The world of online apparel retail is hardly egalitarian, and men are left holding the short end of the stick. But despite the uneven playing field, observers and online retail experts say male consumers are increasingly warming up to Web shopping—particularly the younger men’s wear aficionado. Gadget purchases are nothing new, but ordering khakis? It may be a novel venture. “I think he’s just catching up with his female counterpart, who’s been so comfortable with shopping online for years now,” says Shenan Reed, founder and managing director of Morpheus Media, a New York–based online marketing firm with clients that include LVMH and Bergdorf Goodman. “Retailers didn’t embrace the male online shopper as quickly as they did the female shopper. There was a smaller selection, and men’s fashion content was limited online as well, so it wasn’t a destination for the male clothing and accessory shopper.”
According to the exclusive DNR consumer survey, guys have many of the same rants, raves and frustrations with Internet shopping as gals do, and 20 percent of those polled say they shop online on at least a monthly basis. Speedy delivery isn’t crucial, so long as there’s an offer of free shipping. And forget trying to play Rachel Zoe by foisting unwanted styling advice on the customer: Just give him exclusive merchandise and the option to return items at a local, brick-and-mortar store should a cashmere-sweater impulse purchase backfire.
Perhaps that’s why online retailers with ample merchandise, shipping specials and simple navigation are among the most shopped by consumers surveyed. A quarter of generation Y shoppers reported “frequent” visits for clothes and accessories at Amazon.com, a company synonymous with books and electronics, yet increasingly popular with all other merchandise for its reach and shipping efficiency. eBay was also a popular choice for the under-30 crowd, while luxury consumers preferred brands like L.L. Bean or Lands’ End.
What can other companies learn from these standouts? First, ditch the Web theatrics. Labels and retailers alike have long used the Web to tell their story, touting their cachet through interminable Flash presentations accompanied by droning house music. “If consumers are entering an [apparel] site, they’re expecting e-commerce when they get there. And they’re disappointed when they’re not given that,” Reed says.
That doesn’t necessarily mean a successful site needs to do away with evocative design geared for male shoppers. Many brands looking to bolster online sales are tweaking their men’s pages for a unique experience while minimizing distracting bells and whistles. J Brand, a premium jeans label, plans to differentiate its men’s e-commerce with a revamped Web site slated for next year. The modifications, which will include more masculine fonts, darker backgrounds and a Western feel, are in line with the label’s recent relaunch of its men’s denim, known as J Brand Denim Co.
The company is betting that adding character to its men’s pages will help to engage international consumers unfamiliar with the brand and its ethos, along with supplying them fit information and updates on new styles. “Now that we see the importance of online sales, we want to expand and be more interactive with our audience,” says J Brand director of men’s denim Sean Hornbeak.
Other purveyors of online merchandise say it’s the items exclusive to the store that float e-commerce, and consumers seem to agree: 73 percent of Generation Y respondents and 58 percent of those polled overall say that they seek out Web sites offering unique merchandise. Los Angeles Sporting Club, which launched an e-commerce site in 2004 to complement its West Hollywood store, sees much of its Internet business based on LASC private label activewear, says co-owner Don Zuidema.
“We’ve found it’s certainly tougher to sell more of the fashion pieces [online], so we’re working on that,” says Zuidema, whose store carries luxe sportswear from labels like Bill Tornade, Drykorn and Diesel in addition to gym gear. “Because we have our own private label, there’s an incentive to visit, but we really need to offer more items that are unique to the store.
“We get them to the site, but the challenge is always how to get them actually shopping.”