October - December

Germans prefer to buy clothing in-store rather than online Consumer study: Greater dissatisfaction and more frequent returns with purchases online

Stuttgart . Only one in every ten Germans purchases their clothing primarily on the Internet. This is the result of a recent representative consumer analysis. The management consulting company Porsche Consulting GmbH commissioned a survey by the Forsa research institute of 1,000 women and men aged 18 or older. Although greater numbers of customers are ordering products online, local retail shops and branch outlets in the clothing sector may continue to expect their regular customers to remain loyal. Ninety percent of the respondents purchase their clothing and shoes either “exclusively” (49%) or “predominately” (41%) at actual shops instead of at the computer.

Porsche Consulting found that customers who purchase their clothing in-store are clearly much more satisfied than those who order it online. Only nine percent of in-store customers “sometimes” regret a clothing purchase. And only one percent are “frequently” annoyed about unfortunate purchases. By contrast, 40 percent of Internet customers either regret some of their orders or send them back right after receipt. Online clothing stores are flooded with product returns or exchange requests. Return rates of more than 20 percent are not infrequent. Women are more often dissatisfied with their online purchases than men: 48 percent regret the results of their online shopping “frequently” or at least “sometimes.” But only 32 percent of the men would prefer not to have made some of their orders.

Buying apparel is a delicate matter: Nine out of ten respondents want to examine shoes and clothing, try them on, and have them immediately after paying for them. This is only possible at physical shops. But here too there are significant differences. Customers clearly prefer shops that always carry products of the right sizes and preferred colors, or can promptly order them.

Classic shops can also score points with individualized expert sales advice. If a shop does not have a pair of shoes in the right size, for example, two out of three respondents (67%) would like to be told whether and how quickly it can be ordered. Ideally the shop should have well trained sales personnel who can order the product immediately – or recommend a suitable alternative. Assistance from sales personnel is especially well received by 76 percent of respondents aged 60 or older.

Senior citizens also have high expectations with respect to service in general. If sleeves are too long or trousers need to be modified, a good half (52%) of the over-60 age group would use a tailoring service right there at the shop. Loyalty programs, special offers for regular customers, and customer discount cards are also viewed positively, with 51 percent of women and 41 percent of men welcoming these types of satisfaction enhancement programs.

Commercial experts at Porsche Consulting view the results of this survey as a major opportunity for the in-store sector, especially in the clothing business, to maintain its advantage over online providers in the future as well. The prerequisites for this, however, consist of investing in the quality of their personnel’s advisory skills, in providing excellent service, and in having a high degree of product availability. “Skilled personnel represent one of the highest cost factors in retail,” says Eberhard Weiblen, Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche Consulting. “In our view that is not the place to cut back. We also frequently observe a need for action in the background: efficient warehousing and distribution can lower costs, increase availability, and enable the sector to compete successfully with online dealers over the long term.”

For example, at the beginning of the season not all goods need to be distributed to the individual branch outlets of a chain store. Instead some of them can be retained at a central location for rapid and flexible subsequent distribution. This eliminates high costs for decentralized warehousing at multiple different sales points. It also eliminates the need for stores to send goods among themselves. Specialists at Porsche Consulting estimate that this area alone carries a savings potential of 30 percent.

Using methods that have proven successful in the automobile industry, Porsche’s experts have already been able to produce measureable results for retail companies. For one retail chain, for example, the percentage of non-available products was reduced by as much as 50 percent. At the same time, its personnel was relieved of duties not related to advising customers, in order to have more time for that purpose. This significantly raised the percentage of people who found items to buy after entering the stores. The purchasing rate increased by one to two percent, and the customers spent up to six percent more.

Porsche Consulting GmbH headquartered in Bietigheim-Bissingen is a subsidiary of the Stuttgart-based sports car manufacturer Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG. Founded in 1994 with a staff of four, it currently – in its 20th year – employs around 370 people. An internationally active company with four subsidiaries of its own located in Milan (Italy), São Paulo (Brazil), Atlanta (USA), and Shanghai (China), Porsche Consulting is one of Germany’s leading management consulting companies. Its experts in operational excellence advise corporations and medium-sized companies worldwide in the automotive, aviation and aerospace, and mechanical and plant engineering industries. Additional clients come from the service, consumer goods, retail, and construction sectors.