e-male order: Buying clothes on the net is no longer just for girls

By Josh Sims
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:35

Internet shopping might always have suited the reluctant male shopper – he could stay seated, beer in one hand, keyboard at the other, and shop from the comfort of his armchair at any time of day or night. However, it is only recently that men have outpaced women in their use of online shopping.

Internet shopping might always have suited the reluctant male shopper – he could stay seated, beer in one hand, keyboard at the other, and shop from the comfort of his armchair at any time of day or night. However, it is only recently that men have outpaced women in their use of online shopping.

A survey by management consultants Accenture suggests that most men (56 per cent) today prefer shopping online to the high street, and now premium fashion sites are responding.

"Shopping for fashion online is a new experience for many men – they have to be educated to convert to it and, unlike women, the media hasn't been busy bombarding them with 'the new look' on a weekly basis," says Ali Khan, founder of menalamode.com, a site set up as a men's alternative to net-a-porter.com. "Lots of retailers have been reluctant to cater online to the male fashion customer when women have been so ready to buy online. But it's changing."

Certainly, internet fashion retail is booming, with, according to market researchers Nielsen, 36 per cent of consumers with internet access having bought clothes, footwear or accessories online in the last quarter of 2007, almost double the figure two years ago. That suggests fashion is second only to books as the most popular internet purchase.

"Initially the internet was considered more of a male, technological space," says Tamar Kasriel, director of consumer forecasting agency Futureal, "although it was the women who were shopping-literate, so the playing field was level. But with broadband the fashion-shopping experience has improved and moved closer to the kind you might have in-store. Men are catching up with fashion shopping online as quickly as they are on the High Street."

Women think of fashion shopping as a sociable recreation activity. Men's shopping habits, however, are still driven by the hunter instinct; they have a good idea what they want and they want to secure it as effortlessly as possible and, with internet's price-comparison sites a help, for the best deal possible.

"Many men just don't like that one-to-one sales treatment you get in-store too. They find it embarrassing, or they just don't like the hassle of shopping," adds Stacey Smith, menswear buyer for independent fashion chain Matches and matchesfashion.com. "That makes web shopping ideal for them."

Men are even finding their style advice online, as the likes of styleedit.com, the self-described "Yellow Pages of menswear", might suggest.

"Besides which," adds Alastair Rae, co-founder of menswear label Albam, which launched an online store (www.albamclothing.com) before opening its first real-world boutique, "men are also inherently lazy when it comes to shopping for clothes. They won't devote what little free time they have to shopping, as women may do, so being able to pick something online at 5pm and get it by lunchtime next day has an obvious appeal. And when men find something they really like, they tend to buy it over and over, so the internet is the perfect way to do so. You know your size, you see the colour, job done."

But internet retailing is also working for the new breed of man who is actively interested in leftfield fashion but, perhaps not living in one of the bigger cities, cannot find what he wants on the local High Street.

"A lot of what we sell online or in-store we're either the first to do so in the UK or one of very few places where you can get it," says Steve Sanderson, co-founder of Oi Polloi, the Manchester independent menswear store and internet retailer.

Sites like oilpolloi's, laundryroom.co.uk, or microzine.co.uk, for example, are more able to offer specialist, hard-to-find menswear labels. Yoox.com, similarly, is seeking extra cred with the male online shopper through special design collaborations with the likes of edgy designers Bernard Willhelm and Jeremy Scott.

"Men are more interested in online fashion retailing, and fashion retailers are more interested in it too because the whole product offering in menswear is changing. Men are increasingly after clothes and brands that are much more particular," comments Rae. "Online retailing is an essential part of being a modern menswear brand now and you can see all the very big brands starting to address it."

"The men's online fashion market is where the action will be in fashion shopping," reckons Chris Lake, editor-in-chief of internet business research company E-Consultancy, which has worked with the likes of online fashion store oki-ni.com – a company that, knowing where the future lies, recently switched over to being a menswear-only site.

"There's still plenty of opportunity for start-ups: more than ever men are looking for interesting clothes. And the internet is the best way of finding them and buying them."

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