While it’s not known for being on the cutting edge of fashion, Amazon has become a popular destination for online apparel, shoes and accessories shoppers, an exclusive survey of 3,012 U.S. consumers from Internet Retailer and Bizrate Insights finds.
Asked where they purchased apparel items online over the preceding 12 months, 24.3% of respondents cited websites operated by Amazon (No. 1 in the just-released Internet Retailer 2018 Top 1000)—more than any other retailer. Trailing Amazon was another mass merchant, Walmart Inc. (No. 3), cited by 13% of respondents. Apparel and accessories retailer Kohl’s Inc. was the third-most cited retailer (No. 18), at 10.3%. No other online merchants broke into double digits.
“The results of the survey show that Amazon and its subsidiaries are a big factor in the apparel market” says Scott Macon, president of Bizrate Insights, a division of Meredith Corp. that collects and analyzes data from online shoppers. “This segment in which Amazon has been aggressively pursuing by, among other things, rolling out an expanding portfolio of private-label brands. Those efforts appear to be paying off.”
The survey finds that 14.9% of consumers say they never buy apparel online, compared with just 6.4% who say they never buy apparel in stores—a statistic optimists might characterize as a growth opportunity. However, the percentage of frequent buyers was comparable for online and offline shoppers: 20.4% of respondents say they buy apparel items online at least once per week, and 19.6% buy apparel items online at least once per week at stores.
Comparison shopping in real time
Competition with Amazon and other online retailers doesn’t play out on computer and smartphone screens. Many shoppers use the web to inform their buying decisions while they shop in stores. Given that reality, generating foot traffic to stores might not be enough to win offline sales. A strong majority of those surveyed (57.5%) say they have purchased an apparel, shoe or fashion accessory item online after first looking at it or trying it on in a store.
“The results of this survey demonstrate how savvy consumers have become in playing offline and online channels against each other,” Macon says. “Nearly 58% of consumers have looked at or even tried on an apparel item in a store, but later bought it online. Not only that, online price-checking inside stores has become commonplace. Nearly a quarter of consumers say they compare prices before heading to the checkout line every time they shop for apparel, shoes or fashion accessories in stores—and almost a third say they do that often.”
High fashion? Not so much
The popularity of Amazon and Walmart speaks to the power of those brands at a time when the e-commerce landscape is full of apparel retailers. Of the Top 1000 online retailers, 266 specialize in selling apparel, shoes and fashion accessories. In addition to Kohl’s, those include big department-store chains such as Macy’s Inc. (No. 6), Nordstrom Inc. (No. 16) and J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (No. 31), along with online-only sellers such as sportswear brand Fanatics Inc. (No. 29) and Yoox Net-a-Porter Group (No. 78), which sells luxury goods.
However, while Amazon is the most frequently cited online apparel seller, it’s not exactly the go-to destination for buyers of high-priced, fashionable items. A study released earlier this year by market research company Gartner L2 found that “Amazon’s fashion categories continue to be driven by inexpensive basics such as tees and underwear, even during the holiday season.”
A study last year by analytics firm One Click Retail found that, in the third quarter of 2017, the fastest-growing apparel category for Amazon was baby apparel.
That doesn’t mean Amazon is conceding the high-fashion market. Last year, it launched Prime Wardrobe, a service that lets shoppers try on clothes at home before buying them. It also has been grouping apparel into themed, curated bundles such as “What to Pack: Rustic Getaway” to make its site more manageable for shoppers looking to discover new items and get fashion ideas.
Walmart, meanwhile, has been purchasing online retailers that can expose the big retailer to a different, more affluent audience online. A 2017 Internet Retailer analysis of Walmart’s acquisitions of Jet.com, Moosejaw, Shoebuy.com Inc., ModCloth and Bonobos, found that, as a group, the acquired businesses’s audiences had higher incomes and more education than average visitors to Walmart.com.
But, as it goes after bigger spenders, Walmart is not neglecting its price-conscious core customers. It also is introducing low-cost clothing brands for women, kids and plus-size customers, a move seen as an attempt to lure shoppers as Amazon.com Inc. gobbles up more apparel sales.