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Shopping: what women really want

A recent fashion survey of 1,000 female shoppers presented some fascinating insights into where and how women shop. Drapers takes a look at the results.

Between October and March this year, research group Allegra Strategies interviewed 1,000 women about their shopping habits and their thoughts and feelings on specific UK brands. They also asked a much smaller sample of fashion industry executives for their views on how they felt the market was evolving.

The report, How Women Shop, was the second in a series of annual non-commissioned surveys that look at UK women’s shopping patterns and highlight trends in the way they are evolving. The report looked at browsing and buying behaviour of shoppers, their retail preferences, and the frequency, volume and magnitude of their spend.

Unsurprisingly, given that it is still the market leader in volume and value, Marks & Spencer ranked as the favourite retailer overall in fashion and lingerie, with 47% of women having bought fashion there in the past three months. George at Asda had the highest browse-to-buy conversion, at 83%, followed by M&S (81%) and Primark (80%).

The survey revealed a love/hate relationship with Primark. Although it figured highly on browse-to-buy conversion rates, it was the retailer at which women were most reluctant to, or refused to, shop, with 10% of respondents saying they would not shop there.

The research confirmed that UK female customers are value focused, in the sense that they are very much looking for a deal – 70% of all the women interviewed said they always sought out a bargain. Only one in six considered themselves early adopters of fashion trends, saying they would be keen to buy items when they first hit the stores. Even in the 18- to 24-year-old age group, only 34% said they intentionally sought out the latest merchandise. However, this age group does buy 100 fashion items a year, compared with just 38 items a year in the 65-plus category.

But 80% of all the women spoken to said they shopped at least once a month for clothes, with half shopping fortnightly and 31% visiting the shops on a weekly basis.

A question of ethics
The survey confirmed that UK women are becoming more aware of ethical issues surrounding fashion purchases, but they are not necessarily prepared to pay a premium for an ethically sourced garment. Even so, almost half (44%) said they always checked the label of origin on a garment.

Of that group, most are concerned about sweat shops and child labour in foreign countries, with many saying they would prefer to buy British-made goods. However, less than a quarter of the 25- to 34-year-olds surveyed said they regularly checked labels.

The strength of the sample on ethics contrasts sharply with a jaded industry view, with 80% of the executives interviewed believing that environmental and ethical concerns were not important to consumers.

Half of the women spoken to browsed online for fashion, up 10% on Allegra’s survey last year, with a significant increase in online browsers in the younger age groups. Women in the 25- to 44-year-old age bracket were the most active online, with almost 90% having access to the internet and almost 75% using the internet at home. Shopping online at work or college is also a growing trend, with 38% of 18- to 24-year-olds admitting to shopping online at work or university.

The women polled said they were prepared to overspend on footwear (41%), outerwear (24%) and handbags (10%), with Clarks the favourite footwear retailer among shoppers.

Women are still struggling to find clothes that suit them, with 25% of the sample saying it was difficult to find the right clothing. That figure rose to 49% in the 65-plus age bracket.

So where do these women like to shop? Some 84% prefer the town centre or high street experience above retail parks or shopping centres (44%).

Supermarket fashion shopping was popular because of its convenience, with 30% of those surveyed frequently buying clothes while doing a food shop. Catalogues still had a slight edge over the internet, at 20% and 18% respectively.

For more information on the survey, contact Emma Cheevers at Allegra Strategies on 020 7691 8815 or email

The industry view:
Allegra Strategies also surveyed 85 people working in the sector for their views on the industry. The sample included chief executives, managing directors, marketing and brand directors. Creative directors, designers, account managers buyers, retail analysts and fashion editors were also polled.

In February this year, half of industry executives described trading as challenging. Only 30% were optimistic and 20% were neutral on how trade would fare, with 39% expecting the market to deteriorate in the next 12 months.

Increased competition was named as a key challenge by 45% of those polled, with etail development coming second at 28%.

Ethical trading stories may have made front page news last year, but 80% of industry executives felt that ethical concerns are still of limited importance to UK shoppers. However, they admitted this was likely to change, with sweat shops, sustainability and “disposable fashion” likely to become key industry concerns.

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