More than half (52%) of apparel shoppers who bought clothing online in the last six months said they shopped at Amazon, according to a survey of 1,500 U.S. shoppers from digital marketing agency CPC Strategy. Nearly half (47%) of shoppers gravitated toward retailer or brand websites.
Men were more likely to shop Amazon, while women were more likely to buy from a retailer’s website, according to the survey. Of those who bought apparel on Amazon, 31% said it was because of its fast and free shipping, 26% cited their preference to shop for apparel on mobile, 25% cited low prices, and 20% said they value the ability to filter products, according to the report.
Shoppers, however, aren't turning to Amazon for high fashion or high quality. More than half (54%) look for casual apparel like jeans and sundresses, and between 25% and 30% of shoppers look for athletic wear, outerwear, loungewear and basics. "The biggest takeaway for retailers is this: If you can’t compete with free shipping or low prices, then you need to have a very unique brand or high quality product," according to the report.
Even CPC Strategy researchers, well aware of Amazon’s command of e-commerce, were caught off guard by its entrenchment in apparel sales, according to CEO and co-founder Rick Backus. "We knew that Amazon dominated most retail verticals," he said in a statement. "But when we saw the survey results, we were pretty surprised that over 50% of shoppers opted to buy apparel most frequently on Amazon in the past six months."
That means that, while Macy’s has suffered sales dips as it works through its painful-but-necessary downsizing Amazon has expanded and improved its apparel offering. Together, that has helped to make Cowen & Co.’s now-famous prediction — that Amazon would leapfrog Macy’s as America’s biggest apparel seller — closer to coming true.
It's not some natural drift, though; Amazon is making it happen. Digital research firm L2 uncovered how diligently Amazon brings out best-sellers — using data from brands selling on its site to develop its own versions. Amazon Essentials’ top-performing item, for example, was the "Men’s Cotton Pique Polo Shirt," markedly similar to Dockers’ "Men’s Short Sleeve Solid Poly Pique Polo Shirt" at half the price, L2 found. "With Levi’s/Dockers owning the second highest share of Best Sellers in the Men’s clothing category, this suggests Amazon’s private label brands pose the greatest threat to the very brands that are top of the category today," noted L2.
Brands with a preexisting audience, however, do have the upper hand on Amazon, according to CPC Strategy’s report. That requires a brand promise based on more than price.
"If your brand stands for something, and has strong appeal on its own to consumers, then you’ll do great...Without brand as a guide to quality and lifestyle meaning, Amazon does very little to help you justify a price difference over something that looks very like what you already have,” Retail Systems Research Managing Partner Nikki Baird said, according to a statement in the report. “That’s why UGG has invested in Amazon presence like it has – it has the strength of its brand to back it. Sure, you can buy knockoffs, but if you want UGGs, nothing else will do.”
Fulfillment remains a conundrum, however. Amazon's convenience play is strong, and respondents told CPC Strategy that free, fast shipping and easy returns are factors in shopping there. While those costs are high for everyone, only Amazon has the financial cushion to support that, thanks to its AWS cloud services.
Mobile is also increasingly a must, as more younger shoppers turn to their phones to at least browse for clothing, CPC Strategy found. By far, most (71%) online apparel shoppers head for their computers, while 26% prefer their phone (18%) or tablet (8%). But 18-24 year olds were the most likely (40%) out of all ages to report they would shop for apparel from their phone, and CPC Strategy noted that could be higher if more retailer mobile sites were easier to use.