Online Apparel Shopping Gaining in Popularity

The percentage of Internet users reporting they have purchased clothing online during the past month has doubled from 8 percent in September of 1999 to 16 percent in May of 2000, according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers E-Retail Intelligence System®. Online apparel shopping is being driven by familiarity with established retailers and brand trust, according to the research.

“The likely drivers of this increase include positive holiday experiences convincing some seasonal online purchasers to stick around, more established brands moving online, and more online apparel shopping options,” said Mary Brett Whitfield, Principal Consultant and Director of the E-Retail Intelligence System.

Sixty percent of Internet users report shopping online for clothing. Among these shoppers, 41 percent shop online for clothing at least once a month and 56 percent have made at least one online clothing purchase. About 40 percent of online apparel purchasers expect to purchase more clothing online in the future.

“Online clothing shoppers shop and purchase at various sites, but site selection and purchase incidence seems to be driven by the familiarity of established retailers and manufacturers,” Whitfield said. The research found that 80 percent of shoppers who have shopped for clothing online in the past six months and 77 percent of online clothing purchasers, do so at sites operated by a store or catalog retailer. One-third shopped for clothing at sites operated by a manufacturer. These numbers strongly suggest that familiarity or trust in a brand, whether a store or clothing brand, impacts shopping site selection. On the other hand, 12 percent or less shopped online for clothing at auction sites, Internet-only retailer sites, sites operated by a portal/ISP, online shopping malls, or online shopping agent/bot/search engine sites.


Role Sites Play in Clothes Shopping Experience
Among online clothes shoppers
Search for special sales/promotions 58%
Look for product prices 58%
Request a catalog 54%
Look for ideas for clothes 47%
Compare product prices across retailers 39%
Look for brands 27%
No role played 10%
Track fashion trends/read articles 10%
Other 5%
Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers

PricewaterhouseCoopers found that among Internet users who shop for clothing online, sites play several roles in their overall shopping experience. The two most popular roles relate to price shopping, either looking for specials or promotions or doing price research. Comparing prices across retailers is mentioned less frequently, suggesting that price comparisons are not as easily accomplished or as important in this category as they are in commodity categories such as books or electronics.

“Online clothing shoppers are much more likely to agree that the Internet is a tool that saves time and makes the shopping experience easier,” Whitfield said. “However, the current roster of online shopping options haven’t been able to convince apparel non-shoppers that shopping online saves time compared to store-based shopping, is easier, or is a preferable way to browse.

Those who do buy clothing online are likely to be women, often younger than 35 years of age. It should come as no surprise, then, that women’s clothing is the most popular online apparel category purchased online. Other patterns emerging from PricewaterhouseCoopers’ research include:

  • Even among Internet users who have bought clothing online, online sites are not preferred to stores for apparel purchases. Fewer than 30 percent of online clothing buyers prefer to buy clothing online instead of at stores.
  • Being familiar with a clothing brand stimulates online apparel purchases among online clothing buyers. On the other hand, however, familiar brands alone not enough to get non-purchasers to take the plunge, as less than 40 percent of non-buyers indicate they are more likely to buy apparel online if they are familiar with the brand.
  • Online clothing purchasers are also likely to be catalog customers, indicating that they are already used to buying clothes without being able to touch the fabric, see the color, or try the items on for size.

By looking at where consumers purchase clothing for themselves, significant differences are often revealed between online clothing purchasers and non-purchasers. Online clothes purchasers are significantly more likely to have purchased clothing most often at apparel specialty stores or from catalogs in the past year while non-online clothing purchasers are significantly more likely to purchase clothing for themselves at discount department stores.

Problems with Shopping for Clothes Online
Unable to try on clothes for fit 81%
Unable to feel clothes
for quality of material
45%
Concerned about return difficulties 44%
Concerned about privacy
of personal info.
32%
Total cost of purchasing
products is more expensive than stores
25%
Difficult to browse 14%
Like to shop with friends/family 11%
Difficult to get customer service 8%
Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers

The research also found that online clothing non-purchasers have very few online discount options that mirror their offline clothing offers. In addition, the online apparel assortments are extremely limited compared to typical store assortments.

“Thus, one barrier to shopping online for clothing among current non-shoppers is certainly the absence of alternatives for consumers who typically shop discount department stores for clothes,” Whitfield said. “This represents a significant opportunity for discount department store retailers.”

In comparison, specialty store and catalog apparel shoppers have more options available online. Many catalogers now offer online ordering options and leading specialty players (some of which also sell through catalogs) offer full assortments online.

An overwhelming number of Internet users cite being unable to try on clothes before purchasing as one of the three biggest problems with shopping for clothes online. Online retailers also need to address consumers’ inability to feel clothes for the quality of material before purchasing and a concern that it will be difficult to return products. Very few respondents cited no problems with shopping for clothes online.

When asked what online shopping sites might do to entice consumers to purchase clothing in the future, pricing issues overwhelmingly took the top two spots. Nearly half of non-clothing shoppers indicate that free shipping would make them more likely to purchase clothing from an online shopping site in the future while more than 40 percent would be more likely to purchase clothing online if sites offered lower prices compared to stores catalogs. Another important factor is the ability to return clothes to a local store. However, more than one-third of non-shoppers say that nothing will make them more likely to purchase clothing online.

PricewaterhouseCoopers E-Retail Intelligence System surveys approximately 500 Internet users regarding online shopping behavior and attitudes and Internet usage. This survey was fielded from May 31 to June 8 among Internet users using NFO’s Interactive Panel. Most respondents access the Internet at least weekly for non-business use.

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