Washington: In a major shift in fashion trends, the handbag that once featured at an exalted place in a woman's wardrobe is no longer appealing for many. Sales of women's handbags and totes in the US are down by more than 20 per cent over the first eight months of 2019, compared with the same period three years ago, research firm NPD Group's Consumer Tracking Service said in a report cited by Quartz, a US-based business news organisation.
"This is clearly not a blip - it's a major shift," NPD Group analyst Beth Goldstein said. Earlier this month, an investment firm Piper Jaffray released its latest semi-annual survey of US teens, which found that teen spending on handbags had fallen to the lowest point in the survey's 18-year-history.
Female teens said that they're spending an average of USD 90 a year on handbags, down from a peak of USD 197 in spring 2006. According to the analysts, there isn't just one factor driving the decline. Rather, it appears to be a confluence of changes in shopper preferences and where they're putting their money. Many are devoting their dollars to other fashion items, or not using them for fashion at all.
"Consumers are shifting their spend to other categories because their priorities have changed," Goldstein said in an interview. She also pointed out that spending on entertainment has risen substantially as people of all ages stay home more and binge on their favourite shows. People are also spending more on technology, including devices such as headphones and tablets.
In the clothes and accessories they are buying, shoppers are seeking more versatility, a trend that's also driven the rise of athleisure and sales of casual sneakers in the US over the past several years. So when women need to carry things, for instance, they are turning more to products such as backpacks for the job.
NPD's data found sales of backpacks for women grew 12 per cent over the same period that sales of handbags and totes fell. Goldstein calls them "the new work tote." Erinn Murphy, a research analyst at Piper Jaffray covering fashion and lifestyle brands, said that while she's not certain American teens are thinking of backpacks explicitly as a replacement for handbags, backpacks have been trending among young shoppers.
"We've seen handbags tick down for a period of time now as footwear has generally improved," Murphy said. Sales of established mid-market labels, such as Michael Kors, Kate Spade, and others that once relied on department stores for distribution has drastically suffered.
"I do not see the handbag business returning to its former glory, where a few hot brands/items were enough to drive the market as a whole," Goldstein wrote in her post. "The core department store handbag business is struggling due to lost traffic and lack of excitement. A logo isn't enough anymore--consumers are making much more calculated purchasing decisions than in the past--as an NPD study focused on the millennial handbag consumer found, shopping for handbags is 'closer to buying a car than to buying clothing," she added.
It seems likely that more distinct groups of winners and losers will emerge. Luxury labels such as Louis Vuitton with top-quality products-and marketing-will probably continue to thrive, as will emerging labels that have a unique, versatile bag and can connect with a core audience, especially on Instagram. For everyone else, there's just less money to go around.