March 31, 2003, 12:00 AM

Apparel: Slow and steady does it

Apparel sales on the web in the first six weeks of the year were up 15% over last year, comScore reports, reaching $6.1 billion. The growth follows full-year growth in 2002 of 15% over 2001. "Apparel will continue to be one of the category leaders," a comScore analyst says.

Apparel sales have had their ups and downs on the web, as consumers have learned how to use the new medium for clothing purchases. But as apparel retailers have known for some time, customers like to buy clothing over the web. The latest apparel sales figures from comScore Networks Inc. confirm that apparel is one of the stalwarts of the web and probably will continue to be so.

Apparel sales on the web in the first six weeks of the year were up 26% over last year`s first six weeks, reaching $760 million, comScore reports. The growth follows full-year growth in 2002 of 15% over 2001. Online apparel sales reached $6.1billion in 2002. “Apparel will continue to be one of the category leaders,” says Michelle David Adams, comScore vice president.

Some retailers’ sales numbers confirm the staying power of web-based apparel sales. Coldwater Creek Inc. reports web-based Q4 sales last year were up 35.5% over Q4 the year before and up 12.9% for the entire year. Online fashion discount merchant Bluefly Inc. reports February sales up 13% over a year ago. And even where the news isn’t so rosy, the web is a bright spot. J. Crew Inc.’s companywide sales were down nearly 15% in February while web sales were unchanged from a year ago.

As spring fashion shopping got under way, Nielsen/NetRatings reported that traffic to certain apparel sites spiked. At-home traffic to LLBean.com jumped 66% for the week ending Feb. 23 compared to the prior week, reaching 298,000 unique visitors. Old Navy jumped 59% to 378,000 and Eddie Bauer, 50% to 287,000.

In addition, four months after introducing apparel sales, Amazon.com says apparel is its fastest-growing category in units sold. Amazon now offers more than 500 apparel brands. Among its strongest apparel categories: children’s, maternity, and specialties such as big-and-tall sizes.

Growth will continue because the additional shopping tools, such as virtual fitting technology and easy comparison shopping, that the web makes available will attract catalog customers, Adams says: “You can comparison shop without having all that paper in front of you.”

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