The National Retail Federation recently raised its full-year sales forecast to a 3.4% increase, up from its initial 3.1% prediction. The results of a recent consumer survey commissioned by Onestop Internet (where I am president and CEO) suggest that apparel is playing a major role in this increasing rate of growth. Clothing ranked as the most purchased item across all channels.

The results also show that apparel is driving overall online retail growth:

  • 45% of respondents said they plan to buy more clothing online than any other retail category in the next 12 months
  • Of the 80% of respondents who reported making an apparel purchase within the last year, 75% said they've made a clothing purchase online
  • 52% of those who have made an online apparel purchase in the last year said they plan to purchase more clothing online in the next 12 months
  • 25% of respondents that did not make any online purchases within the last year said they plan to buy clothing online in the next 12 months

The fact that we're seeing shoppers who have never bought any product online planning to take that first step with apparel presents an exciting growth opportunity for online retailers. They should invest in their e-commerce strategies. Keeping in mind that these are shoppers who have never bought online before, it's important for retailers to keep their sites simple and easy to navigate. One negative experience might discourage this kind of shopper from buying online again, so it's critical that the site performs flawlessly.

Why are shoppers purchasing more apparel online?

In May, a Onestop commissioned survey found that 38% of respondents said finding the perfect fit while ordering apparel online is a challenge either every time or more than half the time they make a purchase. Consumer confidence in purchasing apparel online has improved for three reasons: 

  • Increasingly flexible return policies
  • The rise of the home try-on model
  • The emergence of new technologies that provide more accurate size guides.

Let's start by looking at the impact of a flexible return policy. Amazon has skyrocketed in popularity thanks largely to its fast shipping and easy return policies. Before Amazon, returning an online purchase wasn't simple. It often required both a trip to the post office and an added cost. With more online retailers offering free returns and providing a return shipping label with the initial purchase, it's easy to see why consumers are becoming more confident buying clothing online. They know if something doesn't fit correctly they can easily return it without an extra cost or time commitment.

Now let's consider the growing number of e-commerce sites that offer shoppers the option to try on something at home before purchasing. These include eyeglass retailer Warby Parker. Consumers can now return items that don't fit properly without charge. As such, the home try-on model goes beyond a flexible return policy in that consumers aren't charged until they've determined the item fits right. That offers substantial peace of mind.

Finally, more online retailers are partnering with companies that provide technology designed to offer shoppers a more accurate fit guide, like True Fit. Through its network of brand and retail partners, True Fit collects size and style details about millions of products and then provides tailored fit recommendations for each shopper based on his or her unique True Fit profile. This profile is based on a variety of physical attributes like torso length and stomach shape, and also asks each shopper to provide the size and brand info for his or her favorite items of clothing. That type of detailed profile enables True Fit to provide the best possible size recommendation for every purchase, which can dramatically improve consumer confidence. The concept also seems to be resonating with investors, as True Fit recently announced a $25 million series B funding round led by Jump Capital, Signal Peak Ventures and Intel Capital.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned. True Fit is a vendor partner of Onestop Internet.