September 24, 2012 at 13:59 PM EDT
Apparel Goes Mainstream Online
Image from: Women’s Apparel / Saks.com Brands and retailers planning for the upcoming holiday season should take note of one category that many thought would never be conducive to ecommerce: apparel. The forgone conclusion was the consumer would want to try on clothes or touch/feel the material before making a purchase. Those days are behind [...]

Apparel goes mainstream online  - Saks.com

Image from: Women’s Apparel / Saks.com

Brands and retailers planning for the upcoming holiday season should take note of one category that many thought would never be conducive to ecommerce: apparel.  The forgone conclusion was the consumer would want to try on clothes or touch/feel the material before making a purchase.  Those days are behind us.  82M consumers shopped for apparel online this spring at an online retailer.  To put that number into context, about 25M consumers shop for consumables online and another 40M shop for office supplies online in a given month.

Compete recently completed an in-depth analysis to look at the online apparel consumer market across approximately 25 retailers.  We limited this analysis to the apparel sections of mass merchants such as Walmart.com & Target.com; department stores such as Macys.com and Kohls.com; luxury retailers such as Nordstorm.com; specialty retailers such as Jcrew.com and the apparel section of Amazon.com.

Online tools help drive consumer engagement in apparel category

Retailers have rolled out a number of new tools recently that are improving the apparel shopping experience.  Saks.com now offers the ability to watch a product video that shows a model doing a runway-like walk to see a 360 degree view.  Saks online visitors are spending 15% more time on the site compared to NeimanMarcus.com.

Amazon has yet to make significant impact in apparel category

Amazon has made a noticeable effort in recent months to drive awareness of its apparel products.  The online retailer made a high-profile move this spring to promote its Dress Shop on its homepage and all sponsored a fashion show in New York City, yet they are still responsible for attracting just 1% of consumers shopping for apparel online.

Share of Apparel Unique Visitors

Apparel shoppers demonstrate high loyalty to specific retailers online

Consumer shopping trends suggest that apparel shoppers have a high degree of loyalty to specific retailers online.  We looked at the average number of specialty retailers that shoppers visited during the same session in May 2012.  Only 13% of specialty apparel retailer shoppers considered more than 2 retailers.

Number of retailers visited by specialty retailer shoppers

This suggests that consumers are visiting their favorite retailers online to either identify a few products to consider on an upcoming visit to the store or perhaps consumers are coming online to find an item that was not in-stock during a recent visit to the store.

Looking ahead

The growth in the apparel category online suggests the opportunities for manufacturers to better understand how consumers are shopping online to help retailers evolve and mature their e-commerce strategies.  Here are some questions every category/brand manager should be thinking about:

  • How much traffic is my brand driving to a retailer and how is that helping me sell more at that retailer? Understanding where all of those consumers visit on Amazon can help better target and drive clicks to Amazon’s apparel section, while also helping Amazon increase its share of a consumer’s share of wallet across categories. For example, we know 52% of ralphlauren.com traffic visits Amazon.com, but only 1.8% shop for apparel products on Amazon.
  • Where are consumers going before reaching my brand’s products? Understanding a consumer’s path to purchase can help educate marketers on where they should be focusing their marketing budgets.  Should you be spending a majority of your budget on social marketing if search is most influential?  For example, we know that only .2% of apparel shoppers visited an apparel retailer Facebook page before shopping that retailer during the same session.
  • What is the relationship between interest and purchase online? As mentioned above, the reasons consumers visit apparel retailers online can be as much to do with conducting research before going to a store as it is about making a purchase online to avoid the crowds.  Understanding how someone shops your brand vs its competitors can tell you about how different your customers are.  For example, we know that luxury retailers are responsible for 11% of apparel shoppers but only 6% of all apparel purchasers online.

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