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Outdoor clothing
June/July 2011

Outdoor clothing buying trends:

The polar habits of men and women

When it comes to the two genders, different factors influence consumers’ buying habits. CARIN HARDISTY asked what would influence men and women when they buy outdoor clothing

Men and women think rather differently when it comes to how they shop. This has been shown in various surveys across the years. But, what exactly influences them to make the buying commitment? And what holds the most sway? If a consumer is standing with two items of outdoor clothing, deciding between the two… what makes them choose the one over the other?

Also, if you were to target one gender over the other, what should you be stocking in your store? What factors should you consider when looking at ordering your stock?

Sports Trader asked retailers who sell outdoor clothing which factor (brand, colour, price, styling or technology) has the biggest influence when consumers make purchasing decisions.

Women are style and price conscious

For women, the styling and the price are the number one factors when deciding what outdoor garment to buy.

A quarter (25%) of respondents indicated that women consider the styling of the outdoor garment the most important deciding factors when they are considering if they will buy the garment.

Stereotypically women are supposed to be most concerned with styling, so it is not really that surprising that the look of the garment will play the biggest role in deciding whether women will buy it or not.

Consumers tend to look for lots of pockets, zip-off legs, removable hoods and hydration sleeves. Anything that will give them “more value for less buck”, says Dave Evans of Drifters Adventure Centre. They also look for details, prints, trims, etc.

Women tend to be price conscious and therefore it makes sense that the price of the garment would play a big role in decision making. A quarter of the respondents indicated that women consider the price important when making up their minds.

Considering that styling is the biggest decision making factor for women, you might expect the colour of the garment to be equally important when women make buying decisions. Not so. The colour of the outdoor garment is one of the least important factors, with only 13% of respondents saying the colour of a garment is important when women make their buying decisions.

However, the highest number (31%) of respondents say it is the second most important factor for their customers buying outdoor clothing. Therefore, while few people would consider colour as the main deciding factor, it is still strongly considered after styling and price have been looked at.

Technology does not hold too much sway for female buyers. With only 13% of respondents indicating that technology is the most important factor when making a buying decision, it ties with colour as the least likely to be the most important deciding factor.

While colour is still a strong secondary importance factor, only 6% of respondents indicated technology as a secondary deciding factor.

So what about the brand? Does it have as much influence over women’s buying decisions in the world of outdoor clothing as it has in the fashion and even sport clothing worlds? Yes… and no.

This was the factor indicated as an influence on buying patterns by the second highest number of respondents (following styling and price). Therefore, the brand would sometimes play a role when women buy outdoor clothing, but not at other times. The brand is, however, not the key factor to base your sales strategy around.

Most respondents indicated that the brand would rather be a strong secondary or third placed consideration (25% indicated second, 25% indicated third).

The outdoor market is evolving rapidly, says Andrew Baxter (technical merchandise manager for Cape Union Mart), and the market is being revolutionised by the participants in outdoor active sports — such as trail running, mountain biking, adventure racing, etc. — who “tend to be more brand conscious and place more value on brand perceptions than, say, the traditional hiking or camping end-user.”

Men buy on technology

When we say men and women think differently, we should actually say men and women think completely oppositely, poles apart, when making purchasing decisions about outdoor clothing.

For men technology is tied with colour as the number one decision influencer, while technology and colour are the least likely to be the main factors considered by female consumers.

More than a third (35%) of respondents indicated that technology is the most important factor that will convince male consumers to buy a garment. This would suggest that men are more likely than women to buy outdoor garments for a specific activity, and that women perhaps are more likely to buy outdoor garments for leisurewear.

While colour is one of the factors least likely to convince women to buy a garment, it is one of the factors that are the most likely to convince men. Most (35%) of respondents indicated that colour is the most important factor that sways men’s buying decisions.

Before you rush out and fill your clothing section with colourful items, it doesn’t mean that men specifically look for colours. It might be that bright colour is an anti-factor — one that will put them off.

Blacks and greys always outsell bright colours by an average of two to one, says Evans. “Tourists love khaki too.” Therefore, should a consumer be stuck deciding between two identical garments, where the only difference is their colours, they will normally go for the darker, more neutral colour.

However, the colour preference also depends on what the garment will be used for. Consumers who are buying garments to wear when participating in an environment where it might be difficult to see them, might rather opt for brighter colours that will be highly visible, for example reds or oranges, advises Matt Tibenham of Drifters Xtreme Sports in Cape Town.

Evans points out that the younger consumer is moving more towards the garish colours.

The international trend is towards colour, says Baxter. While the outdoor market is always behind on the fashion trends, the shift in sportswear to bolder and brighter colours is influencing younger outdoor consumers, says Baxter. “We should see a colour revolution in the next 6-18 months.” However, he adds, the traditional South African outdoor consumer is still very conservative.

Styling and price are the least important factors for men — while they are the most important for women. Only 12% of respondents said that male consumers will buy an outdoor garment based on its styling or price. However, the price is the most likely factor (29%) to be a secondary consideration. So, while price is not the main decider for men, it still plays a big role.

Men consider the brand name more important when buying a garment than women do. While only 19% of respondents indicated that women will buy based on the brand name, 24% indicated that men will.

Isolating technical buyers

The above results are from retail respondents who stock both technical and leisure outdoor clothing. When you isolate responses from retailers who only stock technical outdoor clothing (and not leisure outdoor clothes as well), the responses are quite different.

Here, women are equally influenced by styling and technology. Most (50%) of the respondents indicated that women consider styling and technology as the most important factor.

This is possibly because the type of consumer who shops at a specialist technical outdoor clothing store is more likely to know about technology, or be more open to hearing about the benefits of technology, than those who shop at stores that stock leisure and technical garments.

When comparing the preferences of male consumers when shopping at stores that only sell technical outdoor clothing and those stores that sell both technical and leisure outdoor clothing, the results aren’t so drastically different. Three quarter of respondents who only sell technical clothing indicated it is the most important factor for men.

Price is the next biggest factor, say 25% of respondents, that will sway men to buy an outdoor garment.

While the brand name is not one of the number one deciding factors for either the men or women, it is the biggest secondary factor when they buy technical outdoor clothing. Half of respondents indicated that the brand name is the biggest secondary consideration for both men and women.

There is a marked difference between Cape Town and Johannesburg, says Tibenham. Cape Town consumers are a lot less aware of brands than those in Johannesburg.

He adds that many Capetownians do not even realise that First Ascent and Capestorm are South African brands; or alternatively they might realise that the one is, but not the other.

Are consumers aware of technology?

Outdoor brands like to promote the technology in their clothing, but how aware are consumers? Do they even care?

Consumers aren’t too clued up on technology in the garments some specialist retailers believe.

“You have to explain the differences in technologies to the consumer,” says Tibenham. “They know about the basics, like moisture management, but no further.”

However, once the technology is explained, the consumer is more than willing to spend a bit extra on an item that has more technology in when they see the need for it.

“There is so much technology out there that even I battle to keep up,” says Evans. “To the average consumer a fleece is a fleece is a fleece. Is it warm? Yes. Staff in my store spend a vast amount of time per sale explaining benefits, etc.”

There is a growing awareness about technological advances as consumers are more exposed to international brands and merchandise, says Baxter. “In particular consumers are more aware of concepts such as waterproofness, vapour permeability (i.e. breathability), thermal insulation, wickability, etc.”

Baxter goes on to say that technology is very important for any consumer who is involved in a specific outdoor activity, for example climbing Kilimanjaro or participating in a trail run, but technology is perhaps less of a concern for the consumer who is looking for a warm, fashionable everyday jacket.

Respondents were asked to rate five factors (brand, colour, price, styling, technology) based on how important each factor is when consumers make purchasing decisions. Each factor was rated for men and women separately.


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