Will apparel and footwear sales ever fly onthe Internet? That’s the question vendors and merchants are asking themselves as theysee consumers actively using the Internet to buy books, cars, and even make travelarrangements. While most consumers are not buying apparel and footwear via the computertoday, the clothing market place promises to heat up as the Internet increasinglyinfluences the way people live.

While apparel and footwear sales may belagging, electronic commerce overall is booming. Global Internet shopping in 1997 was anestimated $2.4 billion, and by the year 2000 it is projected to rise to $7 to $10 billion.The potential for Internet sales is staggering:

  • There are 68.5 million Internet users worldwide, up from 34.6 million in 1996. By 2000 there will be an estimated 163 million
  • The number of Internet shoppers has reached almost 14 million and by 2001 should hit 41.9 million in the U.S. and 68.4 million worldwide
  • Forty percent of U.S. households have computers
  • Forty-seven percent of web buyers make repeat purchases

Many major retailers like J.C. Penney,Sears, Wal-Mart and Nordstrom have gotten their feet wet with web sites with varyingdegrees of success, but few have found it profitable. On-line apparel shopping has provenmost dependable with basic and commodity items, allowing shoppers to purchase goods theyknow and trust. The Gap has been recognized for having one of the most detailed andeffective web sites of any apparel retail/manufacturer. Catalog retailers specializing inbasic products that consumers know well, such as Lands’ End, LL Bean and Eddie Bauer,may be most suited to succeed on the web.

Apparel and footwear companies do face afew obstacles with marketing on the Internet today. One challenge is the poor quality ofthe product pictures on the web. Many fashion industry sites appear rudimentary, and it isdifficult to get a real sense of what the product actually looks like. For that reason,companies are using their web sites more for corporate image building, product informationand advertising.

Another challenge is that women are thebiggest consumers of apparel and footwear, yet the Internet users are primarily men. Untilwomen become more comfortable with shopping via the computer, sales will be limited.

Once some of these obstacles are overcome,apparel and footwear companies should find more profits coming from web sales. Printcatalog sales already generate 6% of U.S. apparel sales – a testimony to the factthat consumers are looking for ways to convenience shop. And for the convenience ofshopping in their own home, consumers are willing to forgo touching and seeing a productin person. Internet shopping will be a huge part of the future – but right now, we’reonly on the frontier.