With the majority of women buying apparel and accessories online, Internet shopping is moving into the mainstream.

More than half, or 57 percent, of those surveyed in the WWD poll said they had purchased apparel or accessories for themselves over the Internet. Of those, 43 percent of women rated the experience as “very good,” 26 percent said it was “excellent,” 23 percent called it “good,” while 5 and 2 percent labeled the experience as fair and poor, respectively.

The survey revealed that women are comfortable buying apparel —mostly casual clothing — online,  with 58 percent reporting they had bought the category. Accessories, not restricted to size or fit issues, were bought by 48 percent of women. More personal items, such as active sportswear/athletic apparel/swimwear and intimate apparel/sleepwear, were bought by 32 and 36 percent of respondents, respectively, suggesting that women not only like the convenience of Internet shopping, but the privacy of trying on such items in their homes, according to analysts. Almost equal percentages bought jeans and work clothes online — 25 and 26 percent, respectively — while 19 percent of women bought dresses or suits.

Only 3 percent of those surveyed shopped online for themselves one or more times a week. More than half (54 percent) shopped less than once every two months; 12 percent shopped once a month; 18 percent, every two months, and 10 percent shopped two or three times a month.

Multichannel sites — those with strong, established catalogue businesses, such as Lands’ End — were most popular among those surveyed, with 58 percent reporting having shopped there. Analysts say catalogues have the advantage of ready-made infrastructure, and can build and reinforce brands through print that drive customers to the Internet.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they shopped store-specific sites, such as macys.com. Specific dot-com sites were shopped by 32 percent of women. Of that group, 26 percent shopped eBay, the most popular, followed by Amazon.com, at 11 percent.

As e-commerce has evolved during the past five years to become a common, if not necessary, business practice, retailers across all channels have become more comfortable and efficient in using it, analysts observed.

This story first appeared in the June 20, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“At first, traditional retailers were slow to invest in it because they were worried about cannibalizing in-store business. But now, brick-and-mortar and multichannel retailers see the value proposition,” said Wendy Farina, principal of Atlanta-based Kurt Salmon Associates, a global management consulting firm. “The result is better sites, with better assortments and customer incentives that drive frequent shopping.”

Many better stores offer “smart labels” that customers can stick on packages, which are then picked up for delivery by UPS or another carrier. A growing number of retailers now also have in-store return options for items purchased online, and both of these conveniences have encouraged more frequent online buying, said Farina. E-mail promotions, coupons or loyalty cards that link to Web sites also have driven more consumers to shop online. Just as important, e-mail communication helps retailers gather information on consumers, including style preferences and buying patterns.

Farina said catalogues such as Lands’ End, J. Crew and Eddie Bauer, all early Internet players, had the infrastructure and flexibility that gave them an edge in e-commerce.

Most retailers that started as brick-and-mortar players — which include traditional stores such as Neiman Marcus, J.C. Penney and Target — also have been successful recently by investing in and refining their Web sites, said Farina, putting them in solid positions for future growth. Developing e-tail has helped manufacturers such as Coach be more focused on direct-to-consumer business and less reliant on department store sales.

The phenomenon of eBay, which has created a consumer cottage industry, is more complicated, according to Scott Evans, partner in Ernst & Young for Real Estate Advisory Services in the Southeast.

“EBay has elements that add excitement to the experience — there’s a bit of gamesmanship, or psychology and the attraction to the bargain shopper of making a deal,” he said.

Evans said while customers have generally become more comfortable with giving their credit card numbers online, recent security issues in financial institutions and increased concerns about identity theft yet could be a factor in the evolution of e-commerce, along with potential sales taxes that could still be legislated. Despite that, more households now have Internet access, opening broader markets for retailers, in terms of geography, age and ethnicity. The popularity of sites such as Amazon.com, which rapidly expanded product offerings, has helped get customers used to buying an array of categories online, said Evans, a trend that will continue.  

“Internet sales haven’t hit a plateau,” he said. “There’ll be continued growth, although maybe not as much as a few years ago. Continued innovation, both through technology and retail, will lead to building a better mousetrap.” 

Speculating on future trends, Julie Busch, vice president of marketing at Ipsos, a New York-based market research firm, said as transactions become smoother and more efficient, e-commerce will begin to move beyond the PC to mobile devices, including cell phones and Blackberries. Rather than the monthly Internet access fees, customers could pay for à la carte items such as movie previews and even fashion events.

“Customers could get an alert for a Donna Karan spring or fall fashion show and download it live from the runway,” said Busch. “Would people pay for that? You bet.”

How would you rate your experience purchasing apparel/accessories over the Internet?

How often do you shop for apparel/accessories for yourself on the Internet?

INTERNET

What did you buy for yourself over the Internet?
(Select all that apply)
Casualwear
58%
Accessories
48%
Intimate Apparel/Sleepwear
36%
Active Sportswear/Athletic Apparel/Swimwear
32%
Clothes for Work
26%
Jeans
25%
Dress/Suit
19%

What Internet sites do you go to for clothing/accessories for yourself?
(Select all that apply)
Catalogue site (e.g. landsend.com)
58%
Store-specific site (e.g. macys.com)
39%
Specific dot-com sites
32%
eBay.com
26%
Amazon.com
11%
Girlshop.com
1%
Shopbop.com
1%
Brand-specific site (e.g. coach.com)
23%
Other Internet-only site
21%
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