About 10 years ago, when the internet was still largely a curiosity, about 5 percent of men browsed for clothes online. Last holiday season, that number reached 50 percent, according to Cotton Incorporated's Lifestyle Monitor™.

In modern retailing, it's almost foolhardy not to be a "click and mortar" store, with both a presence online and on the street. Granted, all stores don't offer the same level of cyber service: some are informational only; others are fullfledged retail arms. But web visibility is of utmost importance in today's information age.

At ae.com, the e-store for American Eagle Outfitters, sales increased by 45 percent in 2006, according to Jani Strand, spokesperson. "We see online as a major growth initiative for the company," she says.

At Gap Inc. Direct, the online division that began in 1997 and encompasses web business for Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy and Piperlime, net sales for the first three quarters of 2006 grew by nearly 26 percent over the same period in 2005.

"We view our e-commerce Web sites as very strong businesses in and of themselves," says Alex Clark, Gap Inc., spokesperson. "We did more than $700 million in online net sales in 2006. Of course, our web businesses depend on the iconic status of our brands - people who shop at Gap stores are the ones who visit Gap Online. And in the same way, our online presence influences store sales: much of our online traffic is comprised of people browsing prior to making a store visit."

For the first time, retailers are using Web sites in ways they never did before, says the National Retail Federation's Kathy Grannis, spokesperson.

"Things like product review sections give consumers the opportunity to see what others think of a product, and based on the reviews, they can either go in-store and get it, or just buy it online," Grannis explains. "Sites are also displaying upcoming promotions and in-store or online sales. The store locator may be the hot button on a site, but it can lead to product research, and then sales. Retailers are being more creative."

And they're coming up with exclusivity inducements involving contests and entertainment. American Eagle has been featuring unique content, such as its AE Campus Comedy Challenge, "which gives our customers another reason to visit the site and stay awhile," Strand says.Currently, men buy most of their clothes (27 percent) at chain stores, according to the Monitor. That's followed by department stores (20 percent), specialty stores (16.6 percent) and mass merchants (19.3 percent).

When asked about the "other places they shop for clothes," 43 percent of Monitor respondents say they hit the internet. That's a 36 percentage point increase from a year ago.

Total online sales of men's wear are still relatively small. But in 2006, when men's wear sales declined 2.7 percent on a unit and dollar basis, and prices were flat, about 6 percent of men's wear was purchased online, a 0.9 point (18 percent) increase from 2005, according to NPD Fashionworld's AccuPanel.

In another bright spot for cyber shopping, 2006 e-commerce holiday spending was up 25 percent over 2005 compared to the total retail sales increase of 4 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce.

"No one with a brick and mortar store can afford to ignore the internet," says Cynthia Cohen, president of Strategic Mindshare, a Miami-based retail consulting firm. "If you do, it will cost you in sales," she affirms.

Cohen adds that it's better to have a site that serves only as a marketing tool and doesn't move product, rather than have no site at all. "That's not a waste of time if you're small. But stores can't just build a site. They have to use strategic thinking: if they're a high-service, highly specialized store, they need to advertise that on their site. And they need to include all product categories and the labels they carry."

Cohen says e-commerce works well for the men's market for a few reasons. First, men are becoming more comfortable shopping online (in 2006, the Monitor reveals they browsed for apparel online for about 82 minutes a month). Also, most men traditionally don't like shopping in stores. "They're notorious for saying, 'Just give me another pair of chinos like I bought the last 10 times.' It's simple to do that online."

For Gap Online, "We find that best-sellers from the men's section include basics like khakis, jeans and hoodies; items like blazers are also popular. In the spring and summer months, shorts, polos and tees are very popular," Clark says.Karmaloop.com started out in 1999 in the basement of CEO Greg Selkoe's parents' house. It weathered the dot-com crash, and now has a million unique visitors each month, carries more than 85 brands, and, in a head-turning move, recently opened Karmaloop Boston, a brick and mortar store.

"We always do things differently," Selkoe states. "The store is doing great. We're even thinking about moving to a bigger location. We opened it because Boston is our hometown and people kept asking us to do it. We may open more stores, but we have no immediate plans for that."

Selkoe says his customers like both Karmaloop venues, but men find the online option appealing because it's easy and offers a wider selection than the store. The most popular items are tees, followed by hoodies, jeans, shoes and jackets.

"One of the reasons we are so successful with our other categories is that we offer a lot of sizing, fit and product information," Selkoe says. "We also have a very easy and user-friendly return process - if need be."

The click and mortar model is ideal for men, providing both a public and a private shopping option for the brands they know and prefer. The inclusion of customer service perks such as recommendations and easy returns - online and off - rounds out the picture of a picture-perfect win-win for men and the way they buy apparel.

This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated's Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. Appearing monthly in these pages, each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American men's wear consumer and his attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.

To access this article, click here to subscribe or to log in.

load comments
blog comments powered by Disqus