By  on June 28, 2007

Shopping online saves time and, although many women like to try on clothes in stores before they buy, they are increasingly flocking to the Internet to purchase apparel, shoes and accessories.

"The Internet is the megadepartment store, super-Wal-Mart open 24/7," said Marilyn Machlowitz, a New York-based executive search consultant who dreamed of living near Manhattan stores as a child but now buys 75 percent of her wardrobe online. "If you're a working parent, there just aren't enough hours" to shop in stores, she said.

Faster connections, better imaging and a wider variety of merchandise available online helped push apparel into the number- one spot online last year, edging out computers, books and music (but excluding travel) for the first time, according to a report last month from retail analyst Sucharita Mulpuru of Forrester Research Inc.

Last year, 8 percent of all apparel was sold online, up from 5 percent the year before. This year, 10 percent of apparel sales will take place online, Forrester predicts.

Ruth Sinanian, an assistant at NBC, works long hours and concurs she doesn't have time to shop in stores. In the last year, the lure of free shipping and no tax, plus unique, smaller labels, prompted her to do most of her shopping online at such sites as Shopbop, Zappos and beauty retailer Skinstore.

"I'm busy at work, and on the weekends there's so much stuff to do," she said. "There are a lot of interesting smaller labels I don't see everywhere else. I like getting something nobody else is going to have, even Barneys," she said, referring to Shopbop exclusives like the Dahl line by Alison Kelly of "Project Runway."

In this year's WWD survey, 38 percent of women said their chief reason for shopping online is that it saves time. At the same time, 67 percent of women said that when they don't shop online, it's because they prefer to try things on and feel the fabric and see the workmanship up close. But 62 percent of women said they do buy clothes and accessories for themselves online.

Satisfaction with 'Net shopping is increasing, which could reflect the recent improvement in imaging — a key to selling visual products such as fashion.Over the past year, many major retailers have added zoom, multiple views and detailed product descriptions. They are able to support better imaging because high-speed Internet connections are becoming common at home. In this year's survey, 25 percent of women said they rate their Internet shopping experience as excellent, up from 22 percent the year before.

If she can find it online, Machlowitz buys multiples of a product she likes or replenishes items that have worn out, such as shoes, lipsticks and pants. Her personal shopper, Kathryn Finney of "The Budget Fashionista" blog and book, found her the perfect pair of black wool Jones New York pants on sale at Bloomingdale's for $99, and she then bought eight pairs at Overstock for $44 each.

If more merchandise were available online, such as the Bitten by Sarah Jessica Parker line or a certain exercise top she found at Wal-Mart, Machlowitz would buy more after trying it at home, she said. "I do think there is an interplay between online and offline. Once you have seen the stuff [in person], you feel braver about it."

In the last year, Machlowitz has bought more online because she has been busier and her trust of online shopping has increased, she said.

Blue Nile, Overstock and Piperlime are among her favorite Web stores. "They send it so quickly and they wrap it so exquisitely. It's an extremely pleasant experience to open the container. It feels like a present," she said. "That's part of the secret of online."

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