Apparel retailers will struggle to resize in 2018. E-commerce is chipping away at stalwart brands like Macy’s but it’s hardly the only factor. A flood of sweaters, shoes and the like is hurting the market too.

U.S. clothing inventories have risen by nearly a quarter since 2010, according to Census Bureau data, even as prices and store sales came under pressure. The price index of clothing as tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has declined in a more dramatic fashion.

Brands are finally getting the message. They are desperate to trim down, but like anyone who’s struggled to get into a smaller size, the effort can be painful. Nike said in June it was slashing its workforce, concentrating on 12 key cities, and reducing the number of sneaker models it produces.

Luxury brands in particular have cottoned on to the trend. Ralph Lauren is in the midst of a multiyear program to taper the range of merchandise it sells. Tapestry’s Coach brand is focusing on fewer items after it painfully realized the bumper crop of handbags it was pushing wasn’t translating into dollars. And in the mass market, retailers like Macy’s and J.C. Penney are shuttering hundreds of stores.

The continued shift to online channels makes this process all the more challenging, and vital. E-commerce sales on so-called Cyber Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday rose 17 percent from a year earlier, to almost $7 billion, according to Adobe. In stores, meanwhile, foot traffic in the week of Black Friday, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year, declined 2 percent, consultancy and analytics firm ShopperTrak estimates. Online shopping giant Amazon’s stock climbed 57 percent in the 12 months to the end of November, nearly triple the gain of the S&P 500, while the S&P sub-index that tracks apparel fell 8 percent.

The pressure isn’t likely to let up anytime soon. Millard Drexler, the chairman of troubled J.Crew, said in November that recent years have been “miserable” for retailers in large part because clothing plays a less important role in consumer’s lives and budgets. The share of apparel and services in average expenditure fell to 3.3 percent from 5.7 percent over the 25-year period ending in 2015, according to Deloitte. The slimming of retail has a ways to go to fit the new pattern.

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- During the U.S. holiday weekend from Thanksgiving Day through Nov. 27, more than 174 million Americans were expected to shop in stores and online, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation.

- Online sales day on Nov. 27, known as Cyber Monday, were estimated at $6.6 billion, a nearly 17 percent increase from the year-ago period, according to Adobe.

- For previous columns by the author, Reuters customers can click on


(Editing by Tom Buerkle and Martin Langfield)

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