Apparel And The Internet Form An Ideal Marriage Of Convenience
Popular non-fiction tells us that Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Recent data from Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ bears out this philosophical truism. According to the Monitor, 50 percent of women claim they would prefer to spend their shopping dollars on apparel; the same number of men cite electronics as their top choice. Interestingly, more and more women are using electronics to shop online. For them, apparel shopping and the Internet are forging an ideal marriage of convenience.
The proliferation of personal digital assistants, public wi-fi connections and the maturity of the Internet as a viable shopping channel have resulted in a significant increase in the number of women who now purchase apparel online. In the first quarter of 2007, 57 percent of female respondents said they browsed the Internet for clothing, up significantly from 38 percent making the same claim a year ago.
Women on the web are doing more than just browsing. According to the Monitor, for the first quarter of 2007, 15 percent of women now say that they shop for apparel on-line; a significant increase from nine percent one year earlier. This figure is validated by retail sales data from NPD AccuPanel that indicates 10 percent of women's apparel purchases were made online in the first quarter of 2007; up from six percent in 2002.
“It only makes sense that women would embrace the Internet as a means of shopping for their apparel and that the y would become increasingly comfortable with this channel over time,” concedes Patricia Pao, founder of The Pao Principle, are tail consultancy based in New York.
“Shopping on the web is convenient, fast, easy, safe, satisfying, and as personal or as impersonal as you want the experience to be.”
Women’s increasing comfort level on the web is also due to the technical and experiential refinements of Internet shopping in general. “Women are definitely trusting and utilizing the online store as much as they are a true brick-andmortar store,” says Gili Rashal, founder of The Tip Jar, a web-based fashion resource. “Online boutiques are looking better and improving immensely as time goes on.” Improvements to most retail sites in recent years include easier navigation, enhanced imagery, swifter page-topage transitioning and an efficient check-out process and package tracking.
Having refined their formulas for physical stores and catalogs, forward-thinking retailers are going for the multi-channel hat-trick with their online shops; making the experience easy and familiar. Successful examples mimic the look and services of the real-world shopping experience. “When the customer logs on to talbots.com, she is greeted by our trademark red doors and a Talbot’s shopping bag,“ says Betsy Thompson, director of public relations for the multi-channel retailer. “These may seem like small details but they’re the kind of touches that don’t go unnoticed. We also offer online services that mirror the personalized offered in our stores, like e-chat, a store locator and Style Search, a unique search and reserve feature.”
Another brick-and-mortar service making their cyber counterparts more appealing is an easy return policy. “If a woman is unsure about a size or color, she will order multiples of a particular garment, trusting that she can either return them via the mail with pre-prepared labels, or take it directly to a brick-and-mortar store and receive a quick and easy refund with no difficulties,” Pao, the retail consultant, states. This is a key selling point since three out of four female respondents told the Monitor that they had purchased a garment and returned it a short time later.
Free or low-cost shipping also goes a long way to encourage consumers to shop online, especially considering today’s soaring gas prices. “Shopping online is much less of a hassle and even more economical than driving to the mall or getting stuck in traffic,” Rashal observes. “Browsing the web is like shopping all over town without expending the time, energy or fuel it would take to drive from one place to another.”
Free-standing fashion web sites have emerged to capitalize on women’s increased spending online and serve to attract more women to the web. Shopbop. com, a pioneer in this area, has become a trusted fashion destination for women, corralling the latest musthaves into a cyber hybrid of a glossy fashion magazine and online shopping venue.
Shopbop.com head buyer Evan Crandall explains the surge in women buying online: “It’s a huge convenience. When you shop online, you have the time to look at an item over and over. You can easily build your entire wardrobe in one sitting, or slowly build on it every week or even every day, and then, you can take advantage of our free ground shipping.”
Thompson of Talbots agrees, adding, “The web is a giant store that’s always open. It’s fast, accessible and logic-based. Point and click; it’s a cinch.” While the virtues of shopping for apparel online are plentiful, Crandall points out one distinct advantage for women: “You don't have to look at yourself under fluorescent lights.” That alone is reason enough to for most women to say “I do!” to online shopping for apparel.
This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. Each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American women’s wear consumer and her attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.