The wheel of retailing keeps on rotating but not necessarily in the same place. From the first retail concept i.e. Barter system to the latest lifestyle retail concept, retailing of apparel has changed significantly with time. Retailers were basically purchasing agents for the residents of a specific locality or area, reflecting closely those customers’ life-styles, brand preferences, shopping hours etc. Indian Apparel is the largest segment of the Indian Textile and Clothing Industry (IT&C); accounts 60-65% of the total Industry. Furthermore, it is one of the largest sources of foreign exchange flow into the country. As per the data published by Ministry of Textiles, in its annual report 2015-16, India is ranked as 6th largest exporter of apparel in the world after China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Germany and Italy (source: care ratings). Apparel market of Jammu is flourishing day by day and so are the demands of the customers. To increase my appetite for knowledge for “what customers want”, a study was conducted in Jammu by interacting with the customers. This study is qualitative in nature. The population frame is the customers of the lifestyle retail store of Jammu in India. The data were collected through focus group interviews. 10 focus group interviews were conducted at the different place across Jammu region. Out of 10 focus group interviews, 6 focus groups were females and 4 were that of males. Age of the females varies from 19 years to 45 whereas the age of the males varies from 20-30. Each group comprised of 5-7 homogeneous participants. The focus group interviews were unstructured and moderator started the discussion by commenting on the topic to which the participants reacted. Moderator first introduced herself to the participants and the objective of conducting the interview was stated to them. The time frame of each focus-group interview was up to 35-45 minutes. The moderator intervened only when there was silence in the group so that the discussion can be carried on. No more than 10 questions were asked by the moderator. All the interviews were conducted in person and discussions were audio-recorded. The following is a transcription of a focused group interview:

“Good Morning and welcome to our session. In order to find out factors that influence the customers ‘choice of apparel lifestyle retail store, I invite all of you to participate in this session. I want to know what are your preferences for apparel stores and which factors impact your choice of apparel store. I will be having discussions like this with several groups of both the gender. You were selected on the basis of purposeful. There are no right and wrong answers but somewhat different points of view. Feel free to share your point of view even if it differs from what others have said.

I will be tape recording the session so that all valuable comments don’t get missed. Participants often share very useful things in these discussions and I may not be able to pen down all the important points. Only one person will speak at a point and there is no need to get aggressive, all of you will be given enough time to express your point of views. You don’t have to agree with what others are saying, but you must listen patiently as others share their views. I will start with the person sitting on the right. First of all give a brief introduction of yourself, your name, age, gender, area, and income. Introduce yourself one by one and as the introduction is done, we will start with the discussion. I as a moderator will guide you at the time of requirement. I won’t interfere much. Now, you can start the discussion.”

Ten focus groups interviews were conducted on the same topic. These interviews were conducted for several days and enough time was provided to each focus group so that all the participants can speak. It takes more than one focus group on any one topic to produce valid results – usually three or four. The focus group moderator responsibly covered all the questions in the time allotted.

The quality of the data obtained from an in-depth interview or focus group is based upon the level of thought involved in the development of the questions (Patton, 2002). There are six main types of open-ended in-depth interview or focus groups questions:

(1) experience or behavior questions,

(2) sensory questions,

(3) opinion or value questions,

(4) knowledge questions,

(5) feeling questions, and

(6) background or demographic questions (Patton, 2002).

Experience or behavior questions are intended to get at an interviewee’s actions, either past or present. In particular, a participant’s answers should reflect a direct observation that could have been made by watching the participant. These kinds of questions are often followed by sensory questions. This is a useful questioning technique as such questions focus on things that the interviewee has actually experienced, and can help them to better recall other experiences. Opinion or value questions are designed to elicit interviewees’ knowledge of a specific phenomenon or experience and provide useful insight into their goal. Knowledge questions seek factual information from interviewees. Feeling questions are intended to produce a narrative of an emotion from the participant. Background or demographic questions are useful for the characterization of the people participating in the in-depth interview or focus group (Patton, 2002).

Once the in-depth interview or focus group questions are drafted, it is significant to make sure that they conform to a few guidelines. First, the questions should be open-ended and neutral. This means that the questions should neither make an assumption about what the interviewee thinks about the topic nor should they offer any clues as to what the interviewer hopes the interviewee will say. Second, the questions should focus on one topic at a time. The questions should not dichotomous. Third, your questions, as well as the topic, should not be vague, there should be clarity in the questions (Patton, 2002). The key to achieving this is to think carefully about the kind of information you anticipate from each question in the in-depth interview question guide. With the question wording finalized, the questions should be in a coherent order. The interviewer needs to guide the participants through the questions.

The main questions that were asked were:

What kind of apparel stores do you prefer?; What are major components that you consider before buying apparel? Are these factors interlinked to each other?From which store do you often shop? Why that particular store? Is there anything that you would like to add? ”

These set of questions were mainly asked by the moderators. We will come to know that enough data has been collected when we stop hearing anything new anymore, i.e. the point of saturation. The saturation of data occurs when repetition of data starts to happen.

The study reveals that demographic factors of consumers do influence apparel retail store choice. It was also observed that retail store choice is a hierarchical process which not only depends on demographic attributes but also on the current needs of a consumer. Fashion consciousness and comfort seeking are the significant predictors for apparel store choice decisions. Social factors, family, brand conscious, the location of the store and price are significant predictors for lifestyle store choice decisions. All these variable such as society, fashion, culture, uniqueness, family, brand and price are the major lifestyle factors. We can say that customer’s lifestyle is based on these factors and choose their lifestyle store on the basis of these factors. It was also found that factors like situation specific and retail store attributes impact customers’ choice. The overall results of this study show that apparel shoppers are influenced by various factors in choosing a store. No single retail factor seems to be dominant in meeting consumer needs/wants, all the factors play an equivalent role in choosing a lifestyle retail store. Consumer’s socio-economic, demographic and geographic and personal characteristics have significant association with the choice of retail store Consumers focus on factors like Brand availability, fashion, trend/style, price, variety of merchandise, comfort, store location, social status, and hedonism or recreation and then move into a particular store within the format where they can save time, money and effort.

This study also provides valuable information to retailers in relation to customers apparel store choice in Indian lifestyle goods retailing. Understanding how preferences vary with consumer factors is a key element in developing successful retail marketing strategies. It can be inferred that it is also possible to affect the orientations of the shoppers by offering modern retail formats.

These findings would enable retailers to develop an effective marketing strategy to optimize the use of marketing and promotional resources in meeting the needs of discerning target customers. With the intensified level of competition in today’s apparel market, an increasing number of stores are currently facing difficulties in operating profitability. These retailers need to adjust market communications and repositioning themselves to retain the existing and attracting potential customers.