In a fashion industry with fairly liberal returns policies, one of the biggest problems for brands is not knowing whether the item you just sold really had been, well, sold… Or whether it might come winging its way back in the next 30 days.
Another problem is when a category around which so many big names have built their business starts to be abandoned by consumers. And it looks like too many returns and the end of the It bag phenomenon are affecting one of the biggest names in bags at the moment.
As I reported last week, Millennials are buying their bags differently these days and that’s hurting accessory makers. But when quality issues also raise their heads, the problem gets even worse.
That seems to be the case when it comes to Michael Kors handbags. I read a MarketWatch report yesterday that said the ubiquitous Michael by Michael Kors bags are the most returned brand at Nordstrom stores.
I actually like what Michael Kors does, on the runway at least. His catwalk collections are a very wearable mix of on-trend luxe with a bit of an edge and always have been. It was the same back in the days when he was head designer at Céline.
But those bags… It doesn’t help that they’re everywhere. Additionally, all that gilt hardware and dull shapes is a turn-off for me. I’ve even found myself wandering past the Regent Street, London, store at times and on spotting something I liked, feeling a bit embarrassed. It’s like owning up to watching Midsomer Murders (and I’ll move on from that last point very quickly).
So, to that MarketWatch report. Sources told analysts that nearly half of Nordstrom stores stopped selling the Michael line during May, MarketWatch said, citing a note from Wedbush.
The bank said it spoke with 112 handbag managers in the US and Canada for its latest report. And a week before Michael Kors reports its Q4 earnings, another five stores alsp said they’re planning to drop the bags in the next few weeks.
An analyst said that interest in the brand is waning with both Nordstrom and Macy’s reporting that continual discounting is a problem and returns are heavy given “poor craftsmanship”.
Worse still, the report said the some stores are even discounting the more upscale Michael Kors Collection bags too. That’s something that must be worrying. Brands use their higher-end collections to give a halo effect of coolness to their cheaper products like perfumes, diffusion fashion lines and sunglasses. What they don’t want is that halo effect to be negative and to work in reverse!
Of course, this may not seem important in the grand scheme of things. But given that Kors is one of the most prominent names in the sector and that NPD said US women spent $11.5bn on handbags last year, it’s actually quite a big deal for business.
MarketWatch said some stores have replacse Michael bags with Coach and Kate Spade. Now that must really hurt. Others have reduced the size of their handbag departments due to lagging demand. And that must hurt even more because it undermines a fundamental principle on which the luxury and premium fashion segments have been built for nearly two decades. That is, that high-margin bags are what it’s all about.
It’s a tough business out there. For bag makers, is it about to get tougher?