The internet is playing an integral part in driving growth in mens apparel

The internet is playing an integral part in driving growth in men's apparel

As the digital platform continues to bring about sweeping changes in the global apparel arena, Ashma Kunde, apparel research analyst at Euromonitor International, looks at the role the internet has played in driving the boom in the men's wear market.

With men's apparel witnessing a global renaissance, brands at every price point from Prada to Primark are seeking to capitalise on this dynamic growth category, which is weathering the poor macroeconomic climate and outperforming its female counterpart.

Although a global phenomenon, the trend is most salient in the US, the world's largest apparel market. According to Euromonitor International, the US men's clothing market grew by 5.3% year-on-year in 2011, compared to just 1.4% for women's clothing.

The power of the internet
Internet retailing holds a strong appeal for men. They are not necessarily driven to the internet because of its value proposition, but rather because it is more suited to their shopping habits.

Men are not inclined to spend hours in stores as for them the shopping experience is less about exploration and more about being informed about what they should be buying.

The internet allows them to access information and advice with relative ease and peace, without being hassled by crowds or shop assistants. This trend is salient at the high end of the market as the online platform allows men to look at designer brands away from the intimidation of luxury stores.

The channel essentially gives them a time-saving solution to the "chore" of shopping, and in this sense may have contributed to the rise in men's wear sales.

Both pure-play internet retailers and multi-channel brands have recognised the potential of the internet for men's wear. Notably, designer men's wear site Mr Porter was launched in early 2011 on the basis that men's shopping should not be marginalised as a subcategory of women's wear as simply a tab on a website or a section of a store.

Gilt Groupe also launched a full-priced designer men's wear site last year - Park & Bond. Luxury brands Giorgio Armani, Ermenegildo Zegna, Selfridges, Neiman Marcus and Saks now all have e-tail operations focusing on the men's category.

Internet retailing is more consequence than cause
Although internet retailing has inevitably fostered growth in men's wear sales, it cannot be credited with the wider evolution of the men's apparel market as sales growth has been evident across all retail channels.

Apparel brands have been pushing their men's wear offering in the physical retail sphere too.

Department stores have been dedicating an increasing amount of store space to men's collections. And British low-priced retailer Primark is aspiring to grow its men's wear range and opened a men's wear concession in upmarket department store Selfridges in 2011.

Designer brands such as Burberry are also opening standalone men's wear stores. This physical presence enables traditionally female-focused brands, such as Jimmy Choo, to signal the credibility of their men's wear offering, increasing brand awareness in a competitive environment.

This suggests that men favour shopping in locations which cater directly for their needs - be it online or offline. In fact, internet sales continue to be eclipsed by traditional bricks-and-mortar stores.

According to Euromonitor International data, in 2011 some 93% of men's clothing sales derived from store-based retailing, with 51% coming from apparel specialist retailers. In comparison, internet retailing accounted for a 5.1% share.

Despite being ideally suited to men's shopping habits, the channel is likely to continue to be more important to women when it comes to clothing purchases in the future.

The educational prowess of the world wide web
The men's wear boom can be explained by the larger paradigm shift in male consumer attitudes.

Societal consent and workplace competitiveness have made men want to invest more in their personal grooming and appearance. Once considered the realm of women, fashion is now on a par with function for men when making clothing purchase decisions. Although not as fickle as women when it comes to seasonal trends, men have demonstrated a willingness to experiment with patterns, prints and colours.

The online sphere has been paramount in fuelling this confidence. It provides a wealth of information about style trends and brands, informing men about what to wear and how to wear it. They are able to ask questions and seek advice anonymously, without seeming ignorant.

Aside from blogs and magazine sites, e-tailers are also fulfilling this need by incorporating editorial content on their sites. GiltMan.com produces style guides such as the 'gilt MANual' to complement its flash-sale site, while GQ editors curate top items for Park & Bond and Mr Porter has dedicated 'What to Wear' and 'Style Help' sections on its site.

The future looks bright for men's wear
It is evident that the internet is playing an integral part in driving growth in men's apparel thanks to being both an educational and transactional platform.

According to a Euromonitor International survey on consumer online activities, 21% of men in the US read reviews online at least once a week, compared to 14% of women. Men are also more likely to visit online news sites and 'wiki' communities, highlighting the value they place on the internet as a source of information.

Furthermore, 10.6% of men in the US buy a physical item (excluding groceries) online at least once a week compared to just 4.8% of women. As such, any apparel player wanting to capitalise on the shifting male attitudes towards fashion will have to maximise the power of the internet to fuel business growth.