Millennials and Online Clothes Shopping

Most people are aware that online clothing shopping is one of the main factors driving e-commerce sales globally. It's also one of the reasons many successful entrepreneurs started dropship clothing business.  If you check out SaleHoo's Market Research Lab, you'll see that there's a lot of competition (more than 3,000 sellers within a 30-day period) but still a pretty decent success rate of 21 percent, representing about $60,000 worth of total sales...per day.

And that's just on eBay.

The numbers put clothes and apparel as second or third to consumer electronics and books (depending on the survey), but always purchased by 60 to 70 percent of the people who shop online.

Researchers take pains to make the numbers representative at least on a national level to make the study relevant. But in order to make use of these numbers effectively, online retailers and marketers need to know exactly who these online shoppers are.

According to this Millennials report by the Council of Economic Advisers, there is a growing demographic that represents about 35 percent of the US population as of 2013. This demographic is poised to become a dominant economic force within the coming years. These people are part of what is termed the millennial generation, or simply the Millennials.

Who are the Millennials?

Millennials are usually defined as any person born between 1977 and 2000. In other words, the Millennials are currently anywhere between the ages of 14 and 37. Some narrow this range to the more recognizable 18-to-34 demographic to exclusively represent people who generate income. Millennials number approximately 80 million, which is more than the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) or the Generation X (born between 1965 and 1976).

In terms of purchasing power, it's estimated that Millennials buy about 21 percent of discretionary consumer products but their greatest impact on the retail industry is their influence on earlier generations.

Which begs the question: is that influence a good thing or a bad thing?

It all depends on how the retailer (or the retail marketer) handles them. For this purpose, we will discuss the most relevant characteristics of Millennials, including how they regard online shopping for clothes. This way, online retailers will better understand how to influence their purchasing decisions.

Millennials are Internet Dependent

All Millennials grew up, or were in at the starting gate, as the digital age came into being. According to this article from, Millennials use technology for all types of communication dealing with business, social relationships, and consumption. In fact, they rely on the Internet to make decisions in practically all facets of their lives.

This is because the available technology allows them to be connected anywhere, at any time.

They share opinions on anything and everything with friends, families, online acquaintances — even strangers. In this, they are ably assisted by social networking sites. About three-fourths of Millennials in the U.S. use social networking sites, so that's about 60 million potential buyers.

From a retail marketing perspective, it's important to know what platform these Millennials use most often to exchange ideas, opinions, and reviews concerning their favorite products and services.

For our purposes, we want to look at which social networks are used most in online shopping. According to this article, a consumer report surveyed women to find out what social networking sites they used to find inspiration when buying clothes and apparel.

The results are pretty conclusive. Facebook leads the pack in fashion influence, followed by Twitter, Instagram, and so on. This doesn't mean that marketing efforts should focus solely on Facebook, though.

More than 80 percent of respondents stated that they consult one or more platforms for different fashion categories, and nearly one-third are social shoppers who are primarily influenced to buy brands that their social network contacts buy. On the other hand, roughly the same number are considered “trendsetters” who are willing to pay more to be “the first to know.”

All these responses indicate that the people who offer online shopping for designer clothes, and online fashion shopping in general, benefit from social network saturation. The study also notes that fashion-related message boards and blogs (input from strangers) have a significant impact on how many Millennials (around 64 percent) decide to buy, especially in cosmetics, special occasion clothing, casual wear, and accessories.

These numbers indicate another important aspect of Millennial psychology: multi-channel preferences. And that brings us to our next point.

Millennials Like to Have Options

Millennials use technology to hedge their bets. They spend a lot of time researching products that they are interested in. They look for reviews, feedback, and best prices. They make full use of the resources they have before buying. This includes both online and in-store resources.

According to this Businessweek article, a majority of Millennials (75 percent) will do an online search on appropriate sites to get more information about a product. They also favor brick-and-mortar (BAM) establishments where they can order online and pick up the product themselves. Stores and brands with apps that allow shoppers to compare prices online before making a purchase in store are likewise popular.

This behavior is borne out by a study discussed in this Forbes article, which notes that Millennials still like to go shopping as much as the older generations. They just don't buy as fast or as much.

Millenials are Cautious but Sensible Spenders

Because they were born or started working right when the US economy began its “great recession,” Millennials are much more frugal than Generation X, which was reared in times of plenty.

Just like those who emerged from the Great Depression in the 1930s and then plunged into a world war, they tend to maximize their resources and be leery of fads. Fully one-third of online shoppers will only buy “necessary” items, and only a third of those are willing to pay full price.

The study further indicates that almost half of online shoppers are constantly browsing, even if they have no intention of buying. This has driven the growing conviction of marketers that offering promos, discounts, coupons and sales is integral to any successful marketing campaign. It's a theory for which there's plenty of support, as can be seen in this infographic.

Pay attention

These are just three of the more basic characteristics of this singular, albeit sizable, portion of the population. There is a lot more research available on Millennials that would be relevant in designing an effective marketing strategy for both BAM and online clothing retailers, but this should be enough to modify strategies that you should already have in place to increase your success.

Do you have any thoughts on specifically targeting Millennials in your marketing strategy? Tell us all about it in the comments.


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