Byline: Dick Silverman

NEW YORK — Women wield increasing clout in the virtual marketplace and have the power to make or break e-tailers.
As the primary shoppers in three out of four U.S. households and main buyers of women’s and children’s apparel — and a large portion of men’s — studies show female shoppers have a significant impact in online shopping’s development.
According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’s recently released report “Softgoods E-Retailing: The Consumer Perspective,” women are shopping online more than ever, and have major influence on how apparel will be sold and marketed on the Web. The report gives an overview of online shopping trends and is based on the Retail Intelligence System consumer shopping behavior survey of more than 9,000 people in October, 1999.
The findings reveal female online shoppers spend more on apparel, are more fashion conscious and prefer trendier clothing than off-line shoppers.
“Last year, for the first time, over half of all women — 55 percent — had a personal computer in their home and 49 percent had access to online shopping,” the study, written by Lois Huff, principal consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers, reported.
While women still trail men slightly in computer access and online shopping, the increases since 1997 have been greater for women than men. “This could be the year that women surpass men with respect to online access,” Huff declared.
The study found that 55 percent of women in the U.S. had online access at home last year, up from just 44 percent in 1997, and 50 percent had access to an online service, versus 31 percent in 1997.
Regardless of whether women or men rule the Internet, the online world is quickly growing bigger and broader. Huff projected that while more than half of all primary shoppers now have Internet access and about 40 percent shop online, by the middle of the decade, eight out of 10 primary shoppers will have Internet access and two out of three will be shopping online.
More online shoppers were satisfied with e-purchases last year than the prior year, the survey revealed, with 85 percent reporting high levels of satisfaction and 68 percent intending to make more online purchases in the coming year than last year.
The rapid rise in Web shopping will totally redefine how retailers are perceived in the virtual marketplace. As more consumers continue to go online and expect immediate service and satisfaction, the e-tail battle cry will transform from “24/7” to “anytime/ anywhere/anyway,” Huff stressed.
America is getting wired. PricewaterhouseCoopers found that the share of U.S. households owning a personal computer had jumped by 5 percentage points over the past three years to 55 percent. More important, for e-tailers, the share of primary shoppers with online access rose at about double that rate in the same period.
One out of two primary shoppers now have online access. And more Internet access by primary shoppers means greater sales via the Internet.
A rising number of Web shoppers are becoming frequent Internet surfers, with 45 percent going online at least once a day, the study reported. As many as eight out of 10 online shoppers are online at least three times a month, PricewaterhouseCoopers added.
The rush of shoppers online offers great opportunity for the fashion industry. PricewaterhouseCoopers also found that online shoppers are more likely to prefer the latest trendsetting styles and be less favorable to basic clothes.
“Compared to their nonwired counterparts, online shoppers are more fashion focused. They are less likely to buy clothing only when it needs to be replaced. They are more likely to feel that wearing fashionable clothing is important and to enjoy shopping for clothing.”
According to the survey, being online usually also means being more fashionable. Off-line shoppers were found to be almost twice as likely as their online counterparts to wear ordinary, basic and durable clothes more often, the survey reported. They also are less likely to wear classic, traditional styles or contemporary fashions.
But 23 percent of online shoppers agreed it was important for them to wear fashionable clothing, while only 16 percent of off-line shoppers had the same response. The survey showed 38 percent of online shoppers say they enjoy shopping for clothing, compared to 32 percent of off-line shoppers.
Online shoppers particularly enjoy buying apparel, and according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, they were much more likely than off-line shoppers to have bought apparel in the past year.
“They are particularly more likely to have purchased several of the most fashion-driven categories, such as cosmetics and dress and casual clothing,” Huff observed.
As many as 60 percent of online shoppers had bought women’s dress clothing in the past year, compared to just 48 percent of off-line shoppers. In women’s casual clothing, 71 percent of online female shoppers had purchased within the past year, versus 62 percent of off-line shoppers. The trend also was true in women’s hosiery, where 53 percent of online shoppers had bought the category, compared to 43 percent of off-line shoppers. Cosmetics were particularly popular with online shoppers, with 60 percent reporting they had bought the category in the past year, versus 50 percent of off-line shoppers.
Projections for online retailers are rosy, as more people with online access eagerly make purchases via the Web. Almost half of all shoppers with online access bought items on the Internet, a hefty rise of 20 percentage points since 1998.
And the clicks are making serious cracks in the bricks, as the Internet continues to become an accepted shopping channel. The survey found that a large share of shoppers claimed their online buying actually had replaced store or catalog purchases.
Online shopping may not yet be a preferred retail channel, but it is gaining momentum, with a growing group of consumers considering it a viable shopping option, PricewaterhouseCoopers reported.
One out of five primary shoppers now are online buyers, having made at least one online purchase in the past year. The base of online purchasers exceeded 10 percentage points last year, PricewaterhouseCoopers noted.
One out of 10 primary shoppers now are frequent online shoppers, having shopped online at least once every three months. “The frequent shopper base for the online channel expanded more last year than for any other softgoods retail format, with a 6 percentage point increase over the prior year,” the study said.
Growth of online shopping is expanding at a rapid rate, and one out of two primary shoppers now has online access.
Primary shoppers have been fast to plug in. The share of households that own personal computers rose by about 5 points per year during the last three years, and now stands at 55 percent of all U.S. households. But the share of primary shoppers with online access rose at double that pace over the same period.
The market continues to become more diverse. Although women may be key to the eventual success of softgoods e-retailing, young people will be the future’s true heavy hitters. Pricewaterhouse-Coopers found that, compared to older shoppers, those aged 18 to 24 are more likely to go online frequently and also more likely to buy online. Among teens aged 13 to 18, an impressive 81 percent live in a house with a personal computer
E-tailing is becoming a way of life for many consumers, and is influencing long-term shopping patterns. PricewaterhouseCoopers found more online purchasers were satisfied with their e-shopping experiences last year than the prior year, with 85 percent reporting high levels of satisfaction.
More important for e-tailers, two out of three consumers surveyed intend to make more online purchases this year than they did last year, the study reported.
Of significant importance to the apparel industry, online purchasers anticipate buying more clothing this year than last year. “And they are more likely to prefer buying clothes from stores that also have Internet sites.”
Fully 15 percent of online shoppers who had made an online purchase said they anticipate buying more clothing on the Web this year, compared to just 2 percent of online shoppers who had not made an online purchase. And 14 percent of online shoppers said they prefer to buy online from stores that also have Internet sites.
Web shoppers reported they also are more likely to look for retail sites that carry a particular brand or product and sign up for the e-tailers’ e-mail notices or newsletters.
A commanding 72 percent of shoppers who had made online purchases said they looked for sites carrying a particular brand, compared to just 29 percent of online shoppers who had not made an online purchase.
Online shoppers also tend to be big spenders. Women online spent 63 percent more than females off-line on women’s apparel. “In reality, online shoppers are among the most active shoppers in the physical world,” Huff noted.
Compared to off-line shoppers, online clothing shoppers are less concerned about price and more concerned about elements such as style, color, brand and quality, she reported. Female consumers say trust is particularly important when choosing online retail sites. Almost one out of four women select an online site over another if it is run by a store or catalog retailer with which they already are familiar.
Despite the rush online, consumers still want brick and mortar stores to stay put, and prefer the option of multiple retail channels.
“Shoppers don’t want stores to go away, nor do they want catalogs to disappear. And most don’t want Internet-only retailers.
“The only solution is to focus on the consumer, optimizing every selling and interaction opportunity whether they are shopping on land or online.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers and its E-Retail Intelligence System (E-RIS) deliver market intelligence to retailers and consumer products companies around the globe.

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