By  on May 9, 2007

Why do women return to various apparel stores?

Is it confidence in finding the perfect piece for a special occasion, or the pursuit of a must-have item or status brand? According to the new Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, it's largely because they're personally engaged by the fashions on offer — a distinctly emotional benefit.

The ability to find "unique and stylish merchandise" for one's self is a significantly stronger driver of loyalty to apparel stores than it is of loyalty to discount stores, which keep raising their style quotient, found the Brand Keys study, conducted throughout the first quarter of 2007. A range of such merchandise creates an emotional bond that is more important than the rational considerations seen as the main reasons for return trips to discount stores, observed Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys.

It turns out that among fashion specialists, Hennes & Mauritz and Victoria's Secret have been forging that bond most often, based on the responses of 2,000 women and 2,000 men to a variety of questions, including: "In the past six months, is there an apparel retailer where you've spent $30 or more?" Each person polled cited any one store of their own choosing.

Passikoff's take on Victoria's Secret's popularity is that "sex sells," while that of H&M, he said, points to its "ownership of cheap chic."

Also among consumers' favorite fashion shops this year have been J. Crew and PacSun, choices Passikoff attributed to the stores' resonant offer of prep and surf style, respectively.

People's ability to find unique and stylish merchandise for themselves accounted for nearly one-third of their attachment to particular apparel stores, compared with a slimmer one-fourth of their inclination to revisit a discount store.

By comparison, loyalty to a discount store was fostered more by "a great shopping experience" (24 percent versus 19 percent for an apparel store) and "store reputation" (20 percent versus 18 percent).

Convenient location and value, which played roughly the same role in drawing people to apparel stores and discount stores, have become a price of admission for attracting customers.

While H&M and Victoria's Secret have done what Passikoff termed a "relatively great job" in luring repeat shoppers, he added that "brands, and fashion brands in particular, have never done a great job of keeping up" with customers' expectations. Those two chains, for example, each rated a 120 in an index where apparel consumers' average expectation, based on the four loyalty drivers, was a significantly greater 134."It is an issue of extraordinarily high expectations on the part of consumers," Passikoff noted. "For the past decade, consumers' expectations have only kept going up."

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