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Denim jeans are a huge industry that customers covet—nothing new there. Jeans sales increased 17 percent last year—again, nothing too new. But the type of jeans customers buy has shifted. Earlier in this decade, customers bought multiple pairs of jeans for more than $200 each, without thinking much about it. Today, shoppers have tamed down their buying practices.

The vast array of denim jeans brands include Levi’s, Lee, and Wrangler that sell for around $20–$30 per pair, as well as the premium brands 7 for All Mankind, Citizens for Humanity, and True Religion, priced at around $200. But the jean brands that flooded the market during the growth years are having trouble bringing in the same sales they were in previous years.

Some of these premium denim companies open their own retail stores, expanding into new categories such as tops and sweaters. Yet even as brand-owned stores try to stake unique positions for their brands, department stores are discounting the same products. Some manufacturers, like 7 for All Mankind, are lowering their retail prices; 85 percent of this company’s jeans carry a retail price less than $200, compared with 70 percent the year before. In contrast, True Religion is taking an opposite approach and maintaining its prices, in the hopes that consumers still want unique, Western-inspired jeans as a prestige item.

Not every denim company competes in the premium category though. Basic denim brands continue to look for ways to offer value to customers. Levi’s surveyed customers to find out what they wanted and emerged with some interesting results: new back pocket treatments, slim fit jeans that are not as snug, and boyfriend-style jeans that are snug in the bottom but loose in the legs.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What might denim companies do to increase sales?
  2. What would you predict for the future of this industry?

Jayne O’Donnell and Michelle Walbaum, “Blue Jeans Selling Strong, but High-End Sales Could Suffer,” USA TODAY, July 30, 2009.