Byline: Valerie Seckler

NEW YORK — There’s a new American consumer fast emerging in fashion circles — online.
She’s got a broad-ranging wardrobe that gets plenty of wear; she’s about twice as likely to visit brick-and-mortar stores as other shoppers, and she’s 37 years old, on average.
These data on attitudes about shopping for apparel on the Internet were disclosed exclusively to WWD in a new consumer behavior study. The broader findings of the report entitled “America’s New Consumers: How Internet Use is Redefining the Marketplace,” were presented at media luncheons in San Francisco and Los Angeles, last Thursday and Friday, and will also be given at another media event to be held here at The Four Seasons on Wednesday.
The new research on fashion cybershoppers, a joint project of Roper Starch Worldwide and Yahoo Internet Life magazine, is based on Roper Reports, a consumer trends survey fielded eight times a year, in which a nationwide cross-section of people 18 and older are interviewed face-to-face in their homes.
“Apparel e-commerce sites don’t have to stick to the tried-and-true, the basics,” said Cary Silvers, a vice president at Roper Starch Worldwide, when asked what advice he’d offer fashion merchants on the Web, based on results of the study jointly mounted by the Harrison, N.Y.-based marketing consultant and the Internet lifestyle magazine published by Ziff Davis Media. (Yahoo Internet Life has a licensing and promotion agreement with Yahoo.com, but maintains independent editorial operations.)
“They ought to stay toward the cutting edge,” counseled Silvers, who leads Roper Starch’s syndicated consumer studies, such as the Roper Reports. “The new American consumer is looking for something different on the ‘Net — they love the technology, and they’d like to be surprised with some style, some fashion,” he added in referring to the roughly 92 million people, or 47 percent of adult Americans, who have gone online during the past month.
Indeed, the Roper Starch/Yahoo Internet Life survey revealed:
Women who hook up to the Internet have a greater variety of apparel in their closets, and are more likely to wear most of those items on a regular basis, than their off-line counterparts.
‘Net users are more likely to visit various traditional stores than off-liners. For example, in the past month, 50 percent of them went to an apparel store, versus 37 percent of the non-‘Net set; 74 percent shopped a department store, against 61 percent of the unconnected; 36 percent visited a bookstore, compared with just 16 percent of off-liners, and 31 percent visited a music store, versus 15 percent.
About 1 in 3 new American consumers would prefer to dress up for work, but don’t usually do so, compared with the 25 percent of off-line adults who said they feel this way.
Roughly 56 percent of new American consumers cite their spouses as among the strongest influences on what they wear and 34 percent say they heed the fashion counsel of friends, versus 49 percent and 26 percent of off-line adults, respectively.
What exactly is in the wide-ranging wardrobe of the new American consumer?
Floor-length dresses and skirts for eveningwear have made their way into the closets of 56 percent of American women who shop online, versus 36 percent of their off-line counterparts. The study found 68 percent of online women have active sportswear, versus 47 percent of others. The items most commonly found in the closets of online women in the U.S. include blouses or shirts, with 94 percent responding that they possess them; jeans (91 percent), athletic shoes (91 percent), dressy flats, (90 percent), sweaters (88 percent), daytime dresses (88 percent), and shorts (87 percent). However, only 35 percent of cybershoppers claim to own leather jackets.
Among off-line women, by comparison, 93 percent said their wardrobes include blouses or shirts, but only 75 percent own jeans; 79 percent have athletic shoes; 84 percent, dressy flats; 79 percent, sweaters; 82 percent, daytime dresses; and 69 percent said they have shorts.
“The apparel ownership and buying rates of Internet users were a big surprise,” Silvers observed. “Typically we see these rates vary [among consumer segments] by less than five percentage points — 5 percent is huge. Here, we’re seeing swings of 10 to 20 points in some categories of clothing.”
Not only are online women in America more likely to own a broad array of apparel, they are more likely to wear those items regularly. According to the study of America’s cybercrowd, this is particularly true of casualwear, like jeans, knit tops, sportswear, shorts, T-shirts and athletic shoes, but also for gold jewelry and dressy daytime slacks.
In addition, around one-third of all new American consumers would rather dress up for work but don’t usually do so, while 25 percent of off-line adults said they felt that way, perhaps suggesting an opportunity to sell some dressier apparel on the Web.
Like many Web watchers, Silvers said he believes sales of fashion merchandise will truly catch fire online when broadband access to an always-on Internet becomes an everyday phenomenon, like flipping on a TV. “Cable TV has exploded with fashion coverage,” he noted, “but you have to be very interested and make an effort to learn the schedule. With the Internet, as the technological capabilities expand, users will eventually be able to log on to live fashion shows in Paris.”
While he didn’t want to project just when broadband technologies will take hold, Silvers said people’s recognition of the term is rising, pointing out that around 30 to 40 percent of adult Americans have some awareness of it today, compared with only 10 percent a couple of years ago. “It looks like wireless will be the next biggest part of how people in the U.S. experience the Internet,” Silvers added. “The key words for appealing to the online consumer are always: ‘Make it easy for them.’ “
Fleshing out the portrait of the new American consumer, the Roper Starch/Yahoo Internet Life study showed:
They’re more affluent, with 38 percent of them citing annual household incomes of more than $50,000, compared with 12 percent of off-liners, and they’re better educated, with 37 percent holding college degrees, versus 11 percent of off-liners.
They change jobs more often than people who don’t go online, and they’re more stressed out. About 59 percent say they feel stress at least once or twice a week, compared with less than half of off-line consumers.
They visit travel Web sites most frequently when they go online, followed by news sites, weather sites and game sites.
Travel abroad and owning an expensive car are more important to them than holding an important position, knowing famous or prominent people or being a top executive.
Older new American consumers tend to have attitudes more similar to those of younger new American consumers than to those of their off-line counterparts. The average off-line consumer in the U.S. is 48 years old, while the average online consumer is 37.
“Online Americans are no longer simply a vanguard group of trendsetters, but a growing consumer force that is reshaping the market landscape,” observed Roper Starch president Edward B. Keller. “The digital divide separating online and off-line adults has grown wide and deep, and nowhere is this more evident than in the consumer realm.”