The Key Influence on Fashion Purchases that Marketers May Be Overlooking

29 Nov, 2016, by Neil Cunningham

What is the biggest influence on fashion purchases?

TV? Direct mail? Magazines? Maybe even social media? No, none of those. According to bespoke research company Populus, it’s online reviews.

In their study – the result of online interviews with 2,013 GB adults – 59% of fashion shoppers said online reviews influenced their purchase decision. That compared to 43% who said they were by influenced by TV, another 43% who mentioned direct mail, 40% who cited magazines/magazine articles and 30% social media.

In terms of demographics, women were more likely to be influenced by online reviews than men (63% vs. 55%), and younger people were more susceptible than older people (77% 18-24s vs. 44% of 65+s).

The good news for fashion retailers is that people are much more likely to write positive reviews than negative. Of those that had written online reviews, 81% claimed their last review was mainly positive. Populus’s research found that women were more likely to write positive reviews than men (77% vs. 68%) and men were more likely to write neutral reviews than women (24% vs. 7%). Neither men or women were very likely to write negative reviews (7% vs. 6%).

Of course, for fashion shoppers to say they’re influenced by online reviews is one thing, but is it reflected in their purchase behaviour? Populus investigated this in their study too.

They did this by splitting their sample into 4 groups, and showing them an online product page for a universally popular fashion item. Each group saw a page with a different balance of positive and negative reviews and were asked if they would purchase the item. Using this methodology, Populus found that reviews did indeed have a marked influence on fashion purchases.

A product page with a higher proportion of positive reviews than negative delivered a 20% uplift in sales. The page with a higher proportion of negative reviews saw a 33% decline in sales. Both impacts were marked, and the study would suggest that negative reviews are more influential on behaviour than positive ones.

Clearly, reviews are important, but other than focusing on delivering a high quality product and experience, can retailers do anything to influence them? Populus’s report had 3 pieces of advice.

Firstly, retailers shouldn’t be afraid to feature reviews on their site – even when some of those reviews are likely to be negative. Over half (54%) of those who browse online or in-store for fashion items said they would be more likely to shop with a retailer that provides alot of helpful product reviews on its website.

Secondly, retailers should encourage positive reviews by offering incentives – 57% of consumers said they’d be more likely to write a review if they were entered into a prize draw, and 79% said they would if offered money off (15-20%) their next purchase.

Finally, retailers should react decisively to negative reviews – a behaviour which mitigates the impact of that review and reflects positively on the retailer’s reputation. The key behaviours that were expected by consumers were speed, responding publicly (rather than trying to divert the complaint into another, discrete channel) and responding with an offer of remuneration.

Online reviews can may seem like an area of peripheral importance for fashion marketers as many will believe they can do very little to influence them. But Populus’s research has demonstrated that – by taking a proactive approach – they can encourage positive reviews, mitigate the impact of negative reviews and by doing so, have a positive impact on sales and brand reputation.

TV, direct mail and magazine campaigns may command more attention, but this research suggests that getting the approach to reviews right may be much more important to the business’s bottom line.