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Drapers’ first Etail Report highlights how much consumers now value retailers’ websites as part of the multichannel shopping experience.

Rewind just a decade and there were many in the fashion industry who said consumers would never take to buying clothing and footwear online. But the success of both pure-play fashion etailers and high street chains and independent retailers setting up web channels has proved them wrong.

Fashion etail continues to grow, and the questions now being asked are when will it reach a natural maturity level, and what must retailers do online to maximise their appeal to multichannel customers?

With this in mind, Drapers commissioned research in collaboration with online payment service PayPal and 10CMS among 2,000 consumers to investigate their attitudes to buying fashion online. The results give a clear indication of the direction fashion retailers need to be moving online, and points to areas where online investment could provide the best returns.

Fashion surfing

A breakdown of the 2,000 respondents shows consumers of all ages are buying fashion online. Though the younger age groups are most likely to have the highest purchase frequencies, even 30% of those aged 55 and over say they buy clothing online at least once a month.

When it comes to what consumers will buy online, the differences are most interesting when segmenting the results by gender. Women are nearly twice as likely to buy up-to-the-minute trend-driven fashion online as men are, and more than twice as likely to buy partywear, lingerie and underwear. However, both sexes are equally as likely to buy casualwear and workwear online, at 57% and 26% respectively.

We asked consumers why they choose to buy fashion online, and the answers highlight how far the industry has evolved in the past couple of years particularly. Some 52% say it’s because it is more convenient to buy online than in stores. The delivery barrier has been overcome in many consumers’ minds.

Nearly half also say it is easier to browse retailers’ websites than it is to browse in store. A lot of work has gone into search and navigation on fashion websites, and it is paying off. Finally, 37% say they get better choice online than in store. The days when fashion retailers would only have a subset of their range available online are long gone.

So what is it that puts off those consumers who visit your sites and then don’t convert? Well, the good news is that for those who make it as far as the online checkout and then don’t convert, the main reason is that they are checking prices before coming to a store to complete the transaction - 32% of consumers say they do this.

The right stuff

When customers do buy online, the main reason is that they want a particular item - 42% give this as the main reason for their last online fashion purchase. Only 23% say their main reason is price. As is the case for many bricks-and-mortar stores, having the right product available is crucial to making an online sale.

We also asked respondents for their views on retailers who have bricks-and-mortar stores but sell some ranges exclusively online. Their responses were mixed, echoing the views of retailers when we asked them about this practice at a round table event in London earlier this month to launch the research. Some 36% of consumers say it is great that there is additional choice online, but slightly more assert they would like to see retailers stock their online exclusives in stores too. And 25% say they find it confusing when retailers stock different products in different channels.

Retailers should also think carefully about how competitively they price items online compared with stores. The most important factor in whether consumers buy online or go to a store to make a particular purchase is price.

Delivery is important too, with 21% saying the key factor in deciding whether to order online is how quickly an item will be delivered. A further 16% cite how conveniently they can have an item delivered as a prime driver for purchases.

One other interesting finding is the variety of reasons why consumers come to fashion retailers’ websites. To support the evidence that consumers visit sites for research purposes, we can see that 47% use sites to search for specific trends and styles, 46% to check prices, and 35% to check what clothes will be in store.

There has been a trend towards providing more editorial content on sites, to complement the information about products. This seems to be resonating too, with 35% of those surveyed wanting trend ideas and inspiration, and 17% wanting to read reviews of clothes.

This is just a snapshot of a very in-depth report that really drills down into some of the most fascinating aspects of the development of fashion etail. The report also has great insights into the adoption of premium delivery services, multichannel services such as click-and-collect and mobile commerce.

To download the Drapers Etail Report in full, go to

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