Handbag Sales Are Down -- Here's What Consumers Are Buying I

 Industry News     |      2018-10-16 15:40

In the last several years, the women’s handbag business has been in decline. NPD estimates that 2017 handbag sales were $7.0 billion, down 8% from 2016. The data is remarkably consistent among sources and when you talk to people in the handbag business, they all say how tough it has been. It raises the question: What happened? Why would handbag sales be declining when the economy is so strong? Why would consumers be buying fewer handbags when they continue to buy more of most other things? Where did they go?

At the most recent Outdoor Retailer trade show, NPD presented some interesting information about backpacks and duffel bags. Sales of backpacks to men are down by 5% (for the 12 months ending May 2018). Sales of children’s backpacks are down even more, by 15%. Curiously, sales of backpacks to women are up by a whopping 15%. Duffel bag sales are up as well, by 17% for the 12 months ending February 2018.

The data leads me to only one possible conclusion: a substantial number of women have started using backpacks and duffel bags made of technical materials instead of handbags. When I suggest that to people in the industry, they think it makes sense. There are other hints, too: The types of handbags that are gaining in popularity now are more functional, like fanny packs and cross-body bags. Those handbags have the most features and are closest to the outdoor lifestyle characterized by backpacks and duffel bags.


The change is also consistent with the change in fashion to athleisure clothes. The majority of athleisure garments purchased have never been worn while exercising. That’s one more sign that outdoor, technical products are what consumers want. Backpacks and duffel bags were once thought of only for active outdoor activities but now they’re used every day and have cut into the handbag market. The backpack companies have been clever about it; they make more backpacks for smaller frames that are better suited for women.