For the first time in 2015 “Apparel and accessories” overtook “computer hardware” as the number one category in digital commerce, due in large part to the rise of mobile commerce, according to comScore’s 2016 “U.S. Cross-Platform Future in Focus” report.
Mobile accounts for 60% of time spent shopping online, according to comScore, but just 16% of all retail dollars spent, which comScore attributes to factors like security concerns and screen size. “This m-commerce monetization gap will continue to narrow over time, but the shares of time spent and dollars spent likely won’t ever reach equilibrium.” according to the report.
Apparel took the number one spot in 2015’s first two quarters, edged down in Q3, but took over again in Q4, according to the report.
Several brick-and-mortar apparel retailers in recent years, including L.L. Bean, Nordstrom, and pure-play e-retailers like Zappos have long offered free shipping and free returns to encourage web sales. And Amazon in recent years has increased its apparel offering, culminating in the unveiling of its private label clothing and accessories lines in February. In fact, Amazon was already on its way to hefty apparel sales, and Cowen & Co. last summer predicted that by 2017, Amazon would overtake Macy's as the top apparel retailer in the U.S.
That seems to have done the trick, with the comfort level of buying apparel and shoes online rising so steadily.
Of course, all this comes with a price: selling clothing online involves something of a logistics nightmare, which must account for heavy returns and the costs of shipping both ways. Many customers will order several versions of a item, knowing they’ll only keep the colors and sizes that suit them, if they keep anything at all.
That prompted Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren last month to tell analysts that while Amazon poses a threat in its apparel sales effort, the e-retail giant may not be quite prepared for the logistics of apparel sales online.
Amazon is "going to have an interesting challenge when they start getting all those returns coming back online,” he said.
And while apparel sales remain a huge chunk of sales and even growth in retail, several brands have stumbled in their efforts to come up with merchandise that people want. Plus, there appears to be great truth to the idea that many consumers, including many younger ones, are opting to spend their money on experiences rather than stuff like clothes.
Perhaps Amazon’s rumored plans for more brick-and-mortar stores is part of this fashion effort, considering that apparel sales are especially tricky online. They are also expensive due to a high level of returns, as Lundgren says—the consequence of people not being able to try anything on until after they’ve paid for and received delivery of the items.
But retail futurist Doug Stephens says that Amazon likely knows what it’s up against, and that the move is probably more about attracting more Prime members, in addition to increasing its involvement in the massive apparel business.
“What Amazon recognizes is the apparel trade that is happening online is in the billions and billions,” Stephens told Retail Dive earlier this year. “There an incredibly long tail in apparel, and I suspect that the apparel play is more aimed at that than it is becoming a competitor to Macy’s or Bloomingdales’s, where they get stuck with end of lines. [Like Amazon’s bookstore,] everything Amazon does is aimed at that—getting their consumer into their ecosystem. Apparel is another way to do this.”