Apparel Sector Struggles as Ecommerce Gains

Amazon plays a larger role in shoe and clothing sales, activewear continues to rise

Recent data releases from The NPD Group and Coresight Research signal a variety of trends driving the apparel market, but the growth of ecommerce is the most significant.

According to a report from The NPD Group, US apparel sales declined 2% in 2017 from the prior year, falling to $215 billion. By contrast, ecommerce apparel sales grew 4% to make up 21% of total apparel sales, reflecting consumers' growing comfort with buying clothing and shoes online. 

Amazon, of course, is the key disrupting factor in the marketplace. Its impact is apparent in January 2018 data from Coresight Research (formerly Fung Global Retail & Technology), which indicates that Amazon became the second most-shopped retailer for clothing or footwear in the US last year, edging out Target by a hair. 

Retailers that US Internet Users Have Purchased Clothing/Footwear from in the Past 12 Months

1. Walmart - 41.8%
2. Amazon - 37.4%
3. Target - 37.3%
4. Kohl's - 32.9%
4. T.J.Maxx/Marshalls - 25.3%
Source: Coresight Research, January 2018

The survey also suggested that Target is being hurt the most by shoppers switching to Amazon. Of the respondents who said they were spending more of their apparel budget at Amazon compared with three years ago, 30.3% said that budget had shifted from Target. For Walmart, the figure was 24.9%. Kohl's (23.5%) and Macy's (23.1%) also saw a fair amount of attrition.

The NPD data pointed up the continuing importance of athleisure, particularly in women's apparel. In 2017, activewear sales increased 2% to $48 billion, making up 22% of total apparel industry sales. Meanwhile, sales of women's activewear grew 4%. 

"Categories like active apparel bottoms, undershirts, and swimwear ... are the few sources of consistent, long-term growth in today’s apparel market," said Marshal Cohen, NPD's chief industry advisor.

Another apparel trend highlighted was lower spending per online shopping session. Citing data from Slice Intelligence, NPD reported that online clothing purchase frequency increased in 2017, but digital buyers spent 5% less each time they shopped.