A new report from Mintel finds dissatisfaction rife among today's British female shoppers.

Latest research from Mintel questioning 2,274 women aged 15 and over, highlights the frustration experienced by the majority of British female clothes shoppers.

Size presents the greatest issue, with over 40 per cent of female consumers seeking a wider range of sizes. A further 35 per cent would like to see better stock availability of their size. Frustration peaks among those aged 55-64, with almost 50 per cent of this group looking for a greater range of sizing. By contrast, it is the younger 15-19 age group, which is most likely at 21 per cent to feel that they are an unusual size and height, and consequently have trouble getting things to fit.

In general, today's women are bored with the clothes shopping experience. "Our research points towards a general lack of innovation in terms of store design and the clothes themselves" comments Dominique Allport, Retail Consultant.

Changing the rooms
The next most common frustration after sizing is the quality of changing rooms.

This confirms the importance of trying on garments prior to purchase to ensure they fit and look good. Changing rooms are of particular concern to almost 40 per cent of the younger 15-19 age group. Around three in 10 would also like it to be easier to return goods.

Having more helpful staff is a request made by many, though this is of particular concern among consumers living in London. "Retailers must pay attention to this, as this is one of the most important aspects of the service that they can offer consumers. It is simply not good enough for staff to stand around and not be helpful in the stores," said Dominique Allport.

Overall, only 29 per cent of women claimed they actually really enjoy shopping for clothes, these consumers fall mainly into the 15-24 age group and pre-family lifestage. Few British females claim to be victims of fashion, with only 12 per cent of women aiming to keep up with the latest fashions.

Everyone loves a bargain
Bargain hunting remains a major characteristic of the womenswear market, as consumers have become used to being able to find clothes at reduced prices.

Almost half of all women questioned stated that they look for a bargain when they shop for clothes. Although the bargain hunters can be found across all age and social groups, there are a noticeable higher proportion among those living in Scotland and the North West of England.

By contrast, less than one in five look for the lowest prices when shopping and just 14 per cent state price is more important than fashion.

The fashion consumers in the UK marketplace have never been more demanding. At the value end of the market there are consumers seeking out clothes at low prices, for themselves and their families. These customers are finding the value for money that they want in Matalan, TJ Hughes and other similar stores.

Meantime, young fashionable consumers, looking for a new outfit to reflect the latest fashions, have opted not to invest too much in their clothes, knowing that they will not remain in fashion for long. They are seeking out clothes from the likes of New Look and MK One, retailers that offer up-to-date styling at very keen prices. For the rest there has been a drift into brands.

Discounters - a winning formula
The market for womenswear is becoming increasingly competitive in the UK. Competition has heightened with the growth of the low-price/discount sector, and the encroachment of the major supermarkets.

Women have become more promiscuous in terms of their clothes shopping, there is now more choice on the high street than ever. "When consumers require an item of clothing, they no longer just think of Marks & Spencer. Women are more willing to shop around, delaying purchasing and seeking out bargains," said Ms Allport.

The most successful retailers in the womenswear market as a whole have been the low-price value and discount retailers. These companies - particularly Matalan - have fared well, growing market share by offering low-price fashions in convenient and pleasant store surroundings. However, even this sector has begun to show signs of strain. Profit growth has become harder to achieve as the market has become intensely competitive.

A promising future?
Future market growth in womenswear is unlikely to be significant. Consumers are now spending more of their disposable income on holidays, mobile phones, DIY and financial products. Consequently, clothing retailers have been progressively feeling the squeeze.

Those retailers that succeed in womenswear will have to work harder and be clever about the way they develop their business image and their branding strategy. The basics all require attention to detail so that customer service is optimised. Sizes must be in stock, replenishment systems must optimise the use of the merchandise, and cost controls should be rigorous. The thorny issue of attracting the right staff for customer-facing roles never go away. "Staff are the greatest variable cost in a retail business and it is tempting to cut back on the front-end personnel, employing lower-grade people on low wages.

However, if retail multiples are to succeed, they must invest in the right people and then train them properly so that they present a strong corporate image to customers," said Ms Allport.

'Womenswear Mainstream Retailing' is available from Mintel. Visit www.mintel.com for more details.