Monday, March 28, 2011

Know Your Demographics, Stores!

While running errands this week, I decided to do a little clothes shopping and get some grown-up clothes for a trip I'll be making soon.  But I was so frustrated by the experience that I didn't buy as much as I would liked to have bought. 

So I need to air a pet peeve about plus-sized clothing stores.  I've been ticked off about this for many years now; I know a lot of others out there have had the same frustration.  Time to air it.

Now, I'm not one to blog about fatshion topics much; anyone who knows me knows I'm incredibly casual most of the time. I'm all about feeling comfortable and could care less if I look fashionable.  I like to look decent but it has to be comfortable above all else.  I'm about one step above slacker most days. I do have a some dress-up items and business clothes when more formality is needed, but most of the time I'm just looking for casual, comfortable, decent everyday clothes.  Shouldn't be that hard to find.....but it is.

I don't shop much because I don't have time to get out to the stores very often.  Also, I'm not an easy body type to fit; a lot of what's out there doesn't suit me.  So when I find something, I tend to buy it in 15 colors, just in case, and I tend to buy a lot of things at once so I don't have to come back often. I'm not a frequent or prolific shopper compared to some, but the stores can make some pretty decent money off of me if they have something nice-looking in my size.  And that's the problem, right there.  In my size.

So I'm at Catherine's this week, looking around. It's not my favorite store (seriously, do we need sequins on everything?  I like a little bling now and again, but this is overkill!), but it does have my size (26/28), which a lot of regular plus-sized stores don't have (they usually stop at 24).  Plus-sized choices in my size are fairly limited in my area without some serious driving, so when I do shop, it's often there.

What pissed me off was that the chain continues to ignore the demographics of its customers, overstocking the smaller sizes and seriously stinting on the larger sizes. 

They continue to order 50 zillion items in size 0x-1x (sizes 16-18 or so), and far fewer items in a size 3x or 4x (26/28 or 30/32).  Yes, they do have 3x, 4x, and even 5x items, but as a percentage of their offerings and in relation to their customer base, the bigger sizes are under-represented compared to the smaller stuff.

The customer base I consistently see in the store (me included) is usually 3x-4x.  I rarely see a 1x-sized woman in the store.  Sometimes, but not nearly as often as 3x-4x women.

So thus when you get to the sales racks, there is an abundance of 1x stuff that's NOT selling, and hardly any 3x-4x stuff, which is what most of the customers are looking for.  And even in its first-run items, the 3x and 4x sell out really quickly and it's hard to find items in those sizes unless you are there the week an item arrives.

I mean, really, retailers ─ get a #$%*ing clue!  People who wear a size 16 are usually able to shop in regular, "straight"-size stores.  Do you think most of them are going to Catherine's to shop?  I mean, I'm sure some do, but most do not.

Catherine's is a specialty store, and it's going to serve primarily the plus-sized woman who cannot shop at regular stores but doesn't want to take a chance ordering something blindly off the internet that may or may not fit.

These women are going to primarily be 2x-4x, with an especially high concentration of 4x (since 2x-3x is the size at which many plus-sized departments usually stop).  I mean, if I can buy a 2x shirt at K-Mart or Wal-Mart, why am I going to drive further and pay more to buy a similar shirt at Catherine's? 

The women who spend a lot of money at Catherine's are going to primarily be women on the larger side of the plus sizes. You would think that Catherine's would know and honor this, but apparently it doesn't.

To their credit, Catherine's does carry 5x, which is far more than many plus-size stores carry.  So kudos to them on that at least.

But come on, Catherine's, know your clientele!  Most of your customers are going to be women in the 3x-4x sizing, so you should be sending far more of those sizes to the stores, and fewer of the 0x and 1x items. Instead, it's the other way around, and the end result is too many small sizes extra afterwards and unsatisfied customers among the larger sizes.  Another example of size snobbery even among stores that cater to plus-sized women.

And it leaves me pissed off like crazy when I go there, see something really cute that I'd be interested in buying.....only to find out that they only have it in 0x and 1x anymore.  They really lose my goodwill when this happens.  Makes me not want to shop at their store very often, honestly. 

It's not just Catherine's, of course.  Lane Bryant has similar issues, as does Avenue and several others.  However, the demographics of those stores skew younger, so they are going to have a somewhat more substantial base in the 1x-3x size.  But it's not like younger women never wear size 4x!  They want cute clothes in their size, not granny stuff.  And even as middle-aged as I am, I'd shop those places more too if they'd just stock more 4x items (that are true to size).  They're neglecting part of their clientele too.

I have complained about this to store managers for years.  The managers always say, yes we KNOW, we've been telling corporate headquarters that for ages, but they don't listen.


Don't base your purchases on the demographics of how many fat women wear what size in the U.S., base it on the distribution of sizes of your clientele, the people who actually come and shop there.

You are cheating yourself out of a lot of sales when you skew too much to the smaller sizes. And you are pissing off the larger-sized clientele, often the ones with more money to spend. 

Stop the size snobbery, and stop alienating the very customers who are the heart of your business model. 


mamaraby said...

Oh, I can understand how you feel, but mostly for me it was an issue of style lately. I haven't bought clothes for awhile between being pregnant and being short on cash has meant I typically stick with what I have.

I'm a fairly plain person - simple classics are all I really need. I walked into Lane Bryant the other week for the first time in awhile. I had money with me and I was ready to buy...needed to buy something. Except that not a single thing in the store met the "simple classic" category and was garishly ugly.

Seriously...since there are so few stores for me to shop in anyway, can places like LB carry a few options for those of us, while not Grandmas, prefer something a bit more to the center of trendy?

Heidi said...

YES! I have this issue with Catherine's All. The. Freaking. Time. When the sale racks are full of 0X and 1X clothing, it's clear that THEY'RE NOT SELLING, SO STOP STOCKING SO MANY OF THEM.

Catherine's DOES have some really cute things and it just royally pisses me off when they've sold out in 3X and 4X before I even get there, but there are a host of 0X and 1X in stock. I don't get it. I really, really don't. Hurrah for 5X and all but if you can't buy the size you want, it doesn't matter if they stocked it in the first place - not really!

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you! I've actually just undertaken a mass shopping spree by mail because I would like one pair of shorts that I love this summer--I'm between 28-34 depending on the retailer and last year I waited until June and couldn't find any shorts in my size! If they had ever existed they were all sold out. Avenue also pisses me off on this since they do carry 28-32, but only in limited items.

penguinlady said...

Yes! I'm a size 20 and run into similar issues - and being recently preggers with twins, I'm worried about finding clothes to fit my belly later. Do plus sized women not get pregnant in the world? Is this not a thing?

Cassandra said...

I wonder if it might partially just be your area. The Catherines near me has quite a lot of clothing in 3-5X, and I could have sworn I saw 6X too. There are plenty of sale items in that size as well. I can always go in and find something cheap and cute for my mom who loves Catherines. The same can't be said for Avenue or Lane Bryant. I've not gone into a Fashion Bug or Torrid even though they're more my style purely because I know I'll never find anything in my size. I also wonder if it's because the women who are in those larger sizes do more shopping online whereas smaller women might be more likely to go out to a mall or shopping center to browse through clothes. Shopping is a chore, not something to be done on a lazy Saturday with friends.

Kennedy's said...

Well said. I have similar frustrations, but I have found while it's not a perfect solution, Old Navy online has plus sizes up to Plus 30 online. And all plus size purchases have free returns for refunds or exchanges! Might not be convienent for some, but I have a UPS drop off right up the street.

IMO they have a pretty good selection of nice and/or casual looks. I shop their sale items often because I can usually get items around 50% off.

BUT the reason they HAVE thst policy is they are virtually dropping their plus sized in "real" stores. In my smaller says, that is pretty much where I shopped! I hate that they are cutting the store sizes, but they got me addicted already! :)

Lisa said...

Hey Kmom :-)
I wrote a similar rant a few months ago....I'm a size 10 at my skinniest, a 16 at my heaviest, and I generally fall somewhere around a 12. I have the same problem. Pretty stuff in sizes 10 thru 16 is always sold out, while 0s and 2s abound. Doesn't matter what size you are--if its a double digit, retailers count you out.

Will you be at the ICAN conference? My husband is at a work conference the same weekend, so I'll be at home. :-(

Meowser said...

Granted, this was about seven years ago or so, but I can remember the Catherine's in the Mall of Orange (California) constantly having tons of 3X to 6X stuff on the sales rack, and very little of the smaller sizes.

Catherine's and Avenue's 1X is really not for straight sizes (though you might have a point about the 0X, what's up with that, anyway?). I wear a 1X in most of their things, and I'm a good size 20, maybe even 20W. And Torrid is fun, but I find it kind of overpriced for the quality.
Department stores mostly have total CRAP in sizes 18/16W and up if they have anything (or if it's Nordstrom's, hilariously expensive), with the exception of Sears, which carries Lands' End.

But even so, I need LE's petite length, so I usually have to mail order anything in long sleeves/long pants anyway. (Side note on LE: Their knits run pretty large. Even at my current DEATHFAT BMI of 41, I wear their XL petite, so I'd guess their 3X would cover a 26 or thereabouts, depending on build.) So yeah, even at my size, LB/Catherine's/Avenue is (mostly) where I have to go if I actually want to try things on.

But you certainly have a point that they are under-ordering stuff for women whose options are more limited.

fattery said...

I'm a smaller, younger person, and I recently wrote a post about this issue from my perspective--about how I benefit from this, and about how as a smaller fat person I previously didn't HAVE to shop only plus-size. So YES, while I know that I benefit now that I do shop plus-size, I feel like everyone should get to have a pleasant shopping experience where they know items will be stocked in their size. Anyway, if you want to check out what I wrote:

kaycee said...

I can't tell you how often I have expressed EVERYTHING you have said in this post. Right down to telling salespeople and managers that they are losing sales because they do not have my size. There is almost nothing more frustrating than going through rack after rack of clothing, seeing that there are 10 - 20 pieces in 16, 18, and sometimes 20, but that all (probably only 2 in the first place) of the 28s are gone. For me, this hasn't been at Catherine's, it's The Avenue and, to a lesser extent, Lane Bryant (LB seems to carry a few more in the larger sizes... but then, they seem to have "sized down" a lot of their clothing lately, since the 28s often don't fit me, yet I'm still wearing other 28 clothing I got from there previously.)

But more frustrating than this is going to a store that advertises my size, that I know used to, until about the last year or so, carry EVERYTHING they had in my size, and wading through rack after rack not finding ANYTHING in a 28. And then getting told, after wasting an hour or so, that all of the clothes in which I'm interested only go up to a 26.

WTH?!?!! I thought the store carried up to a 32. But now, they only carry up to 32 in styles that aren't all that attractive. At least half the store only goes to a 26 anymore.

Yeah, that's a GREAT response to people saying "Hey, how come you don't get in more of my size?" Solve the problem by making it so frustrating and undesirable to shop there that they are no longer plagued by those really big fatties complaining that they can't find their size... they just won't bother to come in at all anymore.

I guess we now know why they aren't "Sizes Unlimited" anymore.

Sarah May said...

My issues for plus size fashion is that it is TOO "fashionable". I don't want large flowers on my chest announcing to the world that my boobs walked into a room... I don't want sequence, I don't want stripes or polka dots... I don't want animal prints or a hideous pink shirt with a giant pair of sunglasses on it. I would LOVE simple fabrics without atrocious prints. A nice pair of jeans without bling on the butt.

And for the love of everything holy, why don't plus size clothes stores sell bras in plus sizes? I have yet to find a plus size store that sells bras IN STORE large than a DDD. I have searched in two different states without any luck.

Janeen said...

Oh my goodness, this post totally speaks to me. Once upon a time, I used to practically have a TEMPER TANTRUM in the stores because of not finding things. These days, my style is knit pants, t-shirts (short or long sleeved depending), and gauchos in the summer. I bought my coat in the men's section, I haven't gotten a new swimsuit in over 5 years, and instead of a nursing bra, I make due with a couple of regular bras I got through Lane Bryant some months before I left for South Korea (and we will NOT discuss the NIGHTMARE of shopping in South Korea, K, I mean if you're over a size 10, you are out of luck and the saleswomen there have NO problem waving you off while saying, "no largay, no largay!"). I HATE shopping for clothes and it basically comes down to me grabbing it and hoping it fits.

However, to be fair, my poor husband faces the opposite problem. He cannot find pants SMALL enough to fit him (yes, I hate him too for it). For the most part, he has to go to Old Navy because that's about the ONLY place in my town that has pants that go low enough in size for him because he's in AT LEAST a 29 inch waist if not smaller. And let's not discuss shoes (he wears a seven wide; I wear size 10 1/2 or 11). And our girls aren't going to be much easier. My older daughter is short legged (like her mom and dad) but thicker waisted and the baby even I can't figure out sizes! She's going to be like her daddy but at least she'll probably eventually have fewer problems finding clothes. I think the problem is this, the whole sizing issue simply does not work. If you're not average, forget it. And no one in my family is average (though my husband actually did okay as far as finding clothes in Korea, Korean men being around his size or smaller).

We have a Fashion Bug here and I swear their sizes have gone down because their stuff does not fit me as well. I did okay finding pants there but most other For the most part, I don't worry about it but I really should start to get nicer clothes, stuff that I can wear for dressier occasions but that's easier said than done unfortunately.

And just to mention, there was actually an article out in The Washington Post back in 2005 about fashion designers and stores deliberately not carrying plus sizes due to the stigma of having a bunch of "fatties" shopping in their stores. People really do look down on overweight people, especially women and I get so sick and tired of it.

hollyjoy85 said...

Oh, I agree wholeheartedly with you. I do most of my shopping primarily online and, besides store that offer plus sizes not stocking their racks sufficiently, I also dislike when plus size sotre neglect to use plus size models. Woman Within is particularly guilty of this. I have no clue how an item of their clothing will look on me because they use women that are swimming in their smallest possible size. It's frustrating. >=(

jesirose said...

So, a 1x is just a little too big for me in shirts, and an XL is always a little tight. For pants, I used to fit in to a size 18 at the gap, but now I have to go to Lane Bryant and buy a size 22, because they are almost always out of the 20.

As someone who is on the small end of the plus size sizing, it's just as frustrating when they don't have the smaller sizes.

No one is going to be happy when the store is usually out of their size. My fiance and I both wear XL shirts and always have a hard time finding them in "regular" stores, but I have just as hard a time finding them in plus size stores. Most items in a plus size store look too big on me. In between is no fun either.

Laura said...

Of course these stores all have the same issues - they are all owed by Lane Bryant! Go to the Avenue website, or the Catherine's. There are links to all of them.

jackie said...

Things I hate:

Always digging in the back of the rack for my size (when the racks have so many clothes on them they fall off the front). Who says the small sizes have to be in the front. Oh, and please put the tag where I can get to it.

In department stores, the "Women's" clothes are in the back corner. Like they're ashamed they even carry larger sizes. (I know of a Nordstrom's and a Dillards that display plus sizes prominently, THANK YOU!)

Hardly any size 26-28 to choose from -- even before they go on sale!

When plus size stores don't carry the basics. I could hardly find a 3X belt when I needed one.

And TWalmart, have you looked at your customers lately? More plus sizes please, especially in men's. Oh and Target, stop mixing the plus size and maternity. Non-pregnant plus people and non-plus pregnant people are not the same dang thing!

Anonymous said...

Blech. Don't even get me started on plus size maternity clothes. I was prolly a 16 before being pregnant and there was nothing in xl that even looked like it would fit a non pregnant lady. And the maternity stores have the oddest fitting pants imaginable. And if you have a professional job-forget about trying to find a suit or dress pants. Or a shirt that looks halfway professional. Although- I had that issue before pregnancy anyway. Ahhh. With so many women over size 14, what are these retailers thinking? I would spend mad money on clothes if only they were out there.
Jcp outlet was the only place I could buy pants. Too bad ours just phased them out. Alas-with 2 months left in my pregnancy, I will make skirts if I have to to get through.