When the World Wide Web became widely available, men were the early adopters, using it as a communications and research tool, as well as for entertainment. But, as the Internet became a bona fide shopping channel, women began to appreciate its convenience and the role of Web sites in apparel shopping research. Today, it’s the men’s turn to play catch-up; and they are. According to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™, the amount of time men spend browsing apparel has decreased by five minutes over the same time last year. However, the percentage of men who spent an hour or less shopping for apparel online in a one-month period increased from 44.9 percent to 50 percent over same time period, indicating that they are becoming more adept and comfortable browsing for clothing online.

“Times are definitely changing. It’s well known that historically, women have been the main consumers of the fashion industry. However, men are beginning to shop more like their female counterparts, which is evident to us by the high number of men that have joined and are using the Stylehive,” says Sabrina Yeung, an editor of the unique online social shopping community, Stylehive.com.

Men are logging on in greater numbers and that’s likely at the direction of the women in their lives. “More women than men shop online because they are more creative and able to imagine what they are buying; and now, they are showing men how to do it,” explains Milton Pedraza, chief executive of Luxury Institute, an independent research organization.

Amount of Effort Spent Looking for Environmentally-Friendly Clothing
  Male Female
  Like or Love Shopping 17.3% 63%
Time Browsing for Apparel    
Internet 80 minutes 98 minutes
Store 58.4 minutes 97 minutes

“While there are differences between the way men and women shop for clothing, they’re ultimately looking for the same thing: choice, high value for their dollar and service they can count on,” observes Betsy Thompson, director of public relations for Talbots. “They can find all these things online any hour, any day of the week. They can use the Web to help them find the clothes they need, narrow their shopping lists and search for the best values. Basically, the Web lets them window shop without leaving the house.”

Even with more men logging on for fashion quests, women still rule the cyber shopping channel. According to the Monitor, male respondents spent an average of 80 minutes in a typical month browsing the Internet for apparel; female respondents spent 98 minutes. While the amount of time decreased overall for men and increased overall for women, the substantial increase in men spending a shorter amount of time browsing online points to increased efficiency on their part, with increased enjoyment accounting for the increase in the time women spent online.

This efficiency/enjoyment theory plays out in realworld shopping trips, where women also maintain the lead position. In a given month in the fourth quarter of 2006, the average female respondent shopped 2.4 times and spent 97 minutes in total shopping. Male respondents shopped a lesser 1.3 times in an average month, spending only 58.4 minutes overall. As 63 percent of women state that they “like” or “love” shopping, and only 17.3 percent of men make the same claim, the combination of bricks and clicks is a benefit for both gender mindsets.

Women will most likely maintain their steady hold on the mantle of “the shopping gender” since certain traditional behaviors and proclivities persist over time, says Kim Kitchings, director of supply chain planning for Cotton Incorporated. “Men are hunters and women are gatherers; men are looking to get what they need and women are trying to collect the best that they can find. So while women are certainly utilizing all options and avenues available, they have typically favored brick and mortar retailing more than men,” she offers. “They like the real and dynamic experience of seeing, touching and examining their garments.”

The Web also affords consumers the option to stock up on basics or amplify specific fashion trends and that may have some gender specific appeal, considers Thompson from Talbots. “The Web is a great tool for a man looking to replenish staples or for a woman looking for multiple wardrobing ideas.”

Kitchings concurs. “It depends on who or what a woman may be shopping for, but if it’s for a special occasion dress or important gift, a woman will make the time to get it right and that likely will include some online browsing followed up by an in-store visit.”

The same approach applies to most highticket purchases, asserts Pedraza, the luxury researcher. “Shopping in a store is highly experiential,” he says. “People crave that.” He adds that the net has gone a long way in educating the consumer and making the average Joe or Jane a more satisfied shopper. “It’s easier and more enjoyable than ever for anyone to shop online because retailers are constantly finding ways to make online shopping more emotional and functional at the same time,” Pedraza concludes.

E-tailers are responding to consumer needs with online translations of real-world customer service. These features include the ability to chat live with a service representative online and offering frequent buyer programs or member incentives which can include club points, discounted shipping or an expedited checkout process. And that all makes smart sense, according to Thompson. “The better the customer feels about his or her shopping experience and purchases, the more likely they’ll be to return, and that’s what this business is all about.”

This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. 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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