June 14, 2002, 12:00 AM

Apparel takes over as the leading online category, Retail Forward reports

Between 25% and 30% of online consumers now purchase some type of clothing online in any given month, says a new report, exceeding the percentage buying books, the traditional category leader.

The apparel category has taken over as the leading category among online shoppers, reports the just released Shopper Update: Softgoods from Columbus, OH-based consultants Retail Forward Inc.

Between 25% and 30% of online consumers now purchase some type of clothing online in any given month, says the report, exceeding the percentage buying books, the traditional category leader in any month.

The items experiencing the most rapid growth of online purchases are what Retail Forward describes as softgoods basics--athletic clothing, sleepwear, undergarments--men’s softgoods, including clothing, shoes, and accessories, and women’s costume jewelry, cosmetics and fragrances.

Interestingly, of 33 softgoods categories identified by Retail Forward, the category in which the most online consumers have made purchases in the past year is fine jewelry, at 19%. The next highest is women’s casual clothing at 16%.

“Although the Internet hype has died down, its importance for retailers continues to grow,” Retail Forward concludes. “The Internet is a viable shopping and purchasing option for a growing share of softgoods shoppers. This is particularly true for certain sectors of softgoods retailing, including basic apparel categories, most footwear categories, and men’s clothing and accessories.”

Retail Forward also reports that consumers’ satisfaction with the online channel is rising. Fully 83% of online buyers say they are happy with their buying experience. While that rate is two percentage points below the 85% recorded in 1999, the universe today is greater. In 1999, 51% of the population had access to the Internet. In 2001, 63% had Internet access.

Retail Forward also reports that much online shopping is incremental: 31% of respondents said their online purchases were purchases they would not have made otherwise.

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