In the future, stores may become obsolete. That’s if the evolution of online shopping continues at its breakneck pace, said Assistant Professor of Apparel, Merchandising and Design Ui-Jeen Yu. “The technology development of online shopping has significantly changed the way customers now shop for apparel products,” said Yu, who explores the rapid evolution of online apparel shopping.

People are shopping through “multi-channels” such as the Internet, mobile devices, catalogs, TV, kiosks, stores and call centers. Consumers are getting more involved in “omni-channel shopping” by using all shopping channels available without boundaries. “Omni-channel shoppers might be on their smart phone looking for prices or promotions online, while simultaneously shopping in a store,” she said.

As convenient as online shopping is for the consumer, it doesn’t come without drawbacks. “The inability to directly experience the product limits accurate evaluation of product information such as look, touch, fit and comfort,” Yu noted. She explained that online consumers tend to perceive visual, tactile and trial risks of product performance through virtual experience tools available at apparel websites.

image of Ui-Jeen Yu

Ui-Jeen Yu

Many companies are implementing more sophisticated image-interactive technology to help reduce the drawbacks for the customer. “A lot of websites are offering more virtual interactions, such as zooming and rotating of the product, and they are using virtual models of more realistic sizes,” she said. Many online merchants are also offering free shipping and free return shipping to help lure customers.

Her research focuses mainly on how virtual product-experience technology impacts the online apparel shopping experience. “Consumers who perceived higher enjoyment of the virtual product-experience technology responded with a more favorable attitude toward the product,” she said. Her research found that online consumers’ satisfaction with their body and appearance influences their enjoyment of the virtual product experience, resulting in individual differences in online apparel shopping.

Yu said the findings suggest that online retailers must develop physical stores, websites or mobile apps seamlessly to incorporate more visual, tactile and trial experiences. “Online apparel shopping is the fastest growing online category and omni-channel shopping is increasing,” she said. “As consumers have more channel alternatives, it’s important to understand channel attributes and channel usage for satisfactory online shopping experiences.”