Closet shopaholics in the UK

When women say they have nothing to wear, don’t believe them. UK women spent £13.3bn on clothes last year, double the amount spent by UK men

Women love to shop, but research by Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) throws up some surprising results. British women spent a staggering £13.3bn on clothes in the year to June, indicating that, despite economic slowdown and instability, consumer spending has been relatively unaffected by wider economic concerns.

The clothing sector has remained buoyant and appears to have prospered. In the 12 months to June 2002, UK consumers spent more than £28bn on clothes, footwear and accessories (including purchases for children) – an increase of almost £1.5bn on the previous year.

In the 12 months to June 2002, more than twice as much was spent on women’s clothes, accessories and footwear than on equivalent purchases for men. UK men spent £6.8bn on their clothes compared with the £13.3bn spent by women on theirs.

The amount spent on women’s clothing and accessories increased by seven per cent between June 2001 and June 2002, from £12.4bn. Meanwhile the children’s and men’s clothing market increased by five per cent and four per cent respectively.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the most popular outlets for buying clothes and fashion accessories are high street chains, with almost a quarter (24 per cent) of all clothing and footwear being bought in these stores. However, while the high street sector (including independent outlets, department stores and sports shops) saw little growth between June 1998 and June 2002, rising from £20.5bn to £20.9bn. The biggest growth was seen in sales at discount stores and supermarkets – rising from £2.3bn in 1998 to £3.8bn in 2002.

Value or discount clothing outlets have become an increasingly popular place to buy clothes over recent years, particularly children’s clothing. Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of all children’s clothes are bought from supermarkets or discount stores.

The most popular item of clothing bought for both men and women aged under 35 is jeans, constituting ten per cent of the men’s clothing market and just under seven per cent of the women’s market. However, the TNS data also shows that jeans are more commonly bought and worn by older men than by older women, who feel more comfortable wearing clothes such as skirts and trousers.

During the 12 months to June 2002, 70 per cent of all clothes, footwear and accessories were bought by women. Women aged between 35 and 44 spent the most on clothing – £4.3bn, equating to more than 15 per cent of the total clothing and footwear market. Similarly, men within this age group spent more on clothing – almost £1.9m. This represents just under seven per cent of the total clothing market.

Across all age groups, the amount women spent on clothes was roughly double that spent by men. The largest discrepancy in spend between genders was in 35to 44-year-olds, where women spent over 2.6 times more on clothes than men.

However, women are also far more likely to buy clothes for men than vice versa. Almost 30 per cent of all men’s clothing and footwear is bought by women, whereas just ten per cent of women’s clothes are bought by men. This suggests that although women may spend considerably more on fashion, a significant proportion of their shopping expenses are on behalf of men. Perhaps this is because men are more reluctant to shop for clothes, or their working patterns mean that they do not have sufficient time to do so.

In addition, men’s clothing and footwear is more expensive per item than women’s clothing or footwear – typically costing £1.59 more per item of clothing and £9.92 more for footwear. Therefore, although more women’s clothes are bought by consumers, men’s footwear in particular, is substantially more expensive and may yield larger profit margins for retailers.

As one would expect, there is a substantial difference between the quantity of clothes bought by women compared with those bought by men. This difference is consistent across all age groups and may be because women enjoy shopping and therefore make time available for “retail therapy” as a leisure activity in its own right.

But market buoyancy has begun to decline in recent months, following the pattern of many other market sectors. This slowdown looks set to continue in the coming months, as consumers tighten their belts as a result of financial concerns.

Because of this, well-established, medium-sized and large clothing retailers are likely to consolidate their positions within the market through mergers and acquisitions of smaller clothing companies, helping to maximise economies of scale.

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