E-commerce is a relatively new phenomenon but it has been enjoying strong acceptance across the globe. Customers are increasingly shopping online and the list of products is expanding as well. In this paper, I analyze why customers buy clothes online instead of buying them from the actual store. I have tried to find out what are the main factors associated with the websites themselves in terms of convenience for online clothes shopping and have also considered the type of clothing bought, the impact of reviews on customers’ decision making and the influence of word-of-mouth marketing. The paper concludes with an overview of the findings of the research and how this research relates to the relevant literature.
The internet has transformed the way companies, including retailers, do business. Nowadays, it has allowed retailers to customize and transform their offering to the customers in addition to reinstating their competitive positioning (Neil and Fiona, 2010). The internet is considered to be a rich retail channel as it allows two-way communication. The customers can learn details about the product’s relevant features and place an online order, while the retailer can relatively easily learn about the buying preferences of their customers. Some of the main advantages are that the internet allows retailers to broaden their target markets, facilitate smoother communication with the customers, extend the product lines, increase cost efficiency and provide customized offers to the customers (Burt and Sparks, 2003). Of the wide array of products available for sale online, one of the most common products being bought is clothing. In this paper, I have tried to find out the main factors that encourage customers to buy clothing online and how these eventually influence their choices (Hansen and Jensen, 2009). Generally, online purchases of other products such as books, shoes and even electronic items appear to be more common. However, clothing has been chosen specifically because there has not been a lot of research into the factors that influence the buying of clothes. I will also try to find out whether the features of the website have an impact on people’s selection of a particular e-store. These include, among others, whether people were referred to the website by someone they know, looking into the elements associated with word-of-mouth marketing, the impact of online reviews on choice of e-store, ease of use of the website and its perceived trustworthiness. In the following sections I discuss the methods I used for data collection, the analysis of the data and the conclusions reached.
2. Methods and Data
The main method used for the collection of data for this study was through interviews but data were also collected from online journals and databases. A total number of four people were interviewed for approximately 15–25 minutes. Due to time constraints, the length of the interviews varied. Semi-structured questions were asked which allowed me to gain better insight and learn more about buying patterns. They nature of the interviews also allowed me to structure questions based on the feedback received in the previous question. As the research involved the collection of qualitative data, I started by collecting the data and management. This was followed by organizing the data and conceptualizing as well as categorizing the information based on the common themes inherent in the interviews of the participants. An interview is an ideal way to gain a deeper understanding of an individual’s feelings, knowledge and behaviour, and to uncover deeper meanings (Hsieh, 2005). Through an interview, one can examine the text thoroughly and then come up with categories which have similar meanings. I analyzed the content of the interviews which helped me compile the information and derive deeper and more relevant meanings.
All the participants chosen for this study were between the ages of 18 and 30 and had shopped for clothes using an online platform. The interviews were all conducted face-to-face with participants from the UK. The types of clothes bought by the interviewees varied as did the number of times they opted to buy their clothing online. Data collected through these interviews are discussed thoroughly in the analysis section.
Over the years a significant body of literature has developed in the area of online shopping. The internet has developed into a successful platform that allows retailers greater flexibility in terms of collection of data on their customers’ buying patterns. It also allows them to promote their products and improve their communication, which eventually leads to an increase in their sales (Zhuang and Lederer, 2003). A lot of terms are used interchangeably for online shopping such as ‘electronic shopping’, ‘e-tailing’ and ‘internet shopping’, to name a few (Doherty and Chadwick, 2008). Although the names may vary, they all serve the purpose of providing online sales platforms to the customers. These platforms have provided a successful way for the customers to buy their preferred products from the comfort of their home (Dennis et al., 2009). As the main purpose of this research was to find out the reasons for buying clothes online, most of the interview questions were asked with this in mind. First, I tried to find out why the customers chose to buy online instead of opting for a bricks-and-mortar store. Secondly, I tried to gain insight as to whether their choice depended on the characteristics associated with the specific clothes such as brand names, price, type of garment, etc. Lastly, I tried to find out what role the design of the website played in the shopping experience and why they chose to shop on that particular website. I also mentioned how retailers are opting for e-stores.
3.1. E-stores as a replacement for bricks-and-mortar stores
E-stores, or the e-commerce stores, are a widespread phenomenon. The UK alone has experienced double-digit growth; in 2014, shoppers had spent approximately £44.97 billion on online sales and the industry is expected to experience a growth of 16.2% in 2015. This shows the inclination of people for buying online (Centre for Retail Research, 2015). When asked why customers chose to buy online, all the interviewees mentioned that it was less time consuming and in some cases faster than buying the same item from the physical store. They also added that since some websites have priority next-day shipping facilities, they may use this if they wanted the item urgently and did not have the time to go to a store. Two of the interviewees also pointed out that if they bought clothes online, they could compare multiple brands by means of just a few clicks and find out other details quite easily as well. The other two interviewees had a more general approach and contended that they usually knew which brand they wanted to buy, so they didn’t compare prices between different brands much. However, it was mentioned that they may use multiple websites for checking the price of the same product, to check whether the prices varied on different websites.
Another reason for online shopping given was that they used the online store because it allowed them to check the reviews of the specific product online, which helped them make more informed buying decisions than was possible in the physical store. They added that if they went to the physical store it may not be possible to get feedback and, in some cases, the store staff could be unhelpful. Consumers’ reliance on reviews is a new dimension to the traditional marketing communications mix. In addition, it is considered that the online consumer product reviews may act as ‘free sales agents’, helping marketers to market their products more successfully. Nowadays, online reviews are quite common for a number of products such as clothing, games, electronics, and even food. However, the down-side is that the marketer does not have control over such reviews, especially when the reviews are publicly available such as on social media platforms. Hence, the online reviews may offer good or bad feedback, depending on the characteristics of the review itself, but it cannot be denied that the existence of such reviews has given customers access to greater information and contributes to shaping their shopping patterns (Chen and Xie, 2004).
In contrast, another opinion was that customers did not rely much on online reviews as tastes and body shapes vary from one person to another and they preferred making their own choice, irrespective of the reviews. In addition, because going to a store and trying on clothes takes time, if they had a rough idea of what they wanted they ordered the clothes online. A lot of stores allow free returns in cases when the clothes didn’t fit properly. They also mentioned that with online stores, it is relatively easy to browse through the collections and the website often recommended what others had bought. They said they often got good recommendations from options like ‘Customers who bought this item also bought…’ for instance, which shows items they are likely to be interested in. This also helped them to sift through the most sought-after products, which would be difficult to do in the physical store. In addition, one customer also mentioned that it was easier to keep a record of purchases, as he/she mainly used one website, such as www.asos.com for buying clothes.
In terms of the choice of the website, I asked the interviewees whether they had been referred to the website by someone they knew. Half of the respondents said that because they knew their friends had used the website with no problems, they were at ease while shopping. Positive word-of-mouth plays a significant role in the usage or trustworthiness of a website and can be a powerful influencing factor in the customers’ choices (Utz et al., 2012). In contrast, some respondents mentioned that they checked the reputation of the website online before buying clothes. They mentioned that they felt it was better to shop online at websites like www.newlook.com and www.forever21.com that usually offered discounts and were not very expensive.
3.2. Website Usage and Trustworthiness
In terms of e-commerce, the website itself plays an important role and needs to be both aesthetically pleasing as well as easily accessible. It is essential to have a website that is user-friendly and allows the customers to find their preferred choices relatively easily (Manganari, 2008). When I asked the customers this, they all agreed that the user-friendliness of the website was a crucial deciding factor in whether they would buy from that particular website. Customers also mentioned that they mainly looked for a website that was uncluttered, neat and aesthetically pleasing (Cai and Xu, 2011). They emphasized that websites should preferably be plain, with easy navigation and zoom-in features, etc. In addition, it was mentioned that trustworthiness was very important. When asked how they determined whether a particular website was trustworthy, they said that checking reviews for a website was a good starting point. In fact, it could be said that the reviews may be more important in determining the trustworthiness of the website than its reputation and may help increase the sales of a website (Buttner, 2008). The customers also noted that it was important to be able to see all the details, just as they could in the physical store. Information about sizes and materials of the product should be readily available online. A customer noted when they could not find a particular size of a dress in the store, they could go home and order it online because it was available in the e-store.
It was interesting to note the various elements the customers look for in a website. However, it was also found that the website’s features of finding the nearest store for pickup and also checking the opening times, was quite convenient. A customer mentioned that they chose store-pickups if they could, provided the store pickups were free and they were allowed to check the clothes before accepting the order. When I asked them why they chose store pickup instead of going to the physical store, they said that some products were ‘online exclusive’ and only available online. This seems to be a feature of a lot of e-commerce websites – retailers often use ‘online exclusives’ to draw the customers’ attention to products that can be bought only on their website. This is an interesting move to persuade customers to buy online rather than at their stores and shows how retailers are moving towards this sales method (Cao, 2014).
The payment option seemed to be another important aspect of online shopping. Since the customers are required to provide their payment details, usually their debit card or credit card information, they want to make sure that the website is very reliable. Hence they would refrain from shopping on a website if it was not very well-known or where the reviews were not very positive. One of the customers mentioned that it was essential for the website to have various payment options. For instance, apart from debit and credit cards, a lot of websites allow Paypal payment options. Because it was rather inconvenient if payment options were restricted to one specific method, customers would rather choose a website that offered multiple payment options.
The responses to the interview questions were quite varied. For instance, one of the customers mentioned that they only bought for special occasions, whereas the others mentioned that they did buy clothes online at regular intervals as they could get better discounts online. The issue of payment options was also something which I did not initially consider. However, it came up during the second interview so I decided to ask the remaining customers about the payment options as well. However, due to time constraints I could not go back and ask the first interviewee about this. In addition, the last customer mentioned that the website they used did not have the option to change the language, which they would have preferred. E-commerce and online shopping have undoubted perks for customers but even shopping online may have its drawbacks. In addition, a customer mentioned that they once had an unpleasant experience when they ordered online and the product was delivered late.
Despite some of the downsides, online shopping has experienced significant growth and is being adopted by the general population. However, the choices made by the customers evidently do not depend solely on either the website or the clothing and there seems to be a balance between both. Customers prefer a website that is user friendly, trustworthy and reliable but they also want clothes that are of good quality. In addition, they also seemed reluctant to buy clothes that are expensive and prefer buying those in person. This shows that although there has been an acceptance of online clothing shopping, customers are still a bit reluctant when it comes to expensive transactions. Therefore, although customers have adapted to online shopping, it does not necessarily mean that the physical stores are less important to them.