We're buying more clothes online now

By Mark Albright, Times Staff Writer
Published May 14, 2007

For the first time, people this year are spending more money on clothes and shoes on the Web than computer hardware, peripherals and software, says a study out today. While only 7 percent of retail transactions are online, shop.org, the industry's largest trade group, forecasts sales will rise 18 percent to $175-billion this year based on results from the 200 biggest online retailers. That excludes $85-billion in travel bookings.

That's slower growth than 2006, when sales rose 25 percent to $147-billion. Nonetheless, online purchases will exceed 10 percent of 13 major spending categories with the addition this year of apparel/footwear, flowers/cards and movie tickets. The stunning 61 percent growth in apparel, accessories and footwear sales in 2006 was a milestone.

"It shows online shopping has gone mainstream vs. the old audience that was dominantly high-income, tech-savvy males buying computer equipment, " said Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc.

Several developments eased shopper resistance to ordering goods without touching fabric or trying them on: free shipping for delivery and returns, uncensored customer reviews and new Web site tools that capitalize on half of households having broadband capability. That includes full-motion video, customized modeling and zoom-in features.

Shifting to online shopping

While apparel sales now outpace computer sales online, most people still buy their clothes in a store. But almost half of them buy their computers online. Here's a look at what percentage of sales in certain categories are expected to be conducted online this year:

Category Percent

Computer hardware/software 44

Travel 34

Books 23

Music/video 20

Baby products 18

Apparel/footwear 10

Home furnishings 9

Auto/auto parts 2

Food/beverage 1

All retail except travel 7

Source: Shop.org/Forrester Research