CHICAGO, June 26, 2023 The $8.8 billion handbag market in the U.S. is faced with a generational dilemma because younger women are less likely than older women to buy and carry handbags. More than 60% of women aged 35 and older report that they always carry a handbag for activities, other than work or school, compared to only 39% of women aged 18 to 34, according to the Omnibus survey from Circana, formerly IRI and The NPD Group. 

Through the lens of Circana’s Checkout, its receipt-based tracking service, which recently expanded to include data for the U.S. accessories market, consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 are purchasing fewer handbags than older age cohorts. Among younger consumers, unit sales declined by 2% in the 12 months ending April 2023, versus the prior year, whereas units grew by 7% among older consumers. Consumers aged 35-years and older also helped offset some of the industry’s year-over-year sales revenue losses.  

“Brands and retailers can narrow this generational gap by tailoring their products and marketing messages to the lifestyles of younger consumers,” said Beth Goldstein, footwear and accessories analyst at Circana. “Millennials and Gen Z are seeking both function and fashion, as they embark on their daily activities, special events, and travel, so they are looking for products that provide ease and convenience. Versatile, hands-free options, including backpacks and fanny packs, have proven to be very desirable.” 

Although 18- to 34-year-olds accounted for a decline in the overall handbag market over the past year, sales from the following styles grew for this age group: totes and shoppers (up 11%); fanny, waist, and chest packs (increasing 56%); and everyday lifestyle backpacks (rising 7%). Small crossbody bags are the most frequently carried style, and they are also more likely than older women to carry backpacks, according to the Omnibus survey results.

In terms of where consumers tend to shop for their handbags, the Checkout data indicates that direct-to-consumer (DTC) and specialty retailers are of greater importance to younger consumers; manufacturer-owned stores and apparel specialty and other specialty retailers account for a larger market share for 18- to 34-year-olds, compared to older consumers.

“While department stores and major e-commerce players remain the top channels for handbag purchases overall, younger consumers are gravitating to specialty stores that offer newness and innovation, particularly aligned with the prominence of athleisure,” said Goldstein. “From the handbag styles they are buying to where they are shopping, understanding the purchase motives by generation and harnessing the power of these contrasts should be key brand and retailer initiatives.”

About Circana
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