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To find Miley Cyrus’s line of clothes, shoppers head to Wal-Mart. For Selena Gomez’s, they go to Kmart. Jennifer Lopez’s line is at Kohl’s, and Demi Lovato’s at Target. Rachel Bilson dinnerware can only be found at Macy’s, while for the Kardashian Kollection, fans must go to Sears.
Department store shopping is getting more and more complicated, driven by the growing popularity of exclusive lines, often backed by celebrities. In an effort to stave off rounds of price-slashing with competitors over the same brands, stores are increasingly relying on merchandise that can be found nowhere else. Retailers can mark these exclusive lines down at their own pace, with a far more profitable outcome than with a national brand.
“One of the biggest challenges within, especially the department store realm, but probably throughout most of retail, is the lack of differentiation, the me-too-ness and the sameness that has plagued retailing for years,” said Robert Drbul, an analyst with Barclays Capital. “This push on exclusive brands has really helped separate many retailers from their competition.” Yet while exclusive lines can attract a shopper, they can also be dizzyingly hard to keep track of — was it Selena at Sears and Miley at Macy’s? “There are chances of fatigue,” Mr. Drbul said.
Celebrity lines are particularly tricky because the star can wane in popularity almost overnight, and a scandal can hurt clothing sales. Many celebrities lend their name to clothing without being picky about the manufacturer, choosing an accessible price or promoting it after the initial buzz wears off. Along with celebrity fashions, exclusives can be designer lines available at only one venue or items in special colors or materials. Saks, for instance, has the exclusive on the “taupe” color of a Christian Louboutin ankle boot, while a metal-heeled Louboutin in beige is only at Neiman Marcus.
Mr. Drbul, the financial analyst, said that exclusive lines are also a way for retailers to strengthen ailing brands. Liz Claiborne, for instance, became troubled when it was ubiquitous. J. C. Penney proposed turning it into an exclusive brand at its stores, which it did in 2010, and it has been a strong seller there. “If a national brand starts to be more sluggish, retailers are pretty aggressive about proposing to some of the parent companies, saying can we have this as an exclusive product?” Mr. Drbul said.