Get the fit right and the sales will follow

By tailoring their marketing to lifestyle preferences and enhancing service levels in line with the target market, clothing retailers can expand their sales potential.

There are no prizes for guessing which gender in the UK buys more clothes. Women are still the largest consumers of fashion accounting for 47% of the British market last year; men trail behind at 22%, with children and accessories making up the difference. Yet despite this stereotypical result, a new study from Verdict suggests the clothing sector has more opportunities than might be expected, with potential growth lying in surprising places.

The men’s clothing market, with just a fifth of overall spending, is ripe for marketers to drive new sales, suggests the report. The online channel may be a particularly good place to focus; each year, more men are shopping over the internet for their clothing. Nearly 9% (8.9%) of online clothing sales are expected to come from men this year, compared with 7.4% last year.

But both internet and traditional retailers could see a lot more activity involving men once clothing brands cotton on to what makes them tick. Verdict senior analyst Maureen Hinton says marketers need to use emotion more effectively to get men to respond to fashion.

“How do we get men to spend more? By developing brands that fit a certain lifestyle, and then marketing them in this way,” she explains.

Positioning men’s clothing ranges around obvious interest areas such as sport is just one strategy Hinton suggests. She thinks stronger links could be made to other leisure activities such as sailing, golf, music, entertainment, camping or hiking. A brand that markets a lifestyle to men, beyond the pure fashion offering, is more likely to convert them to buying.

Hinton says an example of a retailer picking up on the lifestyle marketing trend is clothier for “big men” Williams & Brown. The brand promotes itself, particularly online, with a menu of outfit ideas under various lifestyle scenario headings, such as “weekend”, “the great outdoors” and “office”.

“The site comes across as active and youthful – men buy into that first and then see there are relevant fashion choices available,” Hinton says.

In targeting men, the purchasing power of women also has an important role to play. Brands that can simultaneously talk to both men and the women in their lives could score a double whammy if they succeed. This is especially true for 35- to 44-year-old men, Hinton claims.

She cites Marks & Spencer’s latest summer ad campaign as an effective example of attracting both genders. Although it aims to sell menswear, its family holiday theme also reaches towards women who might buy for their partners.

It isn’t just men who are under-represented in clothes sales, however. Marketers are also failing to successfully attract older consumers. So it is perhaps unsurprising that as men get older, they spend ever less on clothing. This is worrying for brands, however, as while these older male consumers are decreasing their fashion budget as they age, they also may be some of the wealthiest members of society.

The research shows that this downward trend in average annual spend per man starts at £479 for the 15 to 24 age group, dropping to £370 for the 25 to 34 age group. From here the slide ceases to be as dramatic, with 35- to 44-year-old men spending an average of £347 each per year, 45- to 54-year-olds spending an average of £319, the 55 to 64s spending £328 and the over-65s spending £325.

An almost opposite trend is seen in women. While the 15- to 24-year-old age group’s average annual spend per head is £712, this jumps to £762 for women aged 25 to 34. It falls again to £749 for women aged 35 to 44, but jumps again to £760 for the 45 to 64 demographic. Women over 65 spend more than double their male counterparts – £678 – indicating there is still a high demand in this market.

“Women are higher spenders through time, with the highest spend being pre and post children,” says Hinton. “It is interesting to see 55- to 64-year-olds spending almost as much as their younger counterparts.”

The change in women’s attitude to fashion as they age seems to be more to do with changing needs than anything else. Women aged 16 to 34 prioritise price, while women aged 55 to 64 put service first. This has its parallel in the number of shops that women visit as they age. Cost-conscious fifteen- to 24-year-olds are prepared to visit 4.8 shops per mission, while discerning 45- to 54-year-olds will only choose to step into 3.9.

“As women age, price becomes less important. They are more concerned with service, quality and range,” claims Hinton. “Retailers have to consider the added-on value they can give to the 45-plus consumer. Customer service can often be a deciding factor in purchases.”

While Verdict has projected expenditure in the clothing market will grow 1.8% in 2010 (an improvement on 2009, when the market shrank 0.7%), it is interesting to see where this growth may come from. The mid-market has been squeezed by the increasing strength of value retailers and a strong performance in the premium sector. Verdict suggests that all market sectors will move their pricing tiers upwards.

“Value retailers will stretch their prices towards the mid-market, and we can see this in retailers such as New Look offering a ‘Limited Edition’ line,” says Verdict retail analyst Sarah Peters. “Rather than compete purely on value, mid-market retailers will respond by introducing more premium ranges. There will then be more competition in the premium sector, where retailers will be forced to shift their prices upwards too.”

But premium ranges from outside the luxury sector must also be matched with a premium feel in both the clothing and the customer experience. This strategy will allow retailers to justify these higher prices but it will take some smart marketing to convince consumers of the shift.

“If mid-market retailers can produce a premium offer at a less-than-premium price and an affordable premium experience where the customer experience is the same as in a higher-end store, it can position itself as the value end of the premium market,” claims Hinton.

So it seems that the clever brands in 2010 will be using a strategy of premiumisation, coupled with better marketing to men and mature people of both genders. After the decline of 2009, this might just be the strategy needed to return the sector to 2001’s glory days of 5.2% growth.

clothing market

trends frontline


Barbara Horspool, group design director, New Look

We recognise the trends highlighted in the report, and New Look has released a number of more premium collections within our fashion mix which are sold globally. For example, the Gold by Giles label was launched in spring/summer 2007 and we launched Giles menswear in autumn/winter 2008.

Another example is the IDOL label, which was launched in September 2009. We see it as a very rock and roll range, and it has already proven popular with celebs. Items from the IDOL range have been spotted on Beyoncé, Fergie from the Black Eye Peas, The Kills’ Alison Mosshart and Shingai from the Noisettes, among others.

 A Limited Edition collection was launched for autumn/winter 2008, with Pixie Geldof as the face. This line has a constant presence in store and is updated on a weekly basis in line with our core womenswear collections. Limited allows New Look to exploit premium trends and use more leather, suede and silk to promote itself as a more upmarket offering.

Matt McCormack, head of buying for menswear and leisure, John Lewis

There are definitely opportunities to increase interest and sales from men. Men have become more aware of style and trends. They are picking up on things they might not have picked up on previously – a cuff or button detail. When our customers see the quality of the materials in our products and where they are sourced from, they are happy to pay more. We have been surprised that we have been able to stretch our customers’ wallets by adding beautiful things to products without going over the top. In that respect we are putting more into our products, making sure the style and detail is right.

Also, we group our brand on the shop floor according to a customer’s lifestyle, from desk to dinner to the weekend. These are clear to the shopper.

Women obviously influence a lot of men’s purchasing decisions. Our mainstream media campaigns have to appeal to women and getting their attention in the context of men’s clothing is important to us. It’s about creating an image that is real to both him and her.

Loyalty drivers

For women aged 25 to 34 years – price, convenience, quality, ambience, and service

For women aged 55 to 64 years – service, quality, range, convenience, and layout


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