Virgin misses chance to clothe Internet users

Has Branson blundered by not selling his new range of clothes online? Admittedly, clothes are not CDs or books. And if there’s one thing we’ve learnt in the past three years, it’s easily warehoused goods like these which shift online. People need to feel the cloth against their skin. As yet we haven’t reached the point at which this can be done in some kind of virtual reality.

Indeed, a survey produced by Continental Research in May found that software was the most popular purchase among regular Internet users (59 per cent). Clothes came second from last on the list, nominated by only six per cent of users. But that was then. Now, people expect to have the option of buying online. With the audience growing at the rate of about ten per cent a month, the demographic of the so-called regular Internet user is rapidly becoming more like that of the general population as a whole. Regular users – if you believe Mori’s latest survey for ICL – like to buy online. Thirty per cent of us, in fact, are interested in non-grocery shopping online.

Of course this does not automatically translate into clothes buying. But why shouldn’t it? By the time the next piece of research comes out the audience make-up will have changed again and the fear of online purchasing is certainly dissipating.

In the US, the Gap’s Website doesn’t just sell clothes. It can also remind you, through e-mail, when to buy a gift for a friend or relation. In the UK, Diesel has just started selling its clothes from its UK store. Part of the key here is making the facility to buy readily available. Hobo Clothing in Ireland quite happily sells direct through the Web to the Americans. The same goes for Eddie Bauer in the US. These brands seem to have no problem in selling direct and through retail outlets.

Most of the Web is populated by cash rich, time poor people. The sort of people who know that the quality of Virgin’s cloth will be good, but don’t want to spend their lunch-hour pushing through the crowds. Virgin had an opportunity here to deal a killer blow to other online stores which are less after-sales service oriented, by linking with a good distributor and allowing for easy returns if something doesn’t fit.

Now Virgin will have to drum its fingers and hope those e-mails asking for an online store will start pouring in.

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