Online Retailing Goes Mainstream, Clothes Rule
Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org, told The New York Times that anyone “looking for a sign that online retailing has really gone mainstream” now has all the evidence they are likely to need. A new study from Shop.org and Forrester Research, The State of Retailing Online 2007, reports clothing has overtaken computer hardware and software to become the top-selling consumer product category (excluding travel) online.
For years, it was suggested that consumers would not turn to online merchants to buy clothing because they could not feel the fabric, see how items appeared in the light or try on items to be sure they fit. The experience of shopping for clothes, it was reasoned, played a central role in the decision to purchase.
But, $18.3 billion in sales in 2006 suggests that many American consumers are quite happy to try on clothes at home and if they don’t fit, return them to the online merchant that made the sale. In fact, Americans are so comfortable in buying clothes online that Shop.org and Forrester predict that sales will grow to $22.1 billion this year, equal to 10 percent of all apparel purchases.
“Apparel retailers have overcome a number of hurdles to encourage shoppers to buy clothing and accessories online,” Mr. Silverman said in a press release. “Retailers are doing such a great job online that in some cases it’s easier to find and buy clothing on the web than it is in a store.”
While the dollar sales of clothing have surpassed computers, the report does suggest that consumers still remain more reluctant to purchase apparel when compared to other products. For example, 41 percent of all computer sales were conducted online as were 21 percent of books and 15 percent of baby supplies.
Still retailers believe that liberal return policies and advancements in technology improving the display of clothing online will continue to make larger numbers of consumers comfortable with the process.
Troy Brown, general manager of Timberland’s website, told The Times that consumers can view shoes from all angles using a tool that rotates, spins and zooms in on images.
“You can virtually pick up the product, giving you the essence of touch,” he said.
Richard Last, head of new business development for J.C. Penney’s website, said the company was two years ahead of schedule in terms of achieving sales goals and that the company is finding that consumers who once purchased clothing from its catalog are moving online. Many consumers, he said, are using the catalog “as a tool for online shopping.”
Discussion Questions: What do the numbers from the Shop.org/Forrester report say to you about the current and future state of online clothing sales? Do you see any new developments coming that could further improve the sale of clothing online?
Clothing Sales Surpass Computers, According to Shop.org/Forrester Research
Study – National Retail Federation/Forrester Research
- Less Risk Seen in Purchasing Clothes Online – The New York Times