According to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™, women are spending less time and money shopping for clothing than they did a decade ago, and yet they are still deriving the same level of enjoyment from their beloved sport. In 1998, the typical female consumer spent 53 minutes and $39.00 on her average shopping trip for apparel; in 2007, that same consumer spent only 46 minutes and $35.17 on a typical jaunt.

What is behind today’s consumer’s super abilities and agilities?

“Women are better educated today,” suggests Chad Jackson, Marketing and Public Relations Manager for Evisu, a premium denim label. “Before, you had to be in the industry to gain fashion insight, but these days, average women are exposed to the tools of fashion through media and are empowered with knowledge, a modern fashion vocabulary, and industry insight. There is more research available allowing women to plan out their seasonal wardrobe ahead of time, which saves both time and money.”

Knowledge is certainly power, but consumers appear to be getting a fair assist in their consumer conquests from retailers themselves in the form of multiple channels and outlets, couture-like styling at very desirable price points, as well as through frequent and aggressively-advertised sales, to name just a few factors.

One of the most widely-used vehicles in today’s multi-channel shopping arena is online retailing. According to the Monitor, in 2007, 52% of female respondents said that they had browsed the Internet for clothing, up considerably from just 7% doing so in 1998. Today, when this consumer logs on, she spends approximately an hour and a half browsing for apparel in a given month.

While as popular as it is convenient and valuable, online retailing does not appear poised to completely eclipse or replace the traditional brick and mortar experience, as data from the Monitor supports. In fact, in 2007, women of all age groups share of purchases was slightly higher in retail stores than they were a decade ago, indicating that the Internet serves as an important tool for both purchasing and researching apparel.

The web goes a long way in enhancing and assisting today’s fashion shopper in pursuit of both style and value, considers Taryn Band, a founder of Vanitas of California, a fashion savvy brand sold at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. “The Internet makes it easy to purchase at the click of a button, but also very easy to find what you are looking for when comparing and saving.”

“Today, women have more choices than they ever did before and they definitely appreciate being able to shop from a variety of channels, like the web and catalogs,” adds Wendy Thayer, a spokesperson for Garnet Hill, the multi-channel retailer. “Choices and more choices truly help women become better shoppers.”

Those choices also include a variety of stylish fashions at virtually every level of retail. “Luxury brands are flooding all price ranges with products today,” observes Chris Kensler, Editorial Director for Stylehive, a global social shopping community. “In the past, you would have to spend thousands of dollars to get a specific style, now you can get a very similar looking piece for perhaps fifty dollars.”

It’s important to note that while today’s typical shopper appears to shop at lightning speed, she is not necessarily a fan of fast fashion. For every woman who embraces the trend of the moment at a can’t-bebeat price, there’s a woman who seeks out a garment that works with her existing wardrobe and own personal style. According to the Monitor, the latter appears to be growing in strength; in the third quarter of 2007, over 55% of female respondents said they planned more changes in their apparel in the next three months, up from 54% making the same claim in the same period a year earlier.

“Women are savvy about interpreting the styles they see in stores and making them their own with a little attention to the details,” says Kathryn Conover, a dress designer with an eponymous label sold at Lord and Taylor, Nordstrom and Dillards. “It’s not about fast fashion for all women, but about personal style with polish and individuality.”

When she sees something she likes, the typical shopper demonstrates a good level of patience. According to the Monitor, more than seven out of ten female respondents say that they purchase the latest styles when they go on sale at the end of the season. But women often don’t have to wait until a season’s end to anticipate a bargain, asserts Carol Davies, a partner at Fletcher Knight, a marketing innovation consultancy. “Retailers are very good about offering an ongoing schedule of sales and women have trained themselves to wait a bit for a better price; they know it is coming.”

A trained mind and an abundance of resources and incentives go a long way in assisting women with scoring the goal of getting more for their time and money in style and helping women earn the mantle of “super consumers”.

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

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