Buying clothes before trying them on leaves some shoppers anxious about the fit. But ordering from a catalogue has been a means of buying clothes for decades and because shoppers know exactly what they want, they are growing fonder of ordering via the internet.
In recent months, several big clothing retailers, including H&M, Marc O'Polo and Strellson, have advertised newly opened 24-hour shops on the internet. Internet retailer Amazon.com, hoping to capture some apparel business for itself, has also started separate sections for handbags and shoes.
Ultimately, it won't be books, CDs and electronics that provide the biggest revenue stream for online and mail order companies.
With around 4 billion euros ($6 billion) in sales, clothing, textiles and shoes comprise the largest segment of the mail order business, according to a recent study by Germany's mail order business association in Frankfurt. Approximately every fifth garment sold in Germany is purchased through a mail order company when telephone and post card orders are counted. The internet, however, is by far the most frequently used method for buying from a mail order company.
These developments mean a brand can hardly afford not to offer their customers the possibility of ordering online.
"It is definitely increasing," said Hansjuergen Heinich of the Cologne-based consultancy BBE, which specialises in trade in consumer goods. Brand name fashion companies, according to Heinich, also currently are setting up online operations for private customers.
"Primarily wholesalers and clothing makers without their own shops are increasingly offering their customers this option for buying clothes," said Oliver Claas, a spokesperson for the mail order business association. Well-known labels such as S. Oliver and Esprit have online shops and recently Mexx became the last of the prominent clothing retailers to follow the crowd.
Germany's Cologne-based nationwide association for textile trade has no figures for the exact number of online shops, but all retailers are present on the internet in some form, said Siegfried Jacobs, deputy director of the association.
There are distinct advantages of online or mail order shopping. Customers who don't like the clothing when it arrives at their home can send it back. Others include liberal opening hours and the chance to shop at a "monolabel" store, which is where the label offers exclusively its own lines of clothes.
In "brick and mortar" form, these types of shops typically are found only in large cities near large department stores. A mono-label store has the advantage of being the only place where customers can find the entire current collection of a label in all sizes.
Shoppers looking for a special item don't have to run from store to store searching for it, said Gerd Mueller-Thomkins of the German fashion institute in Cologne. And perhaps a coveted garment seen in a lifestyle magazine can be found online without launching an exhaustive search.
Pragmatic shoppers save time: online shopping works well for shoppers who know what they want, said Mueller-Thomkins because you can narrow down a search when looking through the inventory available at an online store. This method of shopping applies to most men's when buying clothes.
"In a store men say, 'I want a pair of jeans by brand X in a particular colour and size.' They try them on. Thank you, good bye," said Mueller-Thomkins, adding that men more often remain loyal to a brand whose shirts or suit cuts they know and whose sizes fit them. Online shopping is particularly popular among such customers.
"Women continue to prefer going shopping, and so the old definition fits: Men are hunters and women are gatherers," said Mueller-Thomkins.