Consumer confidence is up when it comes to fashion spending, according to a new study by consumer intelligence solutions company Market Force Information. Retailers should be encouraged that every consumer participating in the study — more than 7,000 — reported buying something from at a fashion retailer over the last 90 days, and one in four said they spend between $100 and $500 per month on clothes and accessories.
They are planning to keep their wallets at the ready for the holiday shopping season as well. Seventy-four percent said they plan to shop on Black Friday and more than 60 percent plan to shop online on Cyber Monday. This is a marked change from responses to a similar study conducted last December when more than three-quarters said they would be "extremely frugal" going into 2010.
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The findings emerged from a Retail Trends survey conducted by Market Force last month among its network of 300,000 independent mystery shoppers and merchandisers – consumers across the country dubbed "The Force" by Market Force Information.
Shopping habits – frequency, categories and personas
All of the survey participants indicated they made a clothing or accessory purchase over the past three months. Within that timeframe, more than half (53 percent) said they shopped for clothing three or more times, with one-quarter of them opening their wallets to fashion retailers six or more times. The remainder (47 percent) shopped for clothing one or two times.
Consumers shopped for clothing in every single category over the past three months, but casual clothing was the most frequently purchased, with more than eight in 10 consumers making purchases in that category. Business-wear came in second at 43 percent, then Sports/Athletic (42 percent) and clothing for Children 10 and Younger (37 percent). Purchases for Children Older than 11 came in last at 21 percent. Shopping for children's clothing takes up a larger percentage of parental budgets than these figures suggest, as only one in two of all respondents reported having children living at home.
The study also asked consumers how they would categorize themselves and the way in which they view fashion. Given three options — 'Fashionista', 'Fashion Pragmatist' and 'Fashion Minimalist' — more than half consider themselves to be either Fashionistas (those who love fashion and view their extensive wardrobe as an investment) or Fashion Pragmatists (those who are comfortable with their wardrobes, have a good selection but don't buy clothing and accessories very frequently). Almost half (45 percent) consider themselves Fashion Minimalists (they don't follow the latest fashion trends and often wear the same clothing or styles for most occasions).
While Fashionistas represent the smallest percentage of consumers (16 percent), they're typically the most influential. They buy the most, so retailers need to appeal to them, and others look to these fashion leaders for hints on what to buy.
Holiday shopping plans
The good news for all retailers is that three out of four people surveyed plan to shop on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that marks the official beginning of the holiday shopping season. When asked why they plan to shop on that particular day, the majority (78 percent) said they are looking for bargains to kick off their holiday shopping. Another 19 percent said they either wanted to get a jump on holiday shopping or just have fun shopping with everyone else.
Cyber Monday – the Monday after Thanksgiving when many consumers make online holiday gift purchases – will be a popular shopping day as well this year, with 61 percent saying they will shop online that day.
New fashion retail brand trials
Fourteen percent of consumers surveyed visited a new retail brand in the last 90 days – a healthy percentage given that the average consumer shops for clothes about once a month. When asked what motivated them to walk into that new retailer, 35 percent said they drove by the store and decided to try it, and 30 percent visited because a friend had recommended it to them.
However, new fashion retail brand trials did not always end with a satisfied consumer. Only 60 percent of consumers were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their experiences at new stores visited. Many (40 percent) were neutral or negative, which contributed to the fact that only 59 percent of those first-time brand shoppers actually bought anything at the new stores. When asked which new fashion retail brands they tried in the past 90 days, the answers were highly fragmented, with no one retailer standing out in new trials.
Among an alphabetized list of more than 100 of the leading national and regional brands of retailers that sell clothing (every retailer with at least 100 stores or more), Kohl's and Walmart tied for the most votes, with 43 percent of consumers indicating they'd shopped there in the past 90 days for clothes. That translates to more than 3,000 consumers out of the 7,000 surveyed. See Graph 4. Target and J.C. Penney came in at 37 percent and 36 percent, respectively. The rest of the retailers on the list are also top performers given the huge amount of choice that consumers have.
Rewards and bargains
Coupons, rewards and promotions work, according to the survey. Over half (56 percent) of consumers said they used those to spur them to buy clothing or accessories in the past 90 days. When asked if they would NOT have purchased the item without the incentive, 74 percent said that was the case. Consumers are still motivated by good deals.
Consumers on customer service
As part of the survival strategy in that economic recovery, many fashion retailers made shifts in their business models. Some retailers began operating with less staff and others put an increased emphasis on customer service. This survey looked at how those changes impacted customer service. Half of consumers think service levels have stayed about the same in fashion retail. A little more than a quarter (27 percent) said service had become worse or significantly worse, and 22 percent said service had become better or significantly better.
When shopping for clothing, most consumers surveyed prefer to browse a bit before being approached by a sales associate. Twenty-six percent said they don't want to be approached; rather, they to initiate a conversation with a sales associate. Just one in 10 want to be greeted the moment they walk in to the store, while the majority (64 percent) said they prefer that the sales associates allow them a few minutes to browse before approaching them to offer assistance.
What influences consumers to shop
Social media can highly influence consumers' choices of where they will shop. Eleven percent of consumers polled have read an online post or blog about a specific retailer or brand of clothing - and nearly one-third indicated those posts highly influenced their shopping choices. The total percentage being affected by social media is relatively small; however, that small percentage typically is the highly engaged set, and therefore influential to others offline.
Twitter isn't a huge factor for fashion consumers yet, with just 2 percent reporting they follow a fashion retailer's tweets. Retailers are highly fragmented across this low 2 percent response rate with even the most frequently mentioned retail brands showing less than 20 followers among survey respondents. Nordstrom, Old Navy, Kohl's, Gap and J.C. Penney lead with the most mentions.
Online research precedes in-store visits
When asked if consumers typically research products/purchases online before going shopping, three-quarters said they did so at least occasionally. More than one in five (21 percent) said they do frequently or always, and 26 percent never conduct online research prior to going shopping. As far as the reasons behind their online research - more than half (55 percent) said they do it to compare prices. Another third said they go online to browse and get ideas, and 12 percent said they're looking for specific items and want to check availability.
The survey was conducted in October across the United States and Canada. The pool of 7,000 respondents reflected a broad spectrum of income levels, with approximately 70 percent reporting household incomes of more than $50,000 a year, and a blend of ages from 19 to 70 years old. Approximately three-quarters of respondents were women, the primary household consumer purchasers, and an equal percentage work full or part time. Half of the respondents have children at home and two thirds are married.