Fashion may have struggled to gain traction with cautious consumers during the UK lockdown but one key group has been buying enthusiastically — students. And while some ‘unnecessary’ (for now) categories have declined sharply, work clothing is still being bought as, for some consumers, this isn’t a discretionary purchase and remains a must-have.
Looking at the student phenomenon, data from Kantar and shared with Fashionnetwork.com for the four weeks to April 5 showed that many young people have found themselves with unexpected cash available. And they’re spending it on clothes.
Glen Tooke, Kantar’s Consumer Insights Director, told us that consumers generally have money available that might have gone on socializing, and “students are in a very similar boat to the rest of the population is not being able to socialize. But the main difference is that a lot of them have, with lockdown, been able to get out of the last term of their halls rent. Potentially giving them additional money.”
In fact, when Kantar looked at spending by all types of employment, it saw students boosting their fashion spend online in the four-week period by 35% year-on-year. This compares sharply to other key groups. At the same time, the self-employed decreased theirs by 30% due to uncertainty around their income. The employed, who had more clarity about furlough payments, decreased their spending by around 7%.
The figures also show those in full-time education spending up to eight times more on some online fashion items than they would normally spend (handbags, for instance).
Admittedly, they may well have spent even more in physical stores had they been open and overall fashion spend remains down, with the increase in e-shopping having come along with plunges for retailers whose shops have been shut.
But it seems that students, compared to other groups in the UK, have been more likely to channel what cash they did have into fashion spending online. The increase in disposable income for students may only be short term and unlikely to last, but it’s clearly been a boon for fashion websites.
WHAT THEY'RE BUYING
As mentioned, the figures show students spending almost 800% more on handbags online in the four weeks than they did in the same period last year — totaling close to £1.5 million in the latest period.
So apart from bags, what else have they been buying? The student market for female coats and jackets grew online by £1.65 million to £2.37 million in the period, while sandals and T-shirts have also been popular. Elsewhere, online sales of jeans have more than doubled.
Male students have been spending more on shirts and sweaters online as many adapt to life back home with their parents and away from university and their usual wardrobes. Online sales of men's shirts and sweaters among those in full-time education both grew by over 500%.
However, no more nights out might have led to a drop off in sales of fashionable footwear online. Sales of both men's and women's trainers to students fell, with the market for males decreasing by almost two-thirds compared with the same time last year.
And what exactly is the thinking behind these purchases? Kantar’s Glen Tooke said that "we see items like handbags, coats, and jackets as investment pieces. Coats would have been in the sale anyway at this time of year because it would be the end of the season. A heavily discounted handbag or coat is more appealing, arguably than some trainers. This whole mindset is all about value and the appeal of heavily discounted items. You could argue that a consumer can justify a handbag purchase because that's going to be used for the next few years.”
MUST-HAVES AND NON-ESSENTIALS
Other key spending areas across the wider population are kidswear, which rose 7% online in the period, essentials like underwear, and works clothing.
Tooke said this “shows that there's still a need in certain sectors of the market. Children will grow out of clothes so they will need new ones. And while we've seen a decline in clothing being bought for work, in the four weeks, people still spent £62 million on it. It was still worth 5% of all spend in total”.
But some categories have fared less well. Glen Tooke explained that these include those non-essentials “where demand has been removed”, such as beach clothing or fashion for socializing and partying. “There’s just no need to purchase at the moment,” he said.
This also reflects a trend that has seen more and more consumers only buying certain products close to the time at which they’ll need them, putting the very concept of early deliveries for certain seasons at risk.
In fact, “even before lockdown, [Kantar was] seeing around 60% of consumers saying they would only buy clothing when they considered it necessary,” Tooke added. “At the moment no one needs to buy holiday clothing or party clothing. But if you flip this around, there will be an opportunity at some point. Retailers will need to be ready.”