By Madeline Baumgartner
The key to converting apparel shoppers at a mass merchant into a purchaser is to know how they plan their purchases, how they explore the store, how they make decisions in-store, and how displays and aisle fixtures influence their purchasing and decision behavior. The 2014 Mass Merchant Study by A.R.E. | POPAI The New Association offers insights into these key elements. Try on these five takeaways from the study to focus your marketing and visual merchandising efforts:
1. Feature sales and new apparel items at mass merchants in mass-merchant circulars and mailers. Mass shoppers are likely to plan apparel purchases.
2. Emphasize baby apparel in information and deals via mobile apps. Baby-apparel shoppers are more tech-savvy than the average mass shopper and are more likely to use digital lists on their shopping trips.
3. Leverage visual merchandising and in-store digital content to boost impulse apparel purchases. Apparel product experimentation is common, and shoppers are most likely to make an impulse purchase when an interesting item catches their eye.
4. Consider product placement carefully. Purchasing apparel off displays in mass merchants is uncommon—the shopper would rather go into the aisle and find exactly what they want.
5. Make it easy for shoppers to find what they want, pay for it, and leave. Mass apparel shoppers value good customer service, an efficient checkout, and a well-organized section.
Here’s a deeper dive into this category from the study:
Planned purchases and marketing strategy
While shoppers often plan to buy apparel in general, especially boys’ apparel, product-specific planning is rare. The shopper knows exactly which article of clothing they intend to purchase for only about one in 20 apparel purchases. This is likely due to the necessity of trying on clothing before shoppers decide exactly what will work best for them. Compared to other product categories, mass shoppers are more likely to generally plan their apparel purchases, and they expect to spend more money. Thus, special sales for apparel should be featured prominently in advertisements pre-store. But the final decision is generally made in-store.
Both sale and new items in apparel should be featured primarily in mass-merchant circulars and mailers. These pre-store ads may be especially effective for boys’ apparel. Shoppers of baby apparel typically plan to spend more per trip and purchase more items, so bundled deals on multiple baby apparel items may be especially attractive to them. Mailers may be an especially effective advertising tool for men’s apparel, as nearly one in four men’s apparel purchasers used information via mailers to plan their purchases.
Apparel shoppers, namely baby apparel shoppers, are more tech-savvy than the average mass shopper and are more likely to use digital lists on their shopping trips. Therefore, while print advertisements via mailers are the most appropriate place to advertise men’s apparel, information and deals via mobile apps should place a special emphasis on baby apparel. The same can be said of boys’ apparel shoppers, as nearly one in four used their smartphone for shopping purposes in-store. Retailer websites and retailer smartphone apps should focus heavily on promoting baby and children’s apparel, as shoppers of these items are more likely to view and use the information.
Private label vs. national brands
Private labels make up nearly half of all mass-merchant apparel purchases—21% more than the average mass category. Private labels are most commonly purchased for female apparel—both women’s and girls, whereas shoppers may have a more difficult time trusting the quality and durability of private labels for men and boys.
Just as private labels and national brands each take up about half of mass apparel purchases, they show similar decision rates. This suggests that for the mass shopper, brand may not be a strong purchase decision factor. Mass shoppers often wait until they are in the category to decide what will look and fit better for them. The mass shopper may not even be aware that they are purchasing a private label due to the brand’s name and apparent lack of connection to the retailer.
Apparel private labels have the same planning and walkaway rates as the average mass private label. National brands in zpparel garner less unplanned purchase behavior than they do in other categories, again suggesting brand’s lack of strength as a deciding purchase factor in the category.
In the past 20 years, shopper exploration in-store has decreased as shoppers have become increasingly more likely to visit only planned aisles/sections. However, apparel shoppers in mass merchants are significantly more likely than their counterparts to at least visit most aisles on a shopping trip. This suggests that they are likely on a larger shopping trip when they make their apparel purchase. Their higher expected purchase amounts further support this claim.
Mass-merchant retailers lose about two out of three apparel purchases when shoppers walk away from the purchase, but similar products can stem that loss. When apparel shoppers cannot find their desired brand due to out-of-stock situations, they are likely to substitute another brand. Rather than waiting for the apparel item to come in via order, they will simply find something else that “looks good.”
Apparel shoppers are most likely to make an impulse purchase when an item catches their eye. Not surprisingly, in the mass-merchant apparel category, the purchase decision is all about visual appeal—apparel shoppers are likely to purchase an apparel item they have never purchased before if it happens to catch their attention. This is the case regardless of brand type, with private labels and national brands each showing experimentation levels around 50%.
Effectiveness of In-Store DisplaysPurchasing apparel off displays in mass merchants is uncommon; the shopper would rather go into the aisle and find exactly what they want. When apparel is purchased off a display, it is usually off an endcap or floor stand. In fact, floor stands may be more effective at spurring conversion in apparel than they do in other mass categories, especially in adult apparel.
Apparel displays do not work more effectively than average in spurring unplanned purchases, but the primary apparel section nearly does. For this reason, it is especially important that the primary apparel section be easy to shop and visually appealing to passing shoppers. Whether the apparel item is from the primary section or a display, product experimentation is common. No matter whether the apparel item is selected from the primary section or a display, rates of first purchase are much higher than the average mass-merchant category, likely due to such factors as seasonal changes and the development of trends.
Statistically, displays do not spur higher purchase rates in apparel. In fact, displays may lower expected purchase rates in all apparel subcategories. Shoppers may be likely to bypass the displays and go directly to the primary rack to find their desired colors and sizes. This finding holds for both private label and national brands—no matter the type or brand of apparel, displays do little to disrupt the purchase process. The lack of purchase lift from displays points to not only the lack of effectiveness of the displays, but also the lack of regard for apparel brand names by the typical mass shopper. Even if a major national brand is featured prominently in the aisle on a display, the apparel shoppers are not any more likely to select it for purchase.
Distinguishing Characteristics of the Shopping Trip
Mass-merchant apparel shoppers may have come to the store primarily to take advantage of a special sale on apparel even though it is not their preferred retailer for other grocery and other general merchandise. In the apparel shopper’s entire basket, the most common concurrent purchases (and the most appropriate aisle adjacencies) are shoes, accessories and baby products. While only one apparel item is typically purchased at a time, the most common intra-category concurrent purchases are women’s and men’s apparel (7%), suggesting that the section should be sorted by age (adult/child) and then by gender.
Mass-apparel shoppers are more likely than the average shopper to own and use a retailer loyalty card with purchase. Shoppers of baby apparel are more likely than others to use their store card for their purchase, suggesting that these apparel shoppers may best receive store card specials. In mass overall including the apparel aisle, coupon usage is uncommon. Instead of using coupons, mass shoppers enjoy taking advantage of sales. This does not mean that coupons have no effect on apparel purchases; 3% of shoppers used a coupon with their apparel purchase. But coupons should be offered sparingly due to differing channel preferences.
Apparel shoppers plan to spend and do spend more money than other shoppers in the retailer because apparel items cost more than grocery products. The ability of the mass apparel shopper to come in under their expected purchase amount points to their ability to locate and take advantage of in-store sales. Even though they do not purchase more items than the average shopper, mass apparel shoppers spend a longer time in-store. The longer dwell time is due to the nature of the category—the necessity of trying on apparel items and finding the right fit, especially among shoppers of women’s apparel.
Shoppers within the study were asked to rate the retailers on various aspects of the store and departments shopped. Mass apparel shoppers’ value good customer service, an efficient checkout, and a well-organized section, but they are not any less or more satisfied with their shopping trip than other mass shoppers. Due to inherent apparel category challenges such as finding the right shapes and fits, the shopper values organization and good customer service to facilitate their purchase decisions. The reason for higher rates of private-label purchases among women compared to men is clear—women believe the private labels are simply of better quality than men do.
While mass merchants do effectively make shopping easier via good customer service and organization, shoppers are less than satisfied with the important aspect of purchase price. Shoppers have significantly more difficulty shopping apparel than they do other categories, but this is probably a reflection of the nature of the category. But one measure in complete control of the retailer is the neatness and organization of the section, and apparel shoppers are less likely to believe the section is organized effectively. This should be a key area of concern for mass merchants.
Apparel ranks at the bottom of mass-merchant categories for ease of shopping. This relative difficulty is likely related to the importance of finding the correct fit for each shopper, an issue that is unique to the apparel category. For inspiring exploration, apparel also ranks in the lower tier. This measure should be of higher importance to mass merchants because in the apparel category, when browsing occurs, the shopping trip seems easier to the shopper.
Reflecting the low rates of shopping ease, the apparel category also has the lowest rates of overall shoppability. Because of the interconnectedness of these three measures, as mass merchants can increase the browsing rates in apparel, the shopability of the section should also increase. Compared to apparel national brands and private labels elsewhere in the retailer, shoppers have significantly more difficulty shopping apparel private labels. This is likely due to the lack of familiarity with apparel private labels to the mass shopper. They need to be reassured that the private labels are of comparable quality to the popular national brands, especially in men’s and boys’ apparel.
Madeline Baumgartner is research manager of A.R.E. | POPAI The New Association.