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Customer Insight report: How to win friends and influence people

Drapers’ latest consumer research shows how customers expect to be treated by fashion retailers

What are consumers’ biggest gripes when they shop in stores, and what pieces of information would they share with you if it would improve how you serve them?

These are just two of the questions Drapers asked 2,000 consumers when we polled them in late May to gather their views on buying fashion, their purchase influences and understand how they want retailers and brands to interact with them.

The results have been broken down by gender, age and income so we can highlight the different types of customers driving different trends. They provide some clear pointers for fashion retailers in different sectors of the market as to how they can improve their interactions with customers, and ultimately stimulate demand.

For instance, department stores have the broadest range of shoppers – nearly 74% of those polled buy clothing from their shops. However, only 44% buy clothing from department stores’ websites, showing that these retailers have an opportunity to increase online sales by engaging customers who already have a relationship with them.

Similarly, 59% of those polled say they buy clothing from supermarkets, but only 24% do so from supermarkets’ websites. The convenience they provide to shoppers who pick up garments at the same time as their groceries is not translating online, it could be argued.

Meanwhile, fashion chains attract 70%, fashion etailers 35% and indies 34% of clothing shoppers, respectively.

Quality is almost as important as price as the main reason consumers choose their favourite clothing retailer; 25% chose quality as their main reason compared with 29% who chose price. When we drill down further into segmented results it’s clear that quality becomes much more important the older consumers become. So while 18.5% of 18 to 24-year-olds said they choose their favourite retailer primarily on the quality of products, 25% of 35 to 44-year-olds do and 33% of those aged 55 or older do.

Only 1% of the respondents said the main reason for choosing their favourite fashion retailer was that their friends shop there. However, despite the proliferation of fashion content, particularly online from bloggers and retailers themselves, it is clear that friends and family continue to play an important role in inspiring other people’s purchases.

Friends influence more consumers in their clothing purchases than any other single source (34%). This is especially true for women – 38% in our poll said they are influenced by their friends. In comparison, 31% overall said fashion magazines provide inspiration, 22% said fashion retailers’ websites and 28% fashion stores.

Consumers are also much more interested in what their friends think than their family. Only 22% said family was a source of clothing purchase inspiration. And a mere 8% said fashion bloggers influence their purchases. However, when we split these results by age, we see some anomalies. The 18 to 24 age group is more likely to be inspired by multiple sources. For instance, 46% of 18 to 24-year-olds said their clothing purchases are inspired by fashion magazines, 48% said friends and 32% said fashion retailers’ websites.

Women particularly stress that sizing is important to their purchase decisions. This came to light in several ways in the research.

Overall, 26% of respondents said retailers having more stock in their size in store would encourage them to shop more with particular retailers or brands. However, 31% of women agreed with this point.

When we asked what the biggest failing they see in fashion stores when they are out shopping is, the top answer was that they don’t have enough of the right sizes – 23% said so overall, and 27% of women said so, compared with 18% of men.

Sizing issues come up for online purchases too. The most mentioned failing on fashion retailers’ websites was that consumers can’t tell whether products will fit them based on the pictures and sizing information – 34% mentioned this overall, with only a small variance between the number of men and women saying so.

So what can be done about it? Consumers are very willing to provide information on their size to help retailers make better decisions about their sizing assortment and allocation decisions. Some 52% of consumers said they are happy for retailers they buy from to know their clothing and shoe size if it is used to improve the service and products offered; 58% of women gave this answer.

Personal information and how it can usefully be used was also highlighted by the number of consumers who were keen for more fashion retailers to operate loyalty schemes. A loyalty scheme was the second most mentioned answer when we asked consumers what would make them shop more with a retailer or brand – 37% said so, compared with the 55% who mentioned the top answer, money-off vouchers.

A desire for loyalty schemes is greater among women too – 42% of women said a loyalty scheme would make them shop more with particular retailers, compared with 31% of men. This chimes with the experiences of other types of retailers who have launched loyalty schemes, where the cards are primarily used by women.

However, men and women are much more in tune when it comes to special offers. Some 18% of respondents said personalised offers would influence their purchase habits, something which is much easier to achieve with a loyalty scheme in place to capture information about customers’ purchases.

The one piece of information that customers of all kinds are not yet comfortable with retailers holding and using is mobile phone numbers; 62% said they are not happy to give their mobile number to retailers; 16% said they would be happy to if it meant they got discounts sent to their phone, and a further 12% would be happy to if retailers only contact them via SMS rather than calling.

These highlights only scratch the surface of what the report shows about how consumers are open to new ways of interacting and engaging with retailers where they can see obvious benefits. It’s clear that their expectations are moving in the direction of personalisation, and retailers must follow.

  • Click here to download the free Drapers Customer Insight report 2012

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