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Emerging Consumer Trends

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Consumers have more options for clothing, apparel, and shoes than ever before—and, with the recent rise in online retailers, some new challenges have emerged for shoppers.
happy man opening up a package of shoes

Consumers have more options for clothing, apparel, and shoes than ever before—and, with the recent rise in online retailers, some new challenges have emerged for shoppers. In a recent Radial Research survey, we found that: 

  • 36% of online shoppers have faced delayed delivery  
  • 24% of online shoppers have experience high delivery costs 
  • 19% of online shoppers have experienced damaged packaging 

Not only that, but user experiences across clothing and apparel brands can vary widely. From decoding digital size charts to navigating varied return policies, many consumers are struggling to navigate the ever-changing online apparel industry—and, amidst an uncertain economic climate, retailers need to be prepared for changing consumer behavior.  

We recently asked consumers about their online shopping habits for clothing and apparel, footwear, and accessories to identify patterns and shifts in consumer trends, and arm retailers with decision-ready data in an increasingly competitive e-commerce landscape. Here’s what we found. 

Where are consumers shopping? 

Understanding where consumers shop for clothing and apparel is critical for retailers—and can have a big impact on shipping timelines, shipping costs, and consumer expectations. Our research found that consumer preferences were vastly different across both age groups and verticals.  

When it comes to clothing, over 60% of Millennials and Gen Z shoppers prefer to purchase directly from a brand or retailer’s website, while only 45% of Gen X and 28% of baby boomers prefer this option. Marketplaces like Amazon, Walmart, and others were also significantly more popular among Gen X (54%) and Millennials (56%) over other groups. In fact, 50% of baby boomers and 37% of Generation X still prefer to shop for clothing in-store. 

Shoes were a bit more evenly split, with most Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X shoppers buying from either a brand or retailer’s site or a marketplace like Amazon or Walmart. Notably, 56% of baby boomers still prefer to shop for shoes in stores. 

Jewelry was the one area where shopping in stores is still popular for all ages. While ~40% of Gen Z and Millennials are comfortable buying jewelry either directly from a brand’s website or a marketplace like Amazon or Walmart, the majority of respondents across demographics say they rarely order jewelry or accessories online. In fact, 68% of baby boomers, 46% of Generation X, and ~30% of both Millennials and Gen Z still prefer to shop for jewelry in person. The long-standing preference toward IRL shopping experiences for jewelry and other large purchases is well aligned with recent trends around “quiet luxury,” and the elevated experiences consumers expect for more expensive purchases.  

The Continued Rise of Fast Fashion and Quiet Luxury 

Fast fashion and quiet luxury items have often been at odds with each other in the clothing and apparel market. While quiet luxury leans into timeless, more expensive staple pieces, fast fashion promotes trendy, cheaper options for quick wardrobe updates. But, according to consumers, that’s quickly changing in the age of modern online retail. 

More and more, consumers are balancing their wardrobes with a mix of both luxury staples and fast fashion pieces. In a survey this spring, we found that purchases in each category are driven by a mix of economics, personal values, and social pressures: 

Values that drive quiet luxury purchases:  

  • 76% quality of materials  
  • 67% timeless and classic styles  
  • 66% brand reputation  
  • 57% sustainability practices   

Values that drive fast fashion purchases:  

  • 62% shopping convenience and accessibility  
  • 59% trendiness and fashion forward  
  • 58% price and affordability  
  • 54% social influence  

As you can see in the charts above, a wide mix of factors drive choices between quiet luxury and fast fashion—and shoppers are actively buying from both categories.   

How often do shoppers buy clothes online? 

Keeping a pulse on how often consumers are buying items can help online clothing and apparel retailers prepare for seasonal surges, trend-driven spikes, and other sudden upticks in orders. 

Our research found that 44% of consumers order clothing online every few months. On top of that, 39% said they tend to shop even more often, making monthly or even clothing purchases—of those monthly shoppers, +70% were Millennials or Gen Z with an equal split across genders. Shoes are the second most popular apparel item for online shoppers, with 29% of respondents ordering shoes every few months and 18% ordering monthly.  

Seasonal trends are also critical for retailers to track as they plan sales and prepare for spikes in purchasing. For example, now that summer is nearly halfway through, many shoppers are starting to think about back-to-school shopping soon—and retailers will need to prepare accordingly. In our survey, 37% of respondents said they had children and, of those, 61% said they start shopping for back-to-school clothing, apparel, and shoes in July or August. As the summer comes to a close, retailers should prepare for surges in kid’s apparel, children’s shoes, and other back to school essentials. 

How To Delight Online Shoppers 

As retailers are assessing all of these evolving trends, it’s critical for teams to know what matters most to shoppers and which changes will have the most impact on their experience. Here are a few strategies retailers can leverage to delight shoppers. 

Cost of Shipping vs Speed of Delivery 

For most consumers (44%), the cost of shipping is the most important factor to consider when purchasing clothing, shoes, and apparel online. Which makes sense—according to Radial Research, inflation is a key concern for consumers. In a recent survey, 61% of consumers believe that inflation has worsened over the last 6 months. With that, price sensitivity has also increased significantly over the past year. In May 2024, 84% of consumers reported some level of price sensitivity—of that, 38% reported being much more sensitive to price changes and significantly changing their shopping habits as a result. As consumers are watching prices climb and monitoring their household budgets closely, they’re less open to extra fees—and that includes shipping costs.  

But consumers don’t just want free shipping—they want fast shipping, too. 34% of respondents selected speed of delivery as the most important factor when purchasing these items online. Across verticals, over 30% of consumers expect their orders on their doorstep within 3-4 days— and 15-20% expect products to arrive within 1-2 days. Even when shipping is free, only ~30% of respondents would be willing to wait longer. The remaining 70% of consumers expect their packages to arrive within the 3-4 day window or sooner— no matter what. 

The ongoing demands for fast, free shipping require brands and retailers to aim for the near impossible— and the barriers that retailers face when trying to deliver both at a profitable price point can seem insurmountable. Increasingly, retailers are relying on 3PL partners like Radial to streamline last -mile delivery processes to trim costs, speed up shipping timelines, and ensure packages arrive on time. Instead of building supply chains from scratch, they rely on Radial’s comprehensive transportation solutions and diverse network of national and regional carrier partners to meet customer expectations—and keep them coming back. 

Shoppers Love User Generate Content 

Many of the tactile elements of shopping are lost in the online shopping experience, leaving consumers struggling to make confident purchasing decisions. To fill that gap, many users are relying on other shoppers to give them the inside scoop on products before they buy. 

User generated content (UGC), like reviews and photos, were the most sought-after feature to enhance consumers’ online shopping experience, with 56% of consumers ranking this as their favorite. Size recommendations were a close second, with 51% of respondents ranking this as the most helpful feature when shopping online.  

Your Go To 3PL Partner for Online Retail 

The overall rise in online shopping, particularly for younger generations, underscores the need for crisp digital shopping experiences, from click to delivery.  

As the industry’s largest 3PL provider, Radial supports thousands of retailers as they navigate changing consumer trends across industries and strive to provide quick, affordable shipping options for their customers. From inventory management and order fulfillment, to transportation management and final mile optimization, Radial plays a key role in enabling brands to profitably exceed customer expectations and maximize their efficiency. 

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