Canadian women choosing comfort over trends

A new survey gives a snapshot of how female consumers are shopping for fashion in the changing retail landscape.

For Canadian women, fashion has become more about comfort than the latest style according to new research from Mintel. The survey of female shoppers also suggests that when they walk between the racks, they’re looking for a better in-store experience.

Mintel polled more than 960 Canadian women over 18 who had purchased clothes within the last year. Asking about where and why they make their purchases, the report shows a market that is still very much about bricks-and-mortar stores and very much focused on larger chain stores.

When asked what drives their clothing choices, the largest portion of the survey group (61%) said they dress “for comfort over style,” nearly doubling the 34% who go for sporty styles that they deem “practical for everyday wear.”

Only 28% said they buy new clothes every season and 21% said they “prefer to buy clothes with a well-known brand name.”

Nearly all of those polled, 98%, said they purchased clothes in-store over the last 12 months, while 67% had done so online.

The desire for comfort over style is a point of differentiation for Canadian women. “More than half of Canadian women under-45 dress more for comfort than style, compared to just two in five American women the same age,” says Carol Wong-Li, senior lifestyle and leisure analyst at Mintel, in a blog post.

“The adoption of a more casual style may make for a more enjoyable shopping experience given that there’s less pressure to find that item that’s exact the perfect piece.”

Wong-Li says this “more light-hearted” kind of shopping trip translates to more time spent in-store, which presents better shopper marketing opportunities for Canadian retailers. “Investments in enhancing the in-store experience should find success, as Canadian women have a more laid back attitude when shopping for clothing, showing a greater penchant to wander and browse as opposed to making planned trips,” she says.

However, Wong-Li warns fashion sellers not to mistake a desire for comfort with total apathy for appearance. She points to the 34% of women 24-and-under in the study who seek to dress more stylishly, but do not know how (compared to 21% of women overall).

“While offerings of beverage or food samples should work to enhance the ‘leisure’ part of shopping and keep them browsing longer, creatively showcasing visualizations of key clothing and accessory combinations should work well to get them to take action on the spot,” she wrote.

In terms of whose parking lot women are pulling into, mass merchandisers such as Walmart lead the way with 43% of those polled, followed by discount stores such as Winners at 40% and chain specialty stores such as Gap at 39%. Fast fashion outlets (33%) and traditional department stores like Nordstrom (32%) round out the top five retail formats.

“The store types that Canadian women buy their clothes from vary significantly,” say the study’s authors, “showing a highly fragmented market that gravitates towards value. The entrance of international retailers, luxury department stores and their off-price sister stores is changing the Canadian retail landscape and may be contributing to mid-range stores losing ground.”