Plus-Size Women Need to Go Online to Buy Clothes

Discussion
Jun 04, 2009

By
George Anderson

Fact:
The average woman in the U.S. weighs 164 pounds and wears a size 14 dress,
according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fact:
The average woman (and those who are slightly larger) is pretty
much out of luck in many shops in the U.S. if she thinks she can go into
a store and buy something that will fit her.

According
to a Crain’s New York Business report, many merchants across the
country are removing larger size items from store racks. Chains such as
Bloomingdale’s have reduced space for so-called plus sizes and Ann Taylor
only sells size 16 dresses online.

“It’s
almost as if certain retailers have said, ‘I’ll worry about losing
these customers later on,'” Andrew Jassin, managing director of Jassin-O’Rourke
Group, told Crain’s.

Retailers
have some justification in reducing inventory to consumers in sizes 14
and up, some say, because sales are down whether they are in stock or not.
Plus-size dress sales (sizes 16 and up) were off eight percent for the
12 months ending in March. By contrast, regular size items were down two
percent for the same period.

Not
everyone has abandoned women with double-digit dress sizes. According to Crain’s,
Eileen Fisher and Liz Claiborne are designing
plus-sized fashions and chains including Forever 21 and Target are testing
to determine the market opportunity.

Discussion Questions:
Are retailers missing an opportunity by not carrying clothes that fit the average-sized woman in America? What do you think about the opportunities
offered online, in catalogs and stores for clothes size 14 and above?

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25 Comments on "Plus-Size Women Need to Go Online to Buy Clothes"


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Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
11 years 11 months ago

When I read about percentage drops in sales between comparable markets, I always have to wonder what this represents in terms of actual units.

An 8% drop in sales might sound like a lot, but how many outfits sized 14 and up sell compare to outfits under that? Are retailers making the decision to reduce offerings based on stats or income?

Bob Phibbs
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

Let’s not forget, it is a crap shoot for many older woman to find clothes that fit due to a lack of consistency by manufacturers. A 16 should be a 16 but just as easily could be a 14, 18 or 12. Whether online or in store, until that is fixed, women’s upscale apparel sales will flounder.

David Morse
Guest
David Morse
11 years 11 months ago

This is a tough question. As we discussed yesterday, in tough times SKU rationalization should be a top priority, and a retailer or apparel manufacturer doing effective SKU level demand forecasting may find that eliminating or downsizing certain sizes makes sense.

On the other hand, finding clothes that fit is a constant challenge for larger men or women. They will support those companies that recognize that they have more “ample” needs. And let’s not ignore the multicultural opportunities. I often hear in focus groups with African Americans and some Hispanics that certain apparel companies don’t recognize that not all Americans are built like Barbie and Ken.

Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” answer here.

Kevin Graff
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

This is an interesting and challenging topic. Big, tall, short, ethnic and just about every other type of specialty store exists and seems to survive. Yet, The Gap discovered with its short lived Forth & Towne concept (and Cassis in Canada) that some consumer groups don’t want to be ‘pegged’ and asked to shop in a store just for them (in this example, women aged 35 to 55). They want to shop in a ‘normal’ store.

So, are retailers missing the boat by not carrying larger sizes? It would certainly seem so, based on demographic data. How can you ignore such a prevalent group?

Bill Robinson
Guest
Bill Robinson
11 years 11 months ago
The Fitting Room is the most important data source in the apparel industry. How many garments are tried on in the Fitting Rooms and not actually sold? No retailer actually knows the answer to this question which is at the core of their business. A couple of years ago a major department chain experimented with a clever system that required the scan of bar codes before assigning a dressing room. Hence they were able to correlate sales to fitting room trials. The data captured was extraordinary. It revealed the most appealing styles and colors. It measured the conversion rate. It showed the styles that were consistently rejected because of fit. Armed with this insight they were able to talk to their vendors well in advance of the clearance markdown cycle. During the trial, they were at last able to capture a much truer expression of demand than any analysis of POS data. But, alas, the department store couldn’t get itself together to make the business case to roll out this innovative solution. And the software… Read more »
Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
Guest
Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
11 years 11 months ago

I do not know about the “plus” size, however, my wife is petite and “mature.” Trying to find something that fits her and is appropriate for her age is a constant challenge! My gut feeling is that most retailers are losing sales by focusing on clothes that would fit only those who are in perfect shape!

Dick Seesel
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

If today’s average dress size is 14, then demographics and historical data suggest the average size will be 16 in another five years. Retailers ignore this trend at their peril. It’s tempting to pay less attention to the baby-boomer customer than to a younger, twenty-something consumer who might reflect the merchant’s self-image more appealingly. But baby-boomers carry a disproportionate amount of spending power and are probably the customers driving up the average size.

SKU rationalization makes sense in the context of the retailer’s target customer. It may be hard for (say) J.Crew to justify larger sizes, but it ought to be easier for Ann Taylor. By cutting off its size range in its brick-and-mortar stores, Ann Taylor is inviting some of its best future customers to shop elsewhere.

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

Could it be an income thing? Seems to me fitter, more attractive women tend to be more affluent and are willing to pay more for less material. The heavier-set women seem to have lower household incomes and therefore 1) require more material in their clothing and 2) are not willing to pay extra. Am I wrong? Otherwise why would a retailer choose to miss out on this opportunity?

Sue Patzkowsky
Guest
Sue Patzkowsky
11 years 11 months ago

This has been an issue for years. I am a “larger size” and often cannot find business attire in my local department stores. They only have casual attire and lots of polyester.

I have a high income and want to spend good money on designer lines. I did at times have better luck at the same chain in another suburb. I asked a manager once at my local store and was told that they carried more of the dressy large sizes at X store due to the fact that the women in that ethnic area were more likely to purchase it. I live in a high income suburb–I found this unlikely. I told him that was because other women like me were traveling to this other suburb to buy their clothes. It has taken years and now they are finally carrying the high-end clothes in my size. Selection is still poor. Retailers are missing a big opportunity here.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

If anyone wants a business person for a HIGH-END, large-sized women’s clothing chain, let me know. The market is so ripe it’s embarrassing.

And no, I don’t think large-sized women skew poor. Where’d that data point come from?

Connie Kski
Guest
Connie Kski
11 years 11 months ago

Can we add “tall” to “plus” while we’re at it. I’m stuck online–and I am not that big or that tall, but I am sure not average.

And I’m not poor.

Coldwater Creek has the right idea–their clothes come in a huge range of sizes, including large and tall combined!

Marge Laney
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

I couldn’t agree with Bill Robinson more. The fitting room is the most important data source in the apparel industry. I have spent many years looking at each and every detail of the retail fitting room experience. I consider the fitting room the pinnacle information and conversion zone within the apparel retail store and there’s plenty of data out there to back me up.

I also know from my years of experience that most retailers ignore the fitting room from a tech point of view. If retailers spent more time and money mining their fitting room information and opportunities they would sell more and make fewer mistakes. Paying attention to sizing trends is an easy one that seems like a real “duh” to me.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

OK, so the question needs to be asked again: Do the stores not carry the selection of larger sizes because they don’t sell, or because they want to maintain some sort of distorted image or something crazy like that? This makes no sense.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
11 years 11 months ago

Interesting. Chico’s is doing a great job hitting this segment. They even changed their size structure to psych the buyer into the fact that they’re not buying larger sizes. Lerner has a nice shop also. When a woman is in larger sizes, it is much harder and too much trouble to buy online. With the baby boomer population getting older and statistics showing that the waste line expands with age, this appears to be a huge opportunity. Oh yeah, and women that are in larger sizes want hip clothes too. They don’t and won’t buy a line made for frumpy fat and old women.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
11 years 11 months ago

The women’s plus size business has really become a specialty business. Plus size women have historically had a difficult time finding apparel that they could count on fitting correctly and that they felt was flattering. It’s not as easy as simply extending the size run from regular sizes into plus sizes.

For many plus size women, it’s a matter of trust and confidence. It’s a matter of establishing a relationship with a retailer that they feel comfortable with; that they feel understands their needs and consistently offers attractive things. It’s a different business than the regular women’s apparel business.

Many discounters and department stores have plus size departments, but the assortments are narrow, and fit is a constant issue. This is really a business better suited to smaller specialists.

Mary Baum
Guest
Mary Baum
11 years 11 months ago
“Fact: The average woman in the U.S. weighs 164 pounds and wears a size 14 dress, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fact: The average woman (or at those who are slightly larger) is pretty much out of luck in many shops in the U.S. if she thinks she can go into a store and buy something that will fit her.” Fact: The retail fashion industry has been on the skids for the last five to ten years, at least, and marketers have been at a loss as to how to get women buying clothes again. HELLO! When you don’t stock the sizes most women can fit into, they’re not going to shop your stores. That leaves you with two customers: the young and trendy, and the trophy-wife-wannabe. I have no idea what planet they train fashion merchandisers on, but a year ago at my local Coldwater Creek, one of their people said they’d just been to a training where they said the target customer was a 40-50 year-old nurse or teacher… Read more »
angiretlwire dixon
Guest
angiretlwire dixon
11 years 11 months ago

This line in the article says it all:

‘Plus-size dress sales (sizes 16 and up) were off eight percent for the 12 months ending in March.’

Eliminating the Plus-size dress category means that sales will be off 100% this year!

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
11 years 11 months ago
Yes, merchants are missing an opportunity to serve the full-figure female in the physical store. Simply pushing this consumer to the online or catalog channel isn’t a viable answer. Indeed, it actually penalizes a consumer who in most cases already pays more for their apparel and must now pay extra shipping costs, as well any return fees should the item be the wrong color, style, fit, etc. It’s not that moving plus-size apparel to the online and/or catalog space is a totally bad idea. Rather, it needs to be done with more of the consumer’s shopping needs and desires in mind. Always-free shipping would be a good start, as well as easy fee-free returns to the store or returns processing center. Or, how about some form of showroom retail experience wherein one item from the entire line is stocked in-store so the consumer can touch the material, gauge the color, or even try it on and then order via kiosk or online. There are ways to serve this consumer–it just requires some creativity. As I’ve… Read more »
Mark Price
Guest
Mark Price
11 years 11 months ago

Once again, retailers are mistaking SKU profitability for customer profitability. The TRUE profit number that should be discussed is the profit that comes from the lifetime value of that customer.

If there are fewer available options for plus sized customers, then it holds that those customers should have a higher share of wallet with their retailers–i.e. they spend a higher percentage of their retail dollars with a retailer who can fill their needs.

By removing those sizes, the retailers are saying that they do not value that customer as a whole, which could be a more expensive decision than they realize….

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
11 years 11 months ago
My wife got seriously ticked off when stores eliminated petite sections, but these data explain that development. On the other hand, I can only imagine how our big girls feel If they command such a large portion of the market (no pun intended) and the stores aren’t responding. Why don’t stores have the mercantile sense to offer products for them? In other words, why are we having this discussion? A number of questions occur to me regarding the reported 8% sales drop in plus sizes versus a 2% sales drop in regular sizes: First, are plus sizes upcharged because of the use of additional fabric? (Think airline seats.) Second, are our plus-sized women more reticent about trying on clothes in a public place than are regular-sized women? Third, are plus-sizes offered in as many varieties as regular sizes? (A story – I once asked a retailer why he didn’t carry a certain product. “We don’t sell many of them,” he replied. My response was, “If you don’t carry the product, how can you sell any?)… Read more »
John Koleng
Guest
John Koleng
11 years 11 months ago

Plus size women are also large and tall and would never fit into even a size 14. There is no reason to feel or act like these women don’t exist, because they do, and quite a large number of them. They should be able to purchase large size items online and in the retail stores off the racks. They should also be stylish while not being gaudy. The size shoes up to size 12 should also be available to them also. It is a shame to make them buy men’s shoes.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

There’s a problem at the other end of the scale, too. Because manufacturers have gone to what I call euphestic sizing, a woman who wore an 8 ten years ago wears a 4 now. This means that smaller women are also out of luck, or must shop in teen stores. As long as retailers clamp their hands over their ears and yell LA-LA-LA, they won’t hear customers, and will lose sales. Pity.

Sasha Pardy
Guest
Sasha Pardy
11 years 11 months ago
Affirmative: Too few stores carry 14+ for women, which is crazy because its been the average size for quite some time now and it’s no secret that Americans are getting larger. Affirmative: The other major problem is that the stores that do carry a small selection of plus size clothing is that the clothes are so commonly not fashionable or made out of cheap material. Why can’t they make the same fashions they do for the smaller sizes all the way up the range? And why is it a requirement that once you get up to plus sizes all the tops get so long? Affirmatve: Plus size women buy less clothes because there’s not enough appealing choices for them out there, not because they can’t afford it. The manufacturers need to get their act together on what is appealing to plus size women fashion-wise. Negative: Going nearly all online or catalog for plus size is ridiculous. Plus size women, more than the smaller size women, need to physically try on the clothes in the dressing… Read more »
Jill Nadeau
Guest
Jill Nadeau
11 years 11 months ago

As someone who hovers between size 12 and 16, I’d first like to say, guys quit guessing and go ask women. There are too many ways to look at statistics, anyone can skew them to their way of thinking.

Secondly–most of the time I make my own clothes because the ones I find are usually ugly and poorly made. If you are larger there are different ways to dress to look slimmer–if I see one more horizontally striped shirt I will throw up right in the store.

We want to look nice, we want to look professional. There a ways to do it without losing out on what’s new. Make clothes we look good in and you will sell more clothes…we want options. Gentlemen, how would you feel if you could only buy pants in one inseam length and just up to a 40″ waist? Think about what you expect in your clothes–we’re not that different.

Loretta Simmons
Guest
Loretta Simmons
6 years 3 months ago

Today plus-size clothing is also available at local stores along with online shopping stores as well.

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