear continues to be popular and there are many brands to choose from. Shaping is needed for a variety of areas, from your bust to your waistline, to help provide a slimmer look. The list of problem-solvers keeps going. Even purse hooks and cute hand sanitizer covers or wallets are hot little items that can be considered fashion accessories for those who want to solve the problem of germs.

Q. What are the hot new fashion products retailers should be stocking?

A. I love a little BBag from LisaB ( It’s a cross-body bag that is not a whole lot bigger than an iPhone, and it comes with a chain and a wallet insert. You have room for a phone, tissue or pen or whatever you need. The charm-adorned chain comes off, and you can use it as a necklace or a belt. It’s very versatile.

Another problem-solving accessory that I think is great are BStraps ( jeweled strap covers that are meant to “Bseen.” They are made with real gemstones or mother-of-pearl, and make bra straps look much better when they peek out from under sleeveless shirts. They are very high quality.

Although Pashminas are not as hot as they were last year, women still want them and will purchase them in several colors. Especially if you travel, you need one for when you get cold. I know many women have one to keep at work or in the car just in case they need it.

Q. What strategies do you suggest to retailers who are new at selling fashion accessories?

A. Accessories are not something that sell on sale. Women buy them because they like them and see a purpose for them. They either speak to the customer or not. Fashion items like this are not necessarily more attractive to shoppers when they are marked down. A $25 belt is not going to sell better at $15. These items need to be priced right to begin with and hold the correct perceived value.

If accessories you carry don’t sell, you need to find another way to use them. Make them a gift with purchase or a reward to your most valued customers.

Q. You’ve mentioned the benefits of “gift-with-purchase” promotions and last year spoke about using Pashminas as the gift. Are there any other interesting ideas you’ve seen used over the past year?

A. Gift-with-purchase promotions work much better than discounting. I continue to suggest this to retailers. One idea I’ve seen work really well is offering a coordinating item for free when you sell a higher-priced item. My daughter, here in Louisiana, stocks a lot of clothing with the fleur-de-lis design. If she wants to sell a $40 sweater, a gift-with-purchase incentive might be a coordinating pair of socks or other accessory. The socks cost the store less than $3 to make a $40 sale. That’s costing the store less than offering a 10% discount that would likely not entice the customer anyway. The shopper feels good about buying the sweater and feels they are getting something of value.

Even though I am a marketer, I find myself feeling I am getting more if I take advantage of a gift-with-purchase promotion. We all do it. The key is making the item exclusive to the gift-with-purchase deal. It can’t be for sale in the store. I’ve seen other retailers using a decorative dip bowl and spreader as a gift with the purchase of $75 in gourmet food. They set the dip bowl out on shelves and use it in tasting demos to promote it, but the item can’t be purchased. It is only available to shoppers who get the exclusive gift.

Q. Can you offer a few other creative ways retailers can sell accessories?

A. If stores have just gotten into selling accessories, make sure to have the salespeople wearing the accessories and leave the price tags on them. I recently spoke to a retailer who was ordering black turtleneck sweaters for all her employees to wear during the holiday season. It is a nice reward or early Christmas present for employees — something they can add to their wardrobe — but also will be beautiful to display colorful necklaces or scarves being sold in the store.

Matching sweaters also give the employees a consistent look for big events like holiday open houses when the store is flooded with people. This look makes it easier for shoppers to locate employees when they need assistance. It doesn’t require a big investment and it offers a lot of promotional benefits.

Note: T.J. Reid is an award-winning retailer, author and consultant specializing in fashion. Based in Louisiana, she is the editor of Fashion Advantage magazine and author of many books on retail merchandising and promotions, including “What Mother Never Told Ya About Retail,” “What Mother Never Told Ya About Promotions,” and “What Mother Never Told Ya About Fashion.” A special half-price offer is available for Giftbeat readers on these three book titles when ordered directly from the author. Just mention Giftbeat when ordering via phone at (800) 221-8615. For more information about Reid, her books or Fashion Advantage magazine, visit Reid can be reached at

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In This Month's

  • Summer/Seasonal
  • Message Gifts
  • Stationery Accessories
  • Non-Jar Candles
  • T-shirts
  • Fashion Accessories
  • Reorders
  • Personal Care

While coloring books and related products were all the rage in Stationery Accessories last year, this year it's back to basics: note cards, journals and planners.

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