New study shapes understanding of adaptive clothing customer needs

By our News Team | 2023

There is a rise in demand for clothing adapted to the needs of disabled consumers. But online retailers must give the process more thought.

With the growth of the adaptive clothing market (clothing designed for people with a disability) come new challenges for retailers.

This includes making the process of online shopping more inclusive for people with varying degrees of disability, as well as expanding the functionality and aesthetic appeal of individual garments.

Retail Strategy

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

In a new study published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies, University of Missouri researchers in the US have mined online reviews to understand the perspectives of adaptive clothing customers. The researchers identified two main challenges:

  • Customers said product offerings were inadequate and didn’t meet their specific needs.
  • Access to the few products that do exist was limited.

“When designing clothing for people with special needs, it’s important to consider functionality as well as fashion, style and self-expression,” said Li Zhao, an Assistant Professor. “The people who depend on these garments each have unique needs, so their feedback is invaluable.”

Zhao and her team of researchers mined customer reviews from three companies that manufacture adaptive clothing, ranging from high-end items to casual wear. 

Retailer websites are not user-friendly

Through collocation analysis, topic modelling and sentiment analysis, the researchers found that, on average, consumers indicated that the retailers’ websites were not user-friendly and didn’t have features that aided accessibility.

Further, the general trend among consumer reviews indicated that adaptive clothing garments were limited in design and functionality, as well as in aesthetic.

“Consumers talked a lot about the fit because they cannot go to physical stores to find the products and try them on,” Zhao said. “First of all, it’s not convenient for some of those consumers; and second, those products are not even carried in brick-and-mortar stores. So, if they must shop online, what are some keywords to search to find an appropriate retailer? 

“For example, on Amazon, there’s so many different types of products. And then how do they know if this product is good? It’s not like they’re some established big name brands where the quality and sizing are known. For this group of consumers, a lot of things are new to them.”

Zhao added: “”When most people think about adaptive clothing, they think about garments in terms of function, but these consumers are human beings and their needs extend beyond that. They want to be confident, and they also need professional garments that they can wear in the workplace. But [the question is], do we have those products available?”

In this study, researchers suggest that retailers try to better understand the needs of the people for whom they’re making adaptive clothing garments. For example, developing a more accessible and user-friendly website experience that differentiates garments based on categories and/or features. Additionally, the study illustrates a need for retailers to develop more advanced technology to address sizing, fabric, style, colour, fit and the function of each garment.

“It is vital to consider every part of your web design, or every aspect of the customer shopping journey, and consider how you can think differently as to be inclusive for this group of consumers,” Zhao said. “I think that’s something we really want to find out from customer reviews and feedback in the future.”

You can read more about the study here.