Cotton Incorporated, Features, Trends

Online vs Brick and Mortar

Keeping consumers happy is easy: just give them what they want, when they want it. Yet discovering the what and the when is not always so easy. For apparel purchases, consumers appear to want to research online and buy in store. The trick for retailers, then, is balancing the convenience of the one, with the tactile and experiential opportunities of the other.
For more than 20 years, Cotton Incorporated has kept its finger on the pulse of consumer habits and attitudes. Recent responses to Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™ survey provide an updated look at how consumers utilize brick and mortar and e-commerce, as well as the reasons why.

The What

In their apparel shopping journey, U.S. consumers trek to e-commerce sites primarily to research what’s out (61 percent) there and browse their options (51 percent). However, 72 percent say that they prefer to pull the purchase trigger in store. They also prefer traditional, physical sales venues for answers to pre-purchase questions (66 percent); post-purchase inquiries (55 percent) and to re-purchase the same item (55 percent).

The Why

Additional responses to questions in the Lifestyle Monitor™ survey provide insights into the purchase preference divide. For the nearly two-thirds of consumers that prefer to make their purchases in store, seeing — and feeling — is believing. Sixty-nine percent of this group cite the ability to try on the garment as influencing their decision to purchase in store. Additional reasons ranking high were the ability to see the item in person (64 percent) and feel the fabric (54 percent).

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The Why Not

Understanding why the minority of respondents prefer not buy their apparel in store may also help retailers address the gap. Slightly less than one-third of respondents (28 percent) say they prefer to shop online. The highest-ranking reasons include convenience (66 percent); ease (53 percent), better selection (49 percent) and avoiding crowds (46 percent). However, online shoppers are more concerned this year with the security of using credit or debit cards for their purchases (38 percent); as well as personal information privacy (36 percent) and shipping costs (35 percent).

The How

Established apparel retailers, those that began the old fashioned way as storefronts, are known quantities to consumers. Thus, an online adaptation of the brand experience would be familiar to the online shopping minority. In these days of declining foot traffic, online iterations also act as a hedge against any potential sales decline at traditional retail.
While traditional apparel retailers evolve their in-store experientials for the Digital Age, e-commerce sites must address the tactile deficiencies of their consumer experience. One solution? Pop-up shops. When executed as events, these can make the virtual, real; and give consumers an opportunity to touch, test, and try on apparel from retailers that do not typically sell from a traditional storefront.

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For example, the online shoe and apparel destination Zappos and Cotton Incorporated recently collaborated for a pop-up event and companion online promotion focused on cotton athleisure wear. Called “Reframing Cotton,” the promotion featured a weekend pop-up shop at The Americana at Brand in Glendale, California. The physical aspects of the promotion incorporated life-sized re-imaginings of classic paintings with a 21st-century twist. The pop-up also kicked off an online promotion of the Zappos x Cotton Collection of athleisure apparel, which was available on www.zappos.com from the middle of January through March.

The uniqueness of the pop-up shop, coupled with related activities such as yoga classes and selfie-ready backdrops of the reimagined paintings, created an event-rich retail engagement, and allowed consumers a chance to gain tactile comfort with the retailer and its featured merchandise.

Brick-and-mortar and online retail outlets each face challenges in the Digital Age. Understanding how and why consumers utilize the different channels are a helpful first step in fulfilling their retail expectations.

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