August 13, 2006

Retailers step up marketing to hawk denim

By Darrell Hughes

CHICAGO (Reuters) - To tempt back-to-school shoppers into
buying yet another pair of blue jeans, U.S. retailers are
turning to gimmicks like free movies and music downloads.

Clothing chains have all but accepted that they will be
hard-pressed to top last year's stellar denim sales, when hot
trends such as embroidered and ripped jeans were the must-have
look for teens and college students.

This year, muted styles such as darker washes and straight,
skinny-leg fits may not appeal to the masses -- particularly in
a country with rising rates of obesity -- so retailers are
looking for ways to at least get customers in the door.

American Eagle Outfitters Inc. offered customers nationwide
free movie passes just to try on a pair of jeans. Gap Inc.
resumed its aggressive television advertising campaign after
eliminating TV ads during last year's holiday season.

"That Gap commercial," Nick Downs, 19, said as he began to
mock the ad, smiling ear-to-ear. "'Where the jeans take shape!'
It's stuck in my head. I went in the Gap to look at their

However, looking and buying are two different things.

Gap posted disappointing July sales and lowered its profit
forecast for the second quarter. The retailer is still hoping
that its new line of jeans and T-shirts will boost second-half

Christine Chen, an analyst with Pacific Growth Equities,
said American Eagle's promotion seemed to be paying off.

"I went and tried on my pair of jeans and I got my free
movie ticket," she said.

"It was certainly very effective in generating traffic
because you saw teenagers lined up to try jeans on just so they
could get the movie ticket, and of course a lot of customers
actually did buy the jeans."


Last year, embellished jeans helped drive strong
back-to-school sales across the apparel sector. This year,
retailers need to show customers how to put together an outfit
using the less flashy denim styles, said Lezley Goldbaum,
editor of young contemporary and children's fashion at retail
consulting service, The Tobe Report.

"It's about showing the consumer how this particular pair
of jeans relates to the new (style) of the season," she said.

"It's really upon retailers to translate the idea of jeans
into outfits and into merchandising so that the customer really
does see ... what looks new with their jeans."

Old Navy shopper Jourdan Conzelmann said with the new and
old trends, retailers need to diversify their product more to
appeal to different body types.

"I'm tall," the 26-year-old said as she browsed an Old Navy
store in Chicago. "They need to have more tall jeans. Store
selection for tall jeans is awful."

Conzelmann said she tried shopping at other stores, but the
limited waist sizes and lengths caused her to go elsewhere.

"That's a big thing, finding tall jeans and a variety of
sizes," she said, adding that the new skinny jeans are "not for

If skinny jeans don't pan out, then retailers won't keep
them for long, said Janine Blain, contemporary market research
analyst of The Doneger Group.

Blain said sales of skinny jeans are currently not
"horrible," but because middle class Americans have not
completely jumped on the bandwagon, retailers should be aware
and concerned about the prospect of disappointing sales.

Regardless of trends, jeans remain a back-to-school staple,
but Pacific Growth's Chen said apparel chains were downplaying
potential denim sales this year because they were not expecting
it to be as big as last year.

Lisa Schultz, an executive vice president of Sears Holdings
Corp.'s apparel design team, said denim sales are a "critical
component" for its Kmart and Sears.

"We know it's the uniform for all kids going back to school
and we are also one of the top retailers for Levi's," she said.

Sears Holdings has its own advertising venture that
consists of free music downloads with the purchase of Levi's
through its newly launched college-oriented Web site.

"There's still so much innovation around denim as a fabric
and jeans as an article of clothing," Shultz said. "It never
really goes away. There's really nothing to replace it for