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Loyalty of Germany's Fashion Shoppers Divided Between Offline and Online

Four in five people buying clothes and shoes still make some physical purchases

When it comes to buying clothes, shoes and accessories, shoppers in Germany increasingly combine traditional and online channels in their paths to purchase, according to a July 2014 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Of the 1,000 adults in Germany polled, 51% said they had purchased fashion items from both physical and virtual stores in the previous six months. Nearly one in three (29%) had shopped just in brick-and-mortar stores. The remainder—one in five—were online-only buyers.

The internet was the go-to destination for product research. More than three-quarters (77%) of those polled said they compared products and prices online before they bought anywhere.

Where shoppers went to buy clothes, shoes, handbags and other accessories depended on several factors, PwC reported. Price headed this list; consumers gravitated to suppliers that offered the best value. But no one channel delivered that consistently. While 72% of respondents said they frequently visited physical stores during the summer sale period, to snap up bargains in person, 71% considered good value the primary criterion for shopping in-store—implying that if the price wasn’t low enough, they could well buy online. Six in 10 said that if they saw something they wanted in a shop, they often checked to see whether they could get it more cheaply on the web.

At the same time, small differences in price were not always decisive. Fully 74% of respondents agreed with the statement, “Sometimes I simply don’t care if I save a couple of euros; I buy something in a store and just take it home with me—it’s practical.”

Familiarity and location were other key factors in choosing where to shop. Well-known department store chains, such as C&A and H&M, were the most popular, cited by 14% and 11% of the sample, respectively, as their favorite places to buy clothes. And many consumers said they enjoyed going to city-center retailers—perhaps because of the relatively large product ranges on display, as well as the general buzz and other amenities, such as coffee shops and restaurants, available there. More than one-third (35%) of shoppers said they preferred going to a specific city-center store for fashion purchases, while 27% would opt for a shopping center, also in a central area.

Meanwhile, the number of consumers in Germany buying via digital channels continues to rise. eMarketer estimates that 44.4 million people in the country ages 14 and older will make at least one digital purchase this year—equivalent to nearly 80% of internet users in that age group.

The PwC study also revealed a clear opportunity for physical stores to raise their digital profile and attract customers with new mobile services. Over half of the adults polled said they would welcome the ability to use their smartphones to search for a store nearby. A similar number said they were attracted by the idea of using a phone to search for different sizes, colors or styles in another branch, and then having selected items sent to their local branch, or to their home, for trying-on. These services would likely boost the relatively small number of consumers in Germany who use their phones to shop. When Adobe sampled mobile device users in the country in March 2014, it found that only 27% had used such a device while shopping in-store during the previous three months.

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