Big Girls Do Cry

Discussion
May 18, 2009
Bernice Hurst

By Bernice Hurst, Contributing
Editor, RetailWire

Once again, a group of
consumers with a shared interest have come together in cyberspace and persuaded
a retailer to change policy. Large-breasted British women whose preferred
bra supplier is Marks and Spencer were unhappy that the store was charging
an extra £2 ($3) for cup sizes over DD.

Beckie Williams, a customer
who had no luck protesting, bought a single share in the company. Her investment
of just £3.40 ($5) meant she could attend the annual meeting and speak
directly to chairman, Sir Stuart Rose. "We do go to other shops but
Marks and Spencer have the biggest share in the lingerie market in the
country," she said.

In the meantime, the
press picked up the story and her Facebook group (Busts 4 Justice), enrolled
14,000 members within days, causing the proverbial U-turn. M&S announced
that bras of all sizes would be sold for the same price.

Internet aside, however,
there is a principle at stake. Company spokesperson, Jessica Harris, claimed
that larger items cost more to produce as they entail more work, that they
are the "most competitively priced on the high street" and "our
customers have told us they are happy to pay a small premium for the specialist
work to ensure suitable level of support, innovation and technology that
goes into the bras."

Competitors such as Asda,
however, decided to seize what they saw as an opportunity by emphasizing
its
"one price for all" prices. Spokeswoman Leah Watson explained that
in spite of losing money on large bras, they don’t want big-busted women
to be penalized. "Obviously the majority of women can’t choose their
shape," she said. "People who are shopping on a budget shouldn’t
have to pay more to look good or to feel good."

Trying to shine a favorable
light on their actions, M&S placed full-page ads announcing the change.
Headed "We boobed", they admitted, "We were wrong, so…the
storm in a D cup is over." A 25 percent reduction on all bras will
be applied for two weeks.

Discussion
questions: Should retailers adjust their prices higher if a bigger apparel
size costs more?
Will
this lose them customers? Or should they accept reduced margins on larger
garments?

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18 Comments on "Big Girls Do Cry"


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Carol Spieckerman
Guest
11 years 11 months ago
This is a great topic that continues to cause controversy, particularly in the U.S. where obesity has become such a problem. Back in the 80s, most apparel manufacturers and retailers ate the margin because the bigger sizes they were making weren’t THAT much bigger. Fast-forward to today when the difference between the smallest and biggest size can mean three times the fabric usage or more for each garment. Childhood obesity and just plain ol’ well-fed babies have caused even more sticker shock since parents are apt to bargain hunt for at least a few items in their kids’ wardrobes. After a backlash from consumers, I know of a couple of major retailers who narrowed the price spread but didn’t completely close it; asking their suppliers to partner with them on the move. Others have tried merchandising the larger garments on separate fixtures to discourage comparison. No easy answers. Smaller sized women may not notice a wee price hike; plus sized women definitely notice the increases dealt to them.
Ryan Mathews
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

Do retailers charge less for petite sizes? The question is a bit silly on its face. The right answer is to build requisite profit in across a line and offer all sizes for the same price. Otherwise, all the smaller sized people in the world should be demanding rebates!

Tonia Key
Guest
Tonia Key
11 years 11 months ago

I totally agree with Ryan!!!

Joan Treistman
Guest
11 years 11 months ago
This is almost a question for the Ethicist. What is required is an examination of a company’s vision, how it expects to treat its customers and how it intends that to influence its revenue. There are many examples of products with high profit margins where retailers make more money by charging the prices with the higher profit margins, not reducing prices for customers to enjoy. There are examples of putting less product into the same package and maintaining the previous pricing to insure continued profitability (when costs of manufacturing have gone up). Embeded in that practice is the notion that customers won’t notice. Therein lays the ethical dilemma; do you determine your practices based on what consumers will notice? How do you make these decisions? There is no transparency regarding the cost of goods. If there were, think about the impact on prescription drugs (branded and generic) and the pharmaceutical business. So the question comes down to how do you treat your customers? Do you treat them all the same or do you distinguish based… Read more »
Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

Just in case this idea spreads, I’m buying my athletic supporter here in the States.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
11 years 11 months ago

I have no problem with manufacturers being compensated for additional raw materials and labor. Just make it equitable and not a penalty.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

Yes, there is a customer perception concern, however it should truly be based upon product costs. Airlines are wrestling with how to coax big people who spill over into the next seat to pay for two seats. The challenge is that the airline industry hasn’t been known for customer service for decades now, while retail, somewhat, still has. Airlines can charge for luggage, earphones, whatever, and never hear an audible peep from their customers.

Bottom line, retails need to be innovative in ensuring their margins are protected, be it in their merchandising, as Carol suggested above, or whatever makes sense. This example is really no different than charging more for a larger bottle of some food item. It’s bigger, therefore it should cost more.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
11 years 11 months ago
On its face, this is a humorous story. But, as Carol correctly points out, this is a “growing” problem for the industry. Obviously, the costs to manufacture a large anything are greater than to manufacture a smaller one. Now, apparel manufacturers are having to produce ever greater quantities of the greater sizes in comparison to the smaller ones. It is clear that for manufacturers to make money on a line they have to cover the margin on the largest sizes. Historically this is accomplished by raising prices across the board–which becomes a de facto subsidy by the buyers of the small sizes. If manufacturers and retailers are committed to the “one price fits all” strategy then they risk alienating their smaller sized customers, just as “pay as you go” pricing was found to offend larger customers. If rumors of future inflation or cap and trade type VAT taxes come to fruition then the difference in production costs between big and small to be passed on will be even more out of sync. Perhaps new brands,… Read more »
Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
11 years 11 months ago

I agree that in the marketing of clothing, one has to be very careful. If it looks like the same garment from petite to plus, it is likely advertised, packaged and marketed as the same garment available in a range of sizes. So shoppers will expect pricing structure to be consistent across the range. Often the trouble is with cut-off points–in the shoppers mind, how can just a slightly larger size be 25% more?

For product lines that have a strong following in larger sizes, differentiate with details, packaging and advertising for fuller figures, and price accordingly. Either develop an appropriate price structure across the range or if volume dictates, change the offering and show added for the customer. Customizing the product for the needs of the shopper is likely to pay off in the longer run more than a cost plus explanation. It’s personal fashion here, not cereal or tires!

Lee Peterson
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

You can’t do that! I mean, you can, but no one will buy it, literally. Garments are priced in bulk actually, so, it really doesn’t matter anyway. What WILL matter is if the SKU selling gears higher to bigger sizes. The result of that is that the overall price of the garment will go up due to the increased use of material. Now, in theory, if that happens, the “injustice” is really being done to the smaller customers. But in reality, they’ll never know.

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

Let the female consumers decide if its right or wrong by letting them vote with their dollars/pounds. I will agree with what the consumers decide.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

Decreasing the price by 25% on all bras does not solve the problem if the bras for the larger size are still a higher price! Consumers are not stupid and are not likely to see this as a helpful solution. Maybe consumers are willing to pay a slightly higher premium but they probably don’t believe that $3 really covers the cost of additional material (rightly so). So a $3 increase is more than “slightly higher” in their minds, not reasonable, and not justified. So they feel taken advantage of and are letting their views be known.

Marks and Spencer will have to deal directly with the issue of how much higher should the price be for the larger cup sizes (every other size of B and C is higher than A–is there a differential for every cup size because of using more material)? A 25% discount across the board isn’t going to solve the problem.

Kristen Kehn
Guest
Kristen Kehn
11 years 11 months ago

It seems to me that if retailers are not willing to take margin to pay for the extra cost of larger garments, it would be the smaller consumers that lose in the end. Is it averaged-sized peoples’ responsibility to pay for the extra material and labor of a larger garment? That’s ridiculous.

Jonathan Sapp
Guest
Jonathan Sapp
11 years 11 months ago

I’m 6’4″. I’ve usually had to buy “tall” sizes. It used to be that I could only shop at specialty retailers. However, larger sizes are now stocked by many clothing retailers, though in some cases, sizes beyond the “normal range” are only available through the retailers’ web sites. I have always had to pay a premium for the extra fabric. Sometimes it is minor, which I have no problem with; but other times the retailer/manufacturer seems to be trying to make an out-of-proportion extra profit.

Arthur Rosenberg
Guest
Arthur Rosenberg
11 years 11 months ago

Clothing and related products have always been sold at a uniform price across all but exceptional sizes. Perhaps if all clothing was priced directly according to size, there would be a stronger incentive for people to watch their weight.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

Maybe they should reverse the model and charge less if small sizes cost less to manufacture because they take less material and time to manufacture. I can see it now…Size 1-14 $50 Size 15 and up…$60.

Marge Laney
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

Unfortunately the easiest thing to do is price everything the same based on the cost of the larger-sized garment. As noted by Joan, there is no transparency of cost structure. This essentially puts an end to the problem. Interesting, though, the comment that pricing by size could incentivize us to lose weight. Maybe then choosing a salad for lunch instead of a cheeseburger and fries might be worth it!

Ken Yee
Guest
Ken Yee
11 years 11 months ago
Like most things in life…those who whine the most get the most. It’s just a matter of how much shame you are willing to endure and how much energy to spend on it when there’s a million other positive things that you can do. It’s interesting how some products usually cost the same despite varying sizes, while others don’t. Small and big jeans = same price Small and big suits = different price Small and big dress shirts = same price Personally, I think retailers should charge whatever price they want. If bigger clothes cost more to produce, they should sell it for more. It would also help them recoup costs, since even after big discount sales, they often have XXS and XXL as leftover sizes as they are often in lower demand. One argument is that people should be charged the same. The other side is simply, use more and pay more. Interesting debate. I’ve always sided with “use more and pay more.” If you think about it, there aren’t too many things in… Read more »
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