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Five reasons the mass market can’t afford to overlook accessories

Accessories are the jewel in the mass market's crown. They sell fast, create constant newness and have compelling seasonal stories. What worked this summer?
Five reasons the mass market can’t afford to overlook accessories | EDITED

Accessories are the unsung heroes of the mass market. They’re the second biggest category globally – representing 18% of everything on the mass market. For retailers, on-trend accessories keep consumers interested, bringing them back into stores and driving new stories that sell out fast. For consumers, they’re a price-effective way of updating current looks without draining the bank.

The makings of a critical win/win for sure. And yet, they don’t always get the credit they deserve. So let’s look at some data that reveals just how valuable accessories can be to mass market retailers.

Where accessories currently sit in the global assortment.
Where accessories currently sit in the global assortment.

In a climate of discounting, accessories are the healthiest category

A lot has been written about retail’s current discounting pandemic. Whether that’s the result of a recession that stunted consumer spending, Instagram making fashion more disposable, or just millennials spending more on experiences and less on tangibles, no one can say for sure. Most likely it’s a combination of those three and a few more. Whatever the cause, the discounting effect is a real one that unfortunately continues to cut into margins.

Here’s where things stand today: across all womenswear on the US and UK mass market, 44% percent of all products are currently discounted (by an average of 39%). Over in the dress category 52% of all products are discounted (average discount: 42%). Tops – the most stocked category – are doing slightly better, with 50% of the entire category discounted (average discount: 41%).

And yet, given all of that, accessories have remained strong. They have the lowest level of discounting on the mass market – coming in at 34% overall, with an average discount rate of 39%. And this is mid-way through summer sale season. They’ve got a strong, untarnished value proposition and they’re resonating with customers.

Currently accessories have the lowest level of discounting on the mass market – 34% have prices cut.

They go fast

In an endlessly photo-streamed world, the outfits we wear, and how often we wear them, are broadcast daily to everyone we know and beyond. Accessories provide an easy, price effective way to wear those wardrobe staples in new ways. They’re little aesthetic touch-ups that differentiate the outfit repeaters from the outfit re-interpreters.

No surprise then that accessories move fast. On average, accessory (excluding jewelry) lines which arrived in the last three months, have sold out in 25 days, making them the quickest moving piece of inventory this season after swim. And being that they inherently have far fewer fit issues, most of those sales are final. Swimwear, and other apparel lines, sees much higher rates of return.

They provide consistent quick wins

Replenishment is normally a sign of success. Accessories however, for the most part, don’t come in multiple sizes. When they sell out, their story is done. They’re a clean sell-out for retailers.

Let’s look at some numbers. Of all accessories that have come to market in the last three months and sold out at full price – only 1.6% have been replenished. Compared to the average replenishment rate across all US and UK womenswear products launched on the mass market over the same time period (24%), you see that the current strategy for accessories is to strike fast, sell out quick and move on to the next thing. And in an ever faster retail climate, there’s always a next thing waiting to be capitalized on.

So what does this tell us, exactly? When shoppers return to a retailer, online or in stores, the newest and most attention-grabbing items are likely to be accessories. And since newness plays a big part in keeping shoppers interested, you can’t overlook the contributions from accessories.

They’re dependable year round

Last year 15% of all women’s sunglasses that launched on the US and UK mass market arrived in July. They also had a big month in June. Not too surprising given the time of year.

Here’s where it gets good. In July, retailers mentioned sunglasses in their newsletters 75% more than they did in August. They didn’t just tell us that new sunglasses came on the market in July, they also carried the month – providing new stories and content to push out in newsletters and stores. By August, retailers were on to the next thing, with sunglasses largely sold out.

Accessories are excellent products to refresh stories mid-season and around holidays. In 2015, hats ruled womenswear in October with 16% of the entire category launching. Scarves arrived en masse for September (13% of 2015’s total) and hair accessories showed up in June (11% of 2015’s total).

Here’s how the accessory category breaks down right now:

Jewelry currently makes up 56% of women’s mass market accessories online.


They are price point favorable

The reach of mass market accessories is incredible. Including jewelry, 24% of women’s mass market accessories are priced under $20 (compared to 19.5% of the mass market as a whole).

Further, 33% are priced over $80, compared to the rest of the market which only has 22% priced over $80. This helps contribute to the lack of discounting around accessories. Consumers appear to know the value of what they’re getting. Whether it’s good leather or sunglasses with protective properties, consumers know where they stand.

And here are this season’s mass market winners: