Retail Therapy Doesn’t Always Work for Larger Women

Discussion
Nov 09, 2009
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

According to a study from Australia, while thinner women regard shopping for clothes as a pleasurable experience, many obese or even slightly overweight women often find it a cheerless one.

“The
difficulty many larger women have in finding clothing that fits
and looks good understandably makes shopping for clothes a negative
experience,” professor Marika Tiggemann of Flinders University
in Australia told The Daily Mail.

The survey of
162 women shoppers aged between 18 and 55 from the city of Adelaide examined
the link between clothing and body image. Results were published in journal Body
Image
.

The respondents
were asked to rate statements such as ‘I usually find clothes shopping
a positive experience’ on a scale of one to five, with high scores indicating
they agreed with the statements. In general, thinner women saw shopping
as a pleasurable experience while larger-sized women didn’t enjoy it
as much. But the average score was three – indicating to researchers
that women overall were ambivalent about shopping. Researchers said the
study questioned the often-noted therapeutic value women are generally
believed to receive from clothes shopping.

Speaking to Adelaide
Now
, Ms. Tiggemann likened shopping to “fantasy
realm” for some women.

“They’re looking
for that one thing that makes them look absolutely gorgeous, and when
they can’t find it, they get quite down,” she said. “Women do like shopping.
It has promise and hope but can turn into something that’s a bit depressing.
The term retail therapy doesn’t actually apply to a lot of women.”

The
study also found women with a lower body mass index shopped with fashion
in mind, while those with a higher BMI were more likely to buy items
that camouflaged their figure.

Stirling Griff, a retail analyst in Australia,
disputed the study’s results.

“Shopping is
pretty much akin to sitting down and eating a box of chocolates – it’s
one of those emotional things that makes you feel good,” he said.

Discussion
Questions: Is the assumed “retail therapy” women gain from clothes
shopping overestimated? What else can apparel retailers do to make
shopping a more pleasant experience for larger-sized women?

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13 Comments on "Retail Therapy Doesn’t Always Work for Larger Women"


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Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 5 months ago

Women of all sizes like to shop! But large-size women have a larger size problem than their slim counterparts. They want to look beautiful in their clothes, just like the portrayed models on TV, in movies, and in magazines, but concealment devices are all they can rely on–if all diets fail.

The paradigm of beauty focuses on a world that heavier people don’t inhabit easily. That puts a heavier cloud on shopping for larger women, but she still wants to be a woman, shop along with the skinnies and enjoy the fantasies than come out of that process.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

Having never been a “thin woman” it’s hard for me to answer this question. Having always been a Big Beautiful Woman (a magazine from the eighties), shopping has almost always been difficult. I either gird my loins to spend obscenely large amounts of money on something that works, or struggle to find something appealing that doesn’t cost a fortune.

As I walk the store floors I constantly ask myself…who the heck are these people BUYING this stuff for? Certainly not me. And then, when the sell-through is poor, and the sales racks are full of the same mis-sized, unattractive garments, the retailer no doubt thinks “those big women have no taste.”

I have much more fun buying electronics.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

I wrote about this on my blog in March that women’s apparel sales are off because nothing fits. Thin or not, woman do not like to be frustrated when shopping–it isn’t the discounts that are needed, it’s the fit.

Chuck Palmer
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

Women in general have a lot on their plates, and since a relative few find clothes shopping a free and enjoyable activity, it seems the idea of retail therapy is simply a pop culture myth.

Apparel marketers and retailers could do a better job of crafting assortments, positioning brands and improving the shopping and purchasing experience. The stresses are not limited to size. There are financial and time constraints that most women must contend with daily. Add size in there and we have a lot keeping women out of stores. Much of apparel shopping happens via catalog and online channels. Our lovely customer can shop in privacy, try things on when they arrive, and return unwanted items to the store.

Perhaps to understand our intrepid shopper, we should look beyond apparel and see where else she is spending her money. Grocery, craft, and home stores? Shopping for others in her family and for the home are how she gets satisfaction out of retail.

Marge Laney
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

When we buy something new that makes us look fabulous, of course it’s great for our psyche. And, yes, if you’re a perfect size 6 or 8 you’re going to have a lot more fun buying clothes than if you’re a 14 or more. We’ve had these discussions before; generally speaking, retailers don’t stock “fashion” for larger sizes.

But, regardless of what size you are, the general clothes shopping experience stinks. With the exception of being greeted upon entry and asked if you found everything you were looking for when leaving, clothes shopping is mostly self service, especially in the fitting room. Undressing, redressing and schlepping in and out of fitting rooms over and over again trying to buy something is not therapy…it’s insanity.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 5 months ago

I have yet to see a major apparel retailer create an environment that makes larger-size customers comfortable. Hanging POP of plus size models is one thing but when your sales staff is not sensitive to your customers’ needs, you might as well turn off the lights and lock up the store.

Apparel as a category is suffering from the personnel end of it. Adding plus sizes and the emotions involved just compounds the problem. Sensitivity training is in order. Just remember, this isn’t supposed to make the customer feel better, it’s to drive sales and build a bigger basket.

Lee Peterson
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

This is a semi-insulting question no matter how you look at it, but aside from that, for the past two years, shopping has been a “joyless” experience for all of us. Women included. The thought of spending money you may need later is downright painful.

Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
11 years 5 months ago

Shopping should be at least pleasant! There seems to be so little attention paid in the selection and display of garments outside the main shopping aisle. In some department stores, women are sent to a corner or back area with a name like Above Average or something equally cheerless.

The smarter stores are merchandising under a label or occasion with clothing in all size ranges together, under an attractive display, with accessories, etc. Many ladies find that they are between ranges, depending on garment and manufacturer. Having to run across the store to find slacks in a size 14 ladies vs. 12 women is enough to make one…frustrated.

There are way too many things on the hangers in larger sizes that are truly unattractive and just don’t fit well, as if an afterthought on the part of the manufacturer or store buyer. Truly hard to believe that with all the means available, stores don’t understand their customer in this segment.

Sharon Moler
Guest
Sharon Moler
11 years 5 months ago

It’s not just overweight women who find shopping frustrating. Anyone who isn’t an emaciated stick figure with designers’ ideal proportions (read “no curves”) struggles to find clothes that fit. I’m considered normal weight for my height, but have broad shoulders and a relatively wide waist with slim hips. If something fits in the shoulders, it pulls across the bust 9 times out of 10 and I’m an average 34C, hardly a bosomy woman. If something fits in the waist, the butt and hips are huge and baggy. Low- and mid-rise pants helped a ton, but after a few seasons the Hollywood waist (read “up to my bra”) came back in fashion. What’s fun about any of this for someone who doesn’t have a figure like a model–and doesn’t want that kind of figure?

Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
11 years 5 months ago

I disagree with Gene that all women love to shop. My mother in law loves it, but aside from her, I don’t have a single friend (big or small) that loves to shop.

They needed to include age in this question. Most of us with children find shopping to be another chore. I personally can’t stand to shop. I buy what I need and get in and out as fast as possible. If given the option, I buy online or via catalog. However, I’m fortunate that I can do that. My sister, who is a bit heavy, doesn’t like shopping because it makes her feel bad and she can’t shop through a catalog because she ends up returning half of what she buys.

Shopping is a drag, but receiving gifts is great…just make sure you buy the right size!

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
11 years 5 months ago

I suspect fuller figured women have very mixed feelings about shopping. Our fashion and cultural cues certainly celebrate thinness, and questions those who are not. Add to that the fact that few retailers do even an adequate job in plus sizes, and there’s not much in it for these women except frustration and a sense that they’ve been cast aside as unimportant by retailers. There’s nothing very therapeutic in that.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
11 years 5 months ago
For me, the whole “retail therapy” question is secondary. The primary point is that apparel shopping isn’t enjoyable for plus-size women. And that sounds like opportunity knocking. I’d add that the same lackluster, frustrating shopping experience is likely to exist for any consumer–female or male–who cares about their appearance, but may be shorter than average, taller than average, heavier than average or thinner than average. There is, essentially, no average consumer, and retailers and fashion designers need to catch up to that reality. What’s needed here is for a retailer/designer to make a commitment to make the shopping experience enjoyable for plus-size customers. We all understand that only so much stock can be put on the store floor, but there are creative solutions. For example, the brand could build out the plus-size section on the website and/or launch a catalog. And make sure to include very clear and thorough product descriptors with multiple product views and product reviews. Or, how about dabbling in showroom retail by stocking one of each plus-size garment in the store… Read more »
Marshall Kay
Guest
Marshall Kay
11 years 5 months ago

Item-Level RFID is regarded primarily as an inventory management solution. But it is also an important enabler of a stream of interactive retail applications that make the shopping experience more interesting and productive. One such application is the “smart” fitting room, where an LCD screen or a MagicMirror automatically identifies the items brought into the fitting room and displays relevant content on the screen.

In addition to info on complementary items–e.g. skirts that look good with the blouse the lady is trying on–these screens can also tell the shopper whether alternate sizes of the garment are currently available in the store. Need a different size? Simply touch the screen to send an alert to a sales associate to go fetch the specific size you need.

This might be particularly helpful to plus-size women because it reduces the number of times they might need to dress and undress in a cramped fitting room when they visit a store.

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