Apparel Shopping and the Rural Consumer in 2018

As retail apparel stores across the country begin scaling back their physical locations and upping their game online, some wonder how this impacts the shopping habits of rural consumers. In the past we’ve always known that people living in rural areas often do not have the convenience of making a quick run to Nordstrom to pick up those stylish heels they saw on Instagram the night before. Shopping behaviors are much more deliberate because these consumers are, not only price conscious, but often live far from popular apparel stores. Where they live, Walmart might be their only convenient option.
But that’s changing now as online retail competition heats up – and rural consumers have access to more apparel options now than ever before. To better understand how rural consumers may be switching up their shopping behavior, we’ll dive into their apparel store preferences, what store formats are gaining ground for rural consumers, and how stores that offer apparel can attract the attention of rural shoppers amongst all the change.

Where Do Rural Consumers Shop for Apparel?

There is no doubt that for the three categories we investigated: women’s clothing, children’s clothing, and shoes, Walmart stood out as a market leader in rural areas.

Coupons Help Rural Consumers Decide Where to Shop

But here’s the kicker – just because Walmart is ahead does not mean they are the preferred choice for rural consumers. When consumer survey participants were asked about their likeliness to recommend Walmart for women’s clothing, the results when compared to Kohls, showed a much lower Net Promoter Score. This signals that rural consumers would be open to shopping at other places, given more convenient options that are also budget-friendly. Perhaps it’s why rural consumers are shopping more often with Amazon than their urban counterparts for women’s clothing and shoes. The product selection, prices, and convenience of Amazon are certainly filling a gap for rural consumers.

What is the Rural Consumers’ Preferred Store Format?

When we look at the store format most often preferred in rural areas, we see a year-over-year decrease with department stores and increase with both discount stores and internet. This is likely due to the shift happening with stores and malls closing in suburbs closest to rural communities.Not surprisingly, discount stores and internet shopping are on the rise for these shoppers. This is further evidence that shopping behaviors are changing due to the shifting retail landscape and variety of product options offered online. And keep in mind that as Seniors in rural areas scale back their shopping, millennials and generation z are the new spenders – and are likely more inclined to purchase apparel online than older generations of rural consumers.
Another thing we’d like to point out is that it’s helpful to understand the shopping motivations of rural consumers and why they may shop at one store vs another. In the graph below comparing reasons why a rural consumer would shop at Walmart vs. JCPenney, we can see the two stores are relatively even on price. But notice how the different the two stores are when it comes to coupons and special sales.And digging in deeper, we see that rural JCPenney shoppers are more likely than their urban counterparts to name coupons and special sales as motivating factors for them.

So, when it comes to preferred store formats, it’s safe to say that knowing why rural consumers choose a store for apparel would be valuable insight for anyone hoping to appeal to this kind of consumer.

How Can You Reach Rural Consumers?

Rural shoppers are craving a broader selection of great apparel products and a great price. This means there is a lot of opportunity for online retailers like Chicwish or Cate & Chloe to reach rural consumers and offer them more options for their wardrobe. A natural inclination for marketers is to explore digital media to generate targeted traffic to an ecommerce website. Digital media is precise, it’s trackable, it can be easily adjusted, and it’s versatile. It’s a great choice for many reasons – but using digital media alone is not the best competitive strategy.

A common question we get is whether direct mail is an effective way to generate website traffic. So earlier this year we polled rural consumers to find out what type of ad led them to a website. The results were not surprising.

For most Mspark clients, they choose a cross-channel approach – meaning they are using a combination of direct mail, social media, or email for their campaigns. This unified approach using media that enables them to precision-target various audiences is likely why rural consumers surveyed higher for direct mail, social media and email versus less targeted media such as newspaper. Targeting is the key here – and direct mail is a great way to extend your campaigns and maximize your ROI. Interested in learning more? Fill out the form to speak with one of our knowledgeable experts about the best direct mail solution for you! GROW YOUR BUSINESS