Chic is a click away

August 2017

Do the terms “caramel toffee” or “red plasma” mean anything to you? They are nothing to do with sticky sweets or the latest trend in screen technology. In fact, they are two of the most important colors to wear in the Autumn-Winter 2017 season if you want to stay at the height of fashion. At least, according to the online portal “fashionunited.ifo”. A relaxing stroll around the city is all it takes to find jumpers, coats and trousers in a suitably trendy style. But if you don’t feel like traipsing from store to store, you also have the option of ordering your new favorite outfit online. There are benefits to this: A near-limitless range, shopping outside of usual opening hours and often even free returns if it turns out that you don’t like the T-shirt or shorts you bought. This is why online clothes shopping has increasingly been gaining strength for a few years now. However, this does not mean that there is no place left for traditional strolls around stores – in fact, online purchases are actually used more as a supplement to going out to stores. This doesn’t just apply to Germany, but to other regions across the world too.

Consumers from a variety of countries are increasingly turning to online offers when it comes to their clothes shopping, but some more than others. Above all, the UK and China have a large proportion of “multi-channel shoppers” (meaning people who shop for clothes and textiles in person at stores and boutiques but additionally do so via a few mouse clicks): 64% of consumers with an Internet connection in China and even 72% in the UK purchase clothes both online and offline. But even in this consumer group, the in-store shopping experience remains the most important purchase channel. This is according to figures from the GfK study “Future Fashion Retail” (GfK Fashion & Lifestyle section). It drew on data from the Textile Panel, among other sources, in which consumers (representative of each country’s population) reported online regularly about their clothes purchases.

The level of enthusiasm for online purchases is quite different in Italy. There, the proportion of multi-channel shoppers among Internet users is just 25%. Even in the USA, only a third of inhabitants shop both on the Internet as well as in physical stores. France and Germany come in at the middle of the range when it comes to the proportion of people who supplement their wardrobe using a laptop or smartphone at least occasionally: They both score just above 40%.

Shopping “like we used to”: Italians like to shop offline

At the other end of the scale, the proportion of Italians who shop exclusively in physical stores is particularly high: 73% of Italian Internet users always take a look at goods in person before making a purchase, which presumably is mainly due to sociocultural reasons: As with many southern Europeans, Italians also associate a physical experience with shopping, in that they do not just see items on a screen, rather they are able to try them on and feel them. After all, it is quite enjoyable to meet up with friends and acquaintances at a shopping mall and admire your latest acquisitions together over a coffee. American Internet users come in second place in terms of the proportion of people who solely shop offline (58%), followed by the French at 55%. In Germany too, one in every two inhabitants prefers to go to the stores rather than sit at their laptop. China and the UK bring up the rear with regard to purely offline shoppers: In the UK, one in every four people is only interested in offers that they can physically touch. However, as with almost every other country, British multi-channel shoppers still focus on offline shopping channels. The only exception to this is China, where online channels are increasingly catching on and now only one in every five people shops exclusively in physical stores.

Everything online: Online-only shoppers gaining in numbers in the USA and China

However, so far, there are not very many online shoppers who concentrate exclusively on Internet offers. Above all, in Europe they currently only form a very small group. Even less surprising is the fact that, at 2%, Italy has the lowest proportion of people who exclusively shop online. France and the UK come in only slightly higher, both at 3%. In contrast, Germany is already at a strong 8%. However, in the USA, the proportion of Internet users who only shop online is already 11%, whereas in China this figure even climbs to 17%. Clearly the respective shopping infrastructures play an important role in this: People with access to the Internet who do not live within walking distance of a satisfactorily wide range of shops or who simply do not have enough time for a shopping trip are more likely to turn to online alternatives.

Women shop online more often – but also offline more often

In almost all of the countries surveyed, women use online shopping alternatives more often than men. This figure is even higher in the USA, where women are far more clearly in the majority, at 70%, than is the case in Germany. In Italy, women make up almost two thirds of online shoppers (62%). In France and the UK, women represent 57% and 58% respectively. The picture is somewhat different in China: 52% of online shoppers topping up their wardrobes are men, so women are not the majority. However, unlike the other countries surveyed, China has a population where the ratio of men to women is clearly higher (source: Factfish.com).

China and Italy: Above all, young people buy online

Schoolchildren who instinctively know how to use daddy’s iPad, adolescents who spend most of their free time online: Children used to grow up with football shoes and Barbie dolls, but now they find smartphones, PCs and laptops just as natural. How does this affect buyer structures in the online fashion trade? Do online fashion buyers tend to be younger? This is only partly the case: In China, young consumers are online slightly more often. In total, 39% of online buyers are under 29 years old. This age group represents only 35% of all fashion consumers with access to the Internet. Also, 30-39 year olds are more strongly represented online: 36% of consumers in this age group shop on the Internet, while the proportion of all shoppers with Internet access attributable to this age group is lower, at 30%. This could be explained by the fact that younger online users are not always buying for their own needs, rather the purchases they make are to clothe an entire family. One certain fact is that interest in fashion at the click of a mouse decreases with age. Even from 40 years of age upwards, consumers are less active on the Internet. In Italy too, it is predominantly the 30-39 year olds who buy clothes on the Internet: 29% of this age group with Internet access uses the World Wide Web for shopping – but out of all shoppers with an Internet connection this group only represents 19%. In contrast, 28% of consumers who satisfy their fashion desires over the Internet are under the age of 30 and this group represents 22% of all shoppers with Internet access.

France, Germany and the UK: No age limit for online shoppers

In France, both the younger and middle-aged generations who have access to the Internet use it more often than the average for their fashion needs. In total, 26% of those who like to fill their virtual shopping baskets with trousers, jackets and the like are between 20 and 29 years old, while a further 17% are between 30 and 39 years old and one in five is 40-49 years old. In total, however, these age groups are more active when it comes to shopping than the older age groups. In the UK and Germany as well, individual age groups are represented strongly both online and offline. In Germany, for example, one in every four people shopping online is aged 60-69, which is exactly the same as the proportion this age group contributes to all fashion purchases. In the UK, age distribution is also similar among online shoppers and those who shop exclusively offline, with only the 30-39 year-old age group being slightly ahead in terms of online purchases. In the USA, it is the older generations from 50-69 years old which show an above-average affinity for Internet shopping.

The increasing demand for a convenient, easy way of putting together a new outfit while out and about or at home has changed the trade structure of the fashion market: In terms of volume, the proportion of e-commerce sales for outerwear in Germany was 22% in 2016, which was twice as high as the figure in 2008. The online market for fashion and textiles is growing continually in the other European countries surveyed too, but on an entirely different level. Germany leads the way, followed by the UK with an e-commerce proportion of 16%. The French, who are generally regarded as the masters of fashion, tend to turn to the Internet less often for potential new favorite items. Although the proportion of fashion and textiles bought online has almost doubled in Germany since 2008, it only accounted for 9% in total in 2016, which means that it is still at a comparatively low level. In Italy, about 6% of the fashion market was attributable to online business in 2016.

According to the predictions of GfK’s market experts, after the dynamic growth of the past few years, all countries have gradually reached a saturation point in the online fashion market. This means that they anticipate a weakening of these growth rates in the years to come.

A better way with clothes: It’s so easy online

The net now offers numerous possibilities for people who are interested in fashion to adopt new trends and to show their best side. Fashion blogs, online newspapers and YouTube videos have countless tips on where to buy the season’s newest must-haves or how best to pair up items. Using the Internet can also help people to make better use of their existing items of clothing. For instance, the fashion app “Daily Dress” allows you to digitally create new combinations from your existing wardrobe according to the weather, occasion and your mood and to see directly what works well together. And if your outfit is missing that last little touch, you can order the item you are missing direct from large retailers – of course, it couldn’t be easier to do online.


Data source: GfK Study ‚Future Fashion Retail‘ 2016

If you have any queries concerning this article, please contact Simone Cornelsen, GfK SE, or Claudia Gaspar, GfK Verein.


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