Car access, not location, motivates college students to shop online for apparel, study finds

December 09, 2003

ATHENS, Ohio - Students who attend college in an urban area are just as likely to shop online for apparel products as students on a rural campus, according to a recent Ohio University study. The study suggests that students who lack access to a car are more likely to shop online for apparel than those students who do have car access -- regardless of location.

"We found that students really still prefer typically to get in their cars and go shopping for apparel purchases in particular," says Ann Paulins, an associate professor of human and consumer sciences at Ohio University and the study's co-author. "While they use the Internet, they don't use it any more in a rural area than in an urban area."

Paulins and co-author Yingjiao Xu conducted the study to determine college students' perceptions of online shopping for apparel products, as well as to compare intention and attitudes toward Internet apparel shopping between rural and urban college students. They recently presented the findings at the annual meeting of the International Textiles and Apparel Association in Savannah, Ga.

The researchers mailed a questionnaire to 3,000 randomly selected Ohio University and Ohio State University undergraduate students, or 1,500 from each school. Of the 697 surveys completed and returned, 54 percent were completed by Ohio University students (who are located in rural Athens, Ohio) and 46 percent were completed by Ohio State University students (who are located in urban Columbus, Ohio). The majority of the respondents were female.

"We thought that Ohio University and Ohio State University students would have different intentions when it comes to buying online," said Xu, an assistant professor of human and consumer sciences at Ohio University. "But it seems that location does not matter a lot."

The responses indicated that more than 50 percent of the students had past online shopping experience. Fifty-five percent of the respondents said they intended to shop online for apparel products, 28 percent were unsure and 17 percent said they would not shop online for apparel.

In this and earlier studies conducted by the researchers, Paulins and Xu found that attitudes toward online apparel shopping were shaped by factors such as an easy-to-navigate Web site, secure credit card transactions and a hassle-free return policy. A friendly return policy is particularly important in online apparel sales, Paulins said, because customers don't have the opportunity to try on items in a dressing room. "(Apparel) is a higher risk product to buy online than a CD or book," she said.

Consumer science researchers such as Paulins and Xu are particularly interested in college students because they typically have much higher disposable incomes in proportion to their total income than do other adult consumers.

"If you get young adults to be loyal, you're establishing a lifelong habit," said Paulins, who added that the team next will study the online apparel purchasing attitudes and habits of teenagers. "So if there's a Web retailer that appeals to, has merchandise for and is user-friendly to someone who is 19, 20 or 21, it's highly more likely that it will be an ongoing relationship."
Written by William Gillis.

Contacts: Ann Paulins, 740-593-2880,; Yingjiao Xu, 740-593-2887,

Ohio University

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