There is no question that men’s underwear market is experiencing something of a renaissance lately. It seems like more brands are entering the fray, and the “giants” are reacting by providing more options, more designs, and more colors. It is 2012, and it could not be any easier to get the pair or pairs of underwear that best fit you, satisfy your style preferences, and maybe even make you feel good. The problem is, a huge majority of men out there simply don’t know this and the reasons really are not that numerous so they can, and should be easily solved.
The most prominent reason most men are unaware of all of the options available to them when it comes to underwear is really the root of the problem. Most men hate to shop, especially for clothing, and the reason is that even when they know what they are looking for it is not easy to find. Department stores and other retail chains (with few exceptions) do not organize their retail around this baked-in apathy. Take jeans for example. If a man needs a new pair of jeans and wants a nice pair from a department store, all he likely cares about is the size, and maybe the shade of blue. Yet he’s got to sift through all these other options: button fly or zipper fly? Boot cut. Straight leg, Relaxed, or Skinny fit? Pocket stitching or plain pocket? If the same guy needs to refresh his underwear drawer similar problems exist, but he first has to walk about a quarter mile to the “men’s furnishings” section, and when he gets there, he’s met with what? Ugly display stands with underwear in boxes, all of which are not sorted by color or style.
It seems that every time I check out the men’s underwear section at my local Nordstrom, it looks the same as it did two weeks earlier, and I don’t just mean that anecdotally either. I actually mean, it looks exactly, the same. The problem is two-fold, one is more baked-in than the other and that is most men are notwilling to pay $24 for one pair of underwear. But I am convinced the reason there is never anyone looking at men’s underwear in Nordstrom (or any retailer for that matter) is that they can’t see the product.
It’s a matter of fact, that when men actually can see a lineup of colorful briefs or trunks hanging on a hanger on a rack, or neatly folded for all eyes to see, the will shop, and they will buy. The reason I know this is that in the same Nordstrom underwear section, those colorful Diesel briefs and trunks, and the same styles from Calvin Klein that are displayed on hangers are always picked over, while the same types of underwear languishing in their boxes, continue to be stuffed into the gargantuan wooden stands.
Think about it this way. In any department store, you don’t see many pieces of clothing tucked away into boxes where you can’t see them, do you? Ever checked out the women’s underwear section? There isn’t one pair of underwear in a box. Why is that? You have to go back to the apathy of the male shopper first. Women tend to care more about their underwear then men, yet all it takes is one glance at human anatomy to figure out that this should at least be even, if not flipped. Remember those Diesel briefs and trunks that were on the hangers that sold out so quickly? The hangers did something for the underwear that a box can never do. The contoured pouch, shaped like a man is shaped, gets noticed, and the guy who’s wearing his multi-pack boxers, briefs, or boxer briefs thinks, “I bet these fit better” and makes the purchase. Meanwhile, all the underwear in the boxes in that stand, which is just feet away, possess the same contoured pouch the ones on the hanger do, but how is Mr. Ill-fitting Underwear supposed to know that by looking at a 2D black and white picture on a box?
The small change of moving underwear to hangers and display tables means exposure of brands and styles to men who might not have known even existed in the first place. My wife didn’t know jocks were being made with “everyday wear” designs until she went into and men’s underwear boutique with me. Since underwear for men comes with ridiculous cultural connotations what better way to expose the public to the options that are out there, than to let the public actually see what is available to men.
While such a change should be applauded, department stores should not stop there. Why does the men’s underwear section need to be in the same location as cuff links, umbrellas, and ties? Why can’t it be by the pants or the workout clothes? You know, the things that you put on right after you put your underwear on? I don’t know many men who put their ties on, or situate some cuff links right after they get their boxer briefs on. However, even if you get the underwear displayed properly in a department store, most men don’t go to department stores to buy their underwear. Location is just as important to growing sales.
Think back to the guy buying some jeans. What if, on his way to the counter to buy them, he and the sales person pass a round table with some form fitting briefs displayed neatly? The salesperson says, “I don’t know what your preferences are, but these underwear are designed specifically with the cut of the jeans you are buying in mind.” Obviously the sales person won’t convince every customer, but they only need to convince a couple men per week and the store’s underwear sales go up.
I firmly believe that the guy that picks up his first pair of underwear with a contour pouch from a department store is going to feel the same way I did when my wife brought home the pair that started my obsession. Online retailers will be the likely beneficiaries if he really gets into them, but the guy has to know that they’re available to him. And as far as I can tell, despite large increases in men’s underwear sales, a simple re-evaluation of how their products are being displayed by retailers is an opportunity worth pursuing.