With social media usage and online shopping becoming more commonplace across generations, women’s clothing retailers are encountering widespread changes in the way they communicate with consumers. According to a new report from Mintel, 67 percent of US women purchased clothing online from retailers in the past year, up from 63 percent in 2013. Furthermore, over a third of Millennial women (35 percent) say social media is one of the top influencers when making clothing purchases. The channel once considered less trustworthy and reliable is now set to change the face of the women’s clothing market.

According to Mintel researchthe women’s clothing market is expected to increase in sales by 14 percent through 2019. Online sales are projected to skyrocket an additional 77 percent alongside mobile sales. Based on projections, purchases made on a mobile device will comprise 25 percent of all online sales by 2017. These trends highlight  the massive changes in US consumer shopping habits and are an indicator that an even greater percentage of apparel shopping will be conducted online in the future.

Social networks drive purchases

Mintel research also reveals that US social media advertising revenue is projected to hit $15 billion by 2018, including a portion spent by women’s clothing retailers in an effort to reach the population of social media users who purchase women’s clothing. For example, 82 percent of social media users purchased tops in the past year versus 70 percent of social media non users. As social media advertising evolves, more traditional methods retailers use to reach consumers are beginning to falter. Social, online, and mobile growth has resulted in more ways to reach consumers, and younger Millennials are more likely to turn to these sources. While 55 percent of women still consider promotional notices in the mail as a top influencer for purchasing clothing, that number falls to 46 percent among Millennials age 18-34.

“The importance of social media must be underscored, especially as a way to connect with young women. Over three quarters of social media users purchased women’s clothing in the last year compared to 70 percent of social media non users. Additionally, 35 percent of US women 18-34 point to social media as a key influencer that impacts their purchasing decisions,” said Diana Smith, Senior Retail and Apparel Analyst at Mintel. “With one third of Millennial women visiting sites like YouTube (34 percent) and Instagram (33 percent) on a daily basis, and 71 percent using Facebook every day, clothing retailers should harness the power of social media to further engage these impressionable, influential, and savvy shoppers.”

Casualization at home, at work and at play

38% of US women buy fitness clothing to wear for casual purposes

While the most commonly purchased items of women’s clothing remain tops/T-shirts (65 percent) and jeans (54 percent), the apparel industry is being impacted by an overall increase and acceptability of casualization in all forms, both socially and in work settings. One area of significant growth is “athleisurewear” – or fitness clothing that is being worn for casual purposes. The top reason for buying fitness clothing is to wear it for casual purposes (38 percent), according to Mintel data. Women are driving this trend because they have more bottoms options to choose from, and thus more frequently wear informal clothing like yoga pants and leggings compared to men. Because of this, types of casual clothing items like jeans are being negatively impacted.

“Casualization and the growth of athleisurewear have strongly affected the women’s clothing market. Our data shows that over half of women say that comfort is more important to them than what’s in style, proving that comfort reigns supreme,” Smith continued. “The athleisurewear trend is spreading across demographics; celebrities are sporting it and high-end fashion designers are devoting entire product lines to premium athleisurewear.”

Shopping likes and dislikes

Some 53 percent of women aged 18-24 claim to enjoy shopping for clothes compared to 40 percent of all women. A full 92 percent of female Millennials purchased items in the past year, the most of any generation. In general, younger generations prefer shopping over older generations, as enjoyment rates drop consistently among every group above age 45. In line with this are consumers’ attitudes toward the overall shopping experience. According to Mintel data, 42 percent of women say they prefer to shop alone, with Millennial women most likely to view shopping as a fun, social experience to enjoy with friends (only 28% prefer to shop alone), while women 55+ are most likely to prefer shopping alone.

Whether alone or with others, shopping is a personal experience. This is why the notion of self-gifting is popular among US women. Women are just as likely to buy clothing as a treat or reward as they are to make an impulse purchase (29 percent). While women are guilty of self-gifting, men spend a considerable amount on women’s clothes as well, likely as gifts for significant others, friends or family members. Over the past three months, US men spent an average of $225 on women’s clothing. In comparison, that is only 17 percent less than the overall amount women spent on clothing for themselves during the same time period.

While a fair amount of women enjoy shopping and self-gifting, there are threats to the industry, including obesity. Data shows the lingering epidemic could impact the women’s clothing market if more women who are obese refrain from shopping for new clothing because of the challenges of finding clothes that fit. In fact, 44 percent of US women say it is difficult to find clothes that fit due to inconsistency of sizes between brands and stores. An additional 38 percent of women say items in their size are often sold out or not available. These deterrents hold different implications for retailers. However, according to data, nearly half of US women (43 percent) tend to favor a few stores for purchasing clothes, largely due to the confidence in knowing that the clothes will fit.

Press review copies of the Women’s Clothing US 2015 report and interviews with Diana Smith, Senior Retail and Apparel Analyst, are available on request from the press office.

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