- September 30, 2021

How fashionable is the e-commerce landscape for apparel?

Roberta Cavalcante
Roberta Cavalcante
Senior Corporate Marketing Manager

The pandemic has brought forward long-term trends across a range of sectors, and the fashion industry is no exception –online apparel shopping had taken hold well before the pandemic. The fact that it strikes at the heart of our identities – and the image we intend to project unto others – leads us to ask the following questions: Did people continue to buy clothes, despite the restrictions and lack of opportunity to wear them at social events or for work? Does the apparel market still have the same composition as before the pandemic? What can we expect as people return to their “normal lives”?

To answer these questions, let’s first see how digital audiences have behaved in the last 4 years in the EU5 region. The chart below shows that in November 2019 the apparel retail category reached 51% of the EU5’s digital population – the highest level since July 2018. The pandemic set the trend into reverse: reach of the apparel retail category went down to 37% in September 2020, a decrease of 14% percentage point. Things have stabilised since, perhaps due to a combination of factors such as the end of most restrictions in June 2021 and the slow return to offices.

When it comes to the composition of the apparel e-commerce ecosystem, it has proven fairly stable throughout the pandemic. As the chart below shows, the ten major players have remained the same in the past 4 years. With one exception: SHEIN, the fast-fashion, digital-only Chinese retailer, which has  evolved considerably since its inception in 2008. From October 2020 to July 2021, it has doubled its reach within the EU5 region, from 5% to 10%. 

Another observation relates to Vinted, a marketplace for buying, selling and exchanging new or second-hand items. As the chart below shows, consumers spend far more time on its website than any of the other sites in our sample – almost 87 minutes per visitor during the month of July 2021, more than double the time spent by visitors on the SHEIN sites (39 minutes per visitor). Perhaps its positioning as a marketplace for second-hand items explains the higher level of consumer engagement compared with other sites.

To summarise, the apparel ecommerce sector felt, as other sectors, the pressure of the pandemic: its audience decreased in 2020 but remained stable in 2021. For the most part, its composition remained relatively stable, with most of the top 10 entities holding their position. But under the surface, changes are afoot: the fast-fashion company SHEIN increased its audience noticeably since the end of 2020. This trend, combined with the higher consumer engagement observed on Vinted, leads us to believe that affordability is the main theme in the sector. In the apparel ecommerce space, consumers are, first and foremost, bargain hunters.

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