Millennials divided over shopping in-store or online, new Fashion Retail Barometer shows


The recurring question of whether the high street is dying and clicks have indeed replaced bricks is back in the news with House of Fraser and New Look’s high profile problems – but the largest ever fashion retail survey amongst digital-savvy Millennials reveals they still prefer the human touch.

Real world experience and support preferred

One in two (49 per cent) 18-34 year olds say they prefer to shop for clothes in store, compared to 11 per cent via apps and 39 per cent through websites, according to the first Fashion Retail Barometer from the CX Millennial Index compiled by emotion analytics firm Adoreboard in partnership with survey platform OnePulse. Adoreboard’s Queen’s University-based data scientists analysed the emotional responses expressed by 10,000 Millennial consumers in a landmark survey about their clothing shopping habits, preferences and brand rankings, to help retail brands provide a better customer experience.

One in three (31 per cent) feel less certain of their choices when they shop online. And brand trust seems to be generated more by human rather than AI support: an overwhelming 76 per cent of Millennials say they prefer human assistance online over a chatbot.

New Look performs well, H&M sizing issues dominate

The online fashion industry is predicted to reach £36.2 billion by 2030: 63 per cent of the market compared to today’s 21 per cent, but purely online retailers don’t fare as well in the Adoreboard Fashion Retail Barometer rankings. Asos is rated below beleaguered high street chain New Look and BooHoo comes in eighth out of the 10 fashion retail brands analysed.

In fact, despite its recent reported £1 billion financial debt and impending store closures, high street chain New Look far and away outstrips the other brands, coming out top of the 10 fashion retail brands analysed in the Barometer with an overall emotional response – or, ‘Adorescore’ – of 42 despite sharp competition from second position ASOS with a score of 40. The Queen’s University analysts used Emotics, an AI platform which uses mathematical algorithms to calculate the overall Adorescore by assessing emotions such as joy, trust, rage and anger in respondents’ comments on individual brands.

“There is stiff competition to win the hearts of the Millennial consumers who desire on trend fashion balanced with quality and value for money”, said Chris Johnston, chief executive of Adoreboard. “New Look’s efforts to appeal to younger shoppers is reflected in strong Trust in providing affordable fashion, whilst Joy has been driven by how Millennials rate the in-store customer experience. However, many would argue the allure of appealing to Millennials has come at a cost of alienating core customers and reflected in plummeting sales for New Look.“ 

Meanwhile, it seems H&M’s recent announcement about reviewing its sizing can’t come soon enough for Millennial shoppers: complaints about the brand’s sizing being too small was the most recurring theme driving anger and sadness amongst respondents.  Sizing complaints seem to be at the heart of fashion favourite Topshop’s surprisingly low score, too: the brand ranked sixth in the 10 brands analysed, scoring particular highly on ‘Sadness’ due to small sizing.

Personalisation, ethics and sustainability rule rankings

Overall, personalised customer service, value, affordability and ethics are the most important clothes shopping motivators for Millennial consumers – and these guide the ultimate rankings and higher scores of New Look, ASOS, H&M and Primark. Nearly two thirds (61 per cent) say ethics and sustainability are important when shopping for clothes, compared to 26% who were undecided or had no preference and 12% who said ethics isn’t important to them.

At the other end of the scale, poor quality products, long queues in store and sizing issues lead to lower rankings and less overall brand trust for River Island, BooHoo and Zara. 

Trust in influencers, not brand marketing

The majority of Millennial fashion retail consumers (61 per cent) don’t trust direct brand marketing – and online advertising bombardment may be to blame. Nearly two thirds say (65 per cent) they would be less likely to trust brands who sent them too many ads.

Seeking information and peer to peer communication is more preferable to unsolicited brand messaging. A huge 85 per cent of 18-34 year olds say social media influences their fashion buying decisions, with Instagram being the most popular influencer channel (28 per cent). A further 53 per cent report they would rather get their information directly from the brand’s app.

Chris Johnston, chief executive of Adoreboard, commented: “Brand marketers need to work smarter to start a dialogue with younger fashion retail consumers who are turned off by overt brand messaging. We know that they like to be in control of their consumer choices more than any other age group, and to feel part of a one on one, authentic conversation. The analysis notes that 85 per cent of Millennials say that emotion influences their purchase decisions, so marketers need to work smarter to build new experiences and retail theatre to heighten the appeal to these new type of shoppers.

“There’s been a lot of comment recently about the high street business model failing customers. But our Report proves that Millennials – those consumers whose spending power will drive retail and brand performance over the next generation – want, need and value that in-person, human, individualised experience.

“So what does this tell brand marketers? Direct, one on one communication is key, as is providing a seamless customer experience from online to in store. There’s too often a disconnect between the value and convenience provided online with the levels of service and overall experience provided in store – and that experience is the high street’s key differentiator.

Putting the customer at the heart of your brand decisions is vital for brand survival and future growth. Exploring customer feedback through an emotional lens allows brands to generate more trust and build a seamless CX across every consumer touchpoint.”

2018 Fashion Retail Barometer Rankings: Adoreboard CX Millennial index

Brand Adorescore Comments
New Look 42


Customers trust New Look clothing and recognise that this retailer provides affordable fashion and great value for money with the products they receive
ASOS 40 Customers trust this online retailer as it provides an efficient and effective delivery and free returns service.  In addition, joy is generated amongst customers with a wide range of sizes available in both fashionable and affordable regular and designer brands, including ASOS own brand.  Typical comment:


 “Trendy clothes with a good range of sizes. Catering mainly to young people 16-30. Unique designs and a company that gives small designers a chance.. I often shop with ASOS i usually spend a long time browsing and often end up buying more than I planned because of their free shipping and returns policy. Great service.

Primark 39 Low cost prices for in-trend fashion (main theme generating joy and trust amongst customers).


Although the Primark retail brand scored a low anger score, it appears that long queues and wait times are the main determinant fuelling anger among customers.

H&M 39


“Ridiculously small sizes. I won’t shop in there anymore. I’m an 8-10 and can’t fit in 14”
Next 36


Scoring highest in trust (37) and second highest in joy (34)

Next’s score was brought down by mentions of expensive clothes and “work clothes” aimed at older people. “Work clothes; aimed at older people; expensive. Spent £50 on a jacket I wasn’t sure about and now it’s in my wardrobe never worn” “expensive and for older people. I’ve never been able to find clothes but I do like their accessories”

Topshop 25 Scoring particularly high in sadness (29) when compared to various other retail brands.

Small sizes and expensive items generating sadness:

“For small sizes only; don’t cater for curvy people. I tried on a dress 2 sizes bigger then I take in other shops and it didn’t fit; and I cried in the dressing room as it made me feel bad about my size”

River Island 22 Customers trust River Island clothing options describing it as ‘stylish, fashionable, trendy and fashion forward’. However, anger is driven by the price of their clothing, 319 mentions from a dataset of 1191 described the clothing as ‘expensive’, stating that the quality was not worth the money. Customers are also frustrated by River Island’s non-inclusive or sizing inconsistencies in store. Also plus size range is only available online. River Island don’t offer student discount which has driven sadness towards the brand.

 “Small sizes; expensive. Clothes were too expensive for what they were”

boo hoo 22 Scoring second lowest in Joy (25) and Trust (26) among other retail brands.    Boohoo received a score of 15 in Anger, which was higher than 6 other retail brands – largely due to ‘poor quality clothing’.
Dorothy Perkins 19 “Unfashionable clothing. Staff are nice but the clothing at Dorothy Perkins is clearly for an older generation”
Zara 9 Customers positively respond to the good quality clothing and enjoy finding a bargain in Zara sales, but are angered and saddened by its costly price – hence their joy and trust of sale items. Customers also express a lack of trust in Zara’s sizing, describing it as both inconsistent and too small.