Online v the high street – where do we like to buy our bras?

Online v the high street

In this week’s insight into the UK’s bra buying habits we’re looking at how we like to buy our lingerie – in the shops or on the Internet. And does how we buy affect what we buy, or are there certain factors that mean that, for some people, buying online is a better option?

Quick facts:

  • Only 20% of UK shoppers prefer to buy lingerie online, but:
  • Online shoppers buy more bras on average per year than in-store shoppers
  • They are more likely to be younger
  • They are significantly more likely to be outside the ‘core’ size range and 80% fall into the small back/big cup bracket

Here at Fashion Bust we buy lots of lingerie, and we’ll buy from shops as happily as from the Internet. We usually buy from brands we know when we’re purchasing online, but we’ve been known to succumb to the odd deal and buy blind, so to speak, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.

However, over the last few years there’s been a discernible trend in lingerie retail, at least from the retailer’s perspective. And that, like retail in general, is online. New online lingerie shops are popping up all over the Internet and specialist boutiques and high street names have added or improved their websites.

Of course, lingerie is not alone in this. Last Christmas, the UK’s online sales as a whole increased by almost 20% over the Christmas before, and one in five non-food items was bought online. Online fashion was an area of particular growth.

So, there’s no denying that we are a nation growing ever more addicted to online shopping. After all, it’s convenient and makes it easier to shop around for the best deal. But clothing presents issues to the online shopper that just don’t crop up when buying electronics or books, namely size and fit, and this is even more relevant with lingerie where fit is so personal.

Which leads us to our survey results. Where do the majority of us prefer to buy our bras?

The answer is still a resounding ‘in store’. Just under 80% of respondents said they would rather go into a shop and buy their lingerie rather than order it from a website. So for lingerie at least it seems that the ability to see, touch and try on – whether we do this or not – trumps the convenience of the Internet. But is it really that simple?

You’d be forgiven for assuming – and we did – that those who prefer to buy online would be less likely to have seen the inside of a fitting room recently, possibly out of choice. But that’s not true. In fact, the likelihood of both groups having had a bra fitting at all or in the last year is pretty much the same. If you buy in store you are marginally more likely to have been for a fitting in the last six months, but the difference really is small.

It’s the same story when we consider fit and comfort. If you buy online it seems you are no more or less likely to struggle with fit or find your bras uncomfortable than if you buy in store.

You are, however, probably going to buy more bras per year – 13 compared with 9. And you are much more likely to have bought a new bra in the last month – over 50% of onliners reported a recent purchase compared with 32% of in-store shopper. Likewise, if you buy online it’s very unlikely that you’ve left it more than a year to buy a bra.

With regular emails from retailers, online rewards, discount codes and sales, it’s not really that surprising that those who prefer to buy online purchase more frequently. Ever experienced your willpower crumble in the face of that abandoned basket email or been stalked on your journey round the web by the item of clothing you looked at but decided not to buy? We certainly have. And the difference is quite pronounced. Nearly a quarter of online shoppers report buying more than 20 bras per year. Nearly a quarter of store shoppers, on the other hand, said they only by 1-5 bras per year. Only 3% of onliners buy this few.

Which raises the question: are those who buy online buying more because they are buying cheap or using the Internet to hunt out bargains? Well, we don’t know how much they are spending on each purchase, but it seems that where we buy doesn’t affect how much we are prepared to spend per bra. On average, the maximum the UK shopper is prepared to shell out for a new bra is £37.50, and both are groups are average in this respect. So it’s not necessarily just bargain hunters who shop online then.

Age is a factor, though not as big a one as you might expect. If you prefer to buy your bras online you are more likely to be younger, with an average age of around 30 compared with 40 for in-store shoppers. And the difference becomes more significant the older we get. Only 25% of respondents aged 46-55 prefer to buy online, dropping to 11% for those over 56.

Bra fitting

It’s not until you get to size that it really gets interesting. Using the same approach as in our previous articles, we divided shoppers into what we’re calling the ‘core’ size range catered for by most non-specialist brands and retailers (32-38 A-D), and those who fall outside it.

In the sample as a whole, around 40% of respondents fall into the core size range, but among online shoppers this figure falls to just 22%. Of the online shoppers outside this core range, almost all are in the small back/big cup bracket (26-30 DD plus) and 80% are an FF cup and above. These shoppers are also significantly younger on average at around 26.

This is interesting, because the small back/big cup niche – which isn’t really a very small niche as it includes just over a quarter of our sample as a whole – has had a lot of attention over the last few years and has gone from woefully underrepresented to a sector that has seen a lot of new brands and a transformation in terms of fashion. But these numbers suggest that high street representation of these sizes and styles is still not great and that savvy shoppers, who are often younger, are turning to the Internet to hunt down harder-to-find sizes and brands.

It may also be significant that these shoppers, when asked to name a favourite brand or retailer, were much more likely to name a brand, many of them specialist fuller bust brands, as opposed to a retailer, which indicates a greater awareness of brands and higher brand loyalty. And, possibly, a more limited choice.

While the small back/big cup shopper does not exclusively shop online, it’s worth noting that of those who prefer to shop in store, fewer of them are looking for back sizes of 28 or smaller and they are more likely to be in the DD-F range, ie much closer to our ‘core’ range. They are also less likely to have a specific brand loyalty, which reflects their greater choice.

The majority of those who need smaller cup sizes (AA-AAA), however, prefer to shop in store, which surprised us as although this side of the market is definitely under catered for, there are a number of specialist small cup e-tailers out there (see our feature on bras for small cups) which likely offer a wider range than you’ll find in your average department store. Perhaps because there are statistically fewer women in this size range, fewer brands that cater for them and fewer people talking about it, this side of the market has yet to undergo the changes that have transformed the small back/big cup niche or realise the potential of Internet.

All of which leads us back to where we started from, and one of our assumptions going into this, namely that size and fit are an inhibiting factor for many people when it comes to buying lingerie online. Well, they may be reasons why more women don’t buy their bras online, but for those who do, issues of size and fit may well be forcing them to buy online if traditional retailers are failing to meet their needs. Which is something for retailers of both types to think about it.

So, over to you. Are you an online bra shopper or a high street devotee? If you have a preference one way or another, why is that? And if your size is outside the ‘core’ range, what is your experience of finding bras in your size? Leave a comment and let us know.

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  1. Becky Mount (@BeckyAndTheJets)
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