By all accounts, lots of people are buying lots of items online. And luckily for e-commerce, the menu of products that people will buy, sight unseen, seems to be expanding. So why are so many shoppers reluctant to buy clothes online?
The obvious answer, of course, is that e-shoppers can’t try e-clothes on. Maybe more so than any other item, every piece of clothing is different for every person. You even need to try on something as basic and easy as your Levi 501s periodically to make sure your size hasn’t changed.
According to Nielsen//NetRatings, the apparel category has grown at a faster rate than many other e-tail areas in the past year. However, in a recent study by Mainspring, 82 percent of online shoppers said they’ve never bought clothes on the Internet. Of that group, more than 60 percent said that the inability to touch and see the garments in person was the major sticking point.
E-tailers have tried to cover up the deficiencies with a few high-tech tricks. Features like the 3-D virtual dressing rooms pioneered by Boo.com and now adopted by many online clothes retailers have had some impact. But it might take another decade — if not another dimension — before the can’t-feel, can’t-try-on clothes problem is solved by the Internet.
If clothing e-tailers want to foster growth quickly, they should focus on the consumer concerns that are much easier to fix and maybe more important in the long run.
Yes, for the other 40 percent, it’s all about customer service.
According to Mainspring, the reasons that customers do not buy clothes online include privacy concerns, difficulties getting real customer service help and, for a more than a third of all shoppers, fears that returning improperly fitting clothes would be a major headache.
Solving the return problem should be priority one for all e-tailers, but it’s especially true of clothing merchants. Consumer fears about returns only compound the problem of not being able to touch and feel the clothes before buying.
Word of Mouth
Wait, you say, return policies are there. Most good e-tailers already know better than to make customers jump through hoops to send items back.
But this isn’t about reality, it’s about perception. The fact that millions of potential consumers still think that returning items to an online merchant is a hassle is reason enough to re-examine whether everything that can be done is being done.
E-commerce is in the one-on-one phase of the game now, where the large-scale war for customers has broken down into individual battles. The shoe might fit, but the customer isn’t going to wear it out of the goodness of her heart. She needs a reason to do so.
If e-commerce can’t give it to her, the local mall certainly will.
Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.