Variety Wins: How to Sell Fashion in the Digital Age

August 27, 2018

Omni channel fashion study

The customer is king – this motto lies at the heart of every successful retailing business. But fulfilling every customer’s demands and generating significant revenue is becoming increasingly difficult in the digital age. In our new omni-channel fashion study on the online and offline buying patterns of German fashion consumers, we provide retailers with strategies to meet these challenges.

Retail in revolution: The retail industry is in the grips of a fundamental transformation process. Digitalization means more transparency, information, and ultimately power for customers, who in response are changing their purchasing behavior. Inspiration, comparison, purchase, and review – all of this can happen on designated fashion platforms without having to leave home at all. The only way for fashion retailers to prevent a complete takeover from huge online providers is to offer a seamless shopping experience across all distribution channels.

Understanding your customers
To meet the challenges of modern fashion retail business, companies first need to understand their customer base. Where are they buying? What are they interested in? What is the reasoning behind their purchasing decisions? We answer these questions in our recently published study on buying patterns in online and offline fashion retail, analyzing answers from over 1,000 men and women between the ages of 16 and 64.

The first finding? When buying clothes, more people seek inspiration for their purchase decision on the internet and subsequently go to a local shop to actually buy it. Interesting considering it’s the other way around in other product categories such as consumer electronics. Here customers typically choose their products offline and then later go online to research the best price for their chosen model. Good news for local retailers: Shops and shopping centers won’t disappear completely, since they offer a significant value for a large amount of customers.

Shopping on site – instantly gratifying
What is the value of going to a store? Here are the top three reasons given by the study’s respondents:

  1. Ability to try the clothes on immediately
  2. Opportunity to touch the product and feel the fabric
  3. Option to take the purchase home without delay

And there are emotional aspects as well: Psychologically, if customers find a piece of clothing they like in the store, they don’t want to put it down for it to be snatched away by someone else. Discovering a steal and taking it home provides instant satisfaction. For this live experience, customers are willing to pay comparatively higher prices. Guidance from skilled sales personnel plays another important role here, and is valued especially by male shoppers.

Online shopping: simply manifold
Not surprisingly, online shopping is especially common among younger people, with 33 percent of respondents between the ages of 16 and 34 buying more than half of their clothes online. The most important reasons:

  1. Being able to shop quickly and anywhere
  2. Larger product range
  3. Option to return the purchase hassle-free and (mostly) without costs 

Women in particular appreciated the possibility to try on garments in the relaxed atmosphere of their own homes. As a result, the average monthly shopping budget is higher online than offline: 135 compared to 117 euros per customer. 


Related insights: Sales Is Dead, Long Live Alexa?


Tailor-made offerings for various customer groups
Customer wishes and needs vary greatly, so it makes sense to categorize them into different groups and tackle their respective demands. Named after their most prominent buying behavior, there are

  • Style buyers
  • Rational buyers
  • Quality buyers
  • Bargain hunters
  • Spontaneous buyers

Most customers identify themselves as rational buyers (33 percent), followed by quality buyers (27 percent), bargain hunters (25 percent), and spontaneous buyers (14 percent). Only one percent stated they were a style buyer. Members of these groups have widely differing shopping habits, for example style buyers spend the highest monthly budget on clothes, quality buyers have a higher affinity to online shopping than bargain hunters, and spontaneous buyers are very price conscious. Retailers can use a combination of measures to address these different needs, e.g. in-store displays that propose up-to-date style combinations and online ads pointing out the superior quality of their offering. Here retailers should always tailor their measures to the kind of buyer they want to attract. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Omni-channel is key
What’s most promising is to address the desired target group via their preferred sales channel, so a range of different channels is key to success for fashion retailers. Omni-channel means using all communication channels – store, website, and social media – to attract customers and communicate offerings. Stores, for example, benefit from attentive service staff who ensure a pleasant shopping experience. Web shops give retailers the possibility to display a wide product range, and suggest complimentary items to promote more sales. Meanwhile, corporate social media accounts can be used to inform customers of special discounts.

While offering a range of services on a variety of channels, it is also acceptable to show a different product or price range to varying customers. Our study found that buyers understand and appreciate offers made to them based on their previous shopping behavior, resulting in an individualized product selection or different price points, i.e. dynamic pricing.