E-commerce Apparel Sales Are Booming, Here’s Why

Posted on January 14, 2019

Apparel took the crown as the most purchased category during the 2018 holiday season according to the National Retail Federation. That was far from the only period of 2018 apparel dominated, though. For the entire year, the category rose nearly 8 percent from 2017 to have its best year-over-year improvement since 2010. Few factors are having a larger impact on driving these figures upward than e-commerce. 

The e-commerce forecast isn’t calling for a slow down in such sales any time soon. eMarketer projects e-commerce apparel sales to reach $118.41 billion this year, and $171.54 billion by 2022. 

“Online apparel sales have been climbing sharply as consumers acclimate to buying clothing online,” says Cindy Liu, a forecast analyst at eMarketer. “For apparel items, the desire to see, feel and try on merchandise is one reason why consumers have been apprehensive about clicking the buy button. But now, with more and more retailers offering easy return policies and free shipping, this is no longer the case.”

Once again, we see the power free shipping/returns have over consumer behavior. That’s why few e-commerce stores can justify not finding a way to offer at least one to varying extents.

It also helps that a growing number of consumers have already made an initial successful online purchase. This obviously eases future concerns for a repeat buy. If you already know what specific size of Nike pants fit best, returning for the convenience of an online order becomes a thoughtless decision. 

But free shipping/returns and familiarity are factors slanted more toward the heavy hitters in apparel. What about those smaller e-commerce brands that can’t quite afford to compete with free two-day shipping and don’t yet have a large customer base? Where do they start? If they’re wise, they’ll pour efforts into becoming a direct-to-consumer powerhouse.

There are a growing number of direct-to-consumer brands, particularly in apparel, that are making major waves. These brands are certainly another driving force in e-commerce apparel growth. The best part: direct-to-consumer is a strategy any e-commerce store can enact. It’s typically very cost-effective and can obviously put a brand in great shape for the future.

If your store can afford it, use the best free shipping/returns plan possible. And if your store already has a large base of repeat buyers, congratulations. But if your brand is searching for a way to carve out some market share in apparel, start connecting with your target audience. Consumers are proving this is how you can thrive.