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Pain points in plus-size retail: We asked, shoppers answered

It doesn’t make commercial sense to treat customers with disrespect, but it seems as if every plus-sized shopper has a retail horror story.

By Sarah Dunn | June 16, 2016 | News

Staff who refuse to acknowledge their presence; items segregated out and priced dramatically differently from their counterparts in smaller sizes; wonky fits, poor quality and rack after rack of inappropriate, off-trend items. We asked Kiwi plus-sized shoppers how they wanted retailers to change, and by god, they told us.

Overseas, trend-driven retailers like Boohoo, Mango and Target have all launched plus-size ranges in the last year or two as they seek to cash in on the rapidly-growing plus-size apparel market.

Research by Conlumino has forecast UK shopper spend on plus-size fashion to hit £6.4 billion by 2019, citing womenswear as the fastest-growing segment. In 2014, 24.8 percent of consumers bought plus-size clothing.

The disconnect between numbers and visibility is even starker in the US. Bloomberg cites an amazing 65 percent of female shoppers buying plus-sized clothing, pricing the plus-size apparel market at $19.9 billion in 2015.

Little research exists on plus-size retail opportunities in New Zealand, but Auckland blogger Meagan Kerr has become an expert on the subject through her internationally popular style blog, This Is Meagan Kerr. She reaches around 15,500 readers each month through the blog and has a combined social media following of more than 30,000.

Kerr, who wears an NZ size 24-26, has worked with companies like The Warehouse Group in developing and testing plus-size ranges.

City Chic

Many mass-market apparel retailers perceive their plus-size ranges as performing acceptably when in fact, consumers are only buying them because they feel there’s no other option, Kerr says. She says the high price point of more fashion-forward plus-size clothing, whether sold in New Zealand or imported from overseas retailers, has forced many plus-sized consumers into garments which don’t fit well or suit their taste.

 “There are people who will buy things, not because they like them or feel good in them, but because they feel that’s their only choice.”

Kerr says the plus-size market in New Zealand is “way behind” retailers in Australia and the US, and is missing out on sales as a result. By way of example, Kerr says when plus-size bikinis became popular a few years ago, she found that not one local retailer stocked them.

“They say they won’t stock them because customers don’t want them, but I know their customers want them because they’re coming to me saying, ‘Where can I buy a bikini over a size 18?’”

Kerr feels little consideration has been given to plus-size consumers by New Zealand retailers.

“I don’t know if they don’t want to cater for plus-size  [shoppers] for personal or political reasons, or maybe all their friends and family are under a size 16 so they just don’t think about it.”

Kerr says that if plus-sized customers were better served by retailers in New Zealand, they would potentially show greater loyalty than straight-sized shoppers as trying items on in-store is of high importance to them. Bigger bodies have more diversity in terms of shape, so any given plus-size garment’s fit is much harder to judge remotely.

In an attempt to assess the current situation, we asked Kerr’s Facebook community about how they feel their needs are being addressed. Hundreds of posts later, here are the scientifically-questionable but undeniably compelling results.

Each question was asked by Kerr in a separate Facebook post, made over a period of one week.

Asos

Who are they shopping with?

Asked which plus-size retailers operating in New Zealand are their favourites, Kerr’s readers mentioned the following brands:
 

  • Just My Size
  • Torrid
  • City Chic
  • TS14 Plus
  • Augustine by Kelly Coe
  • Kmart
  • Farmers
  • The Warehouse
  • ASOS
  • Crossroads
  • Autograph
  • The Carpenter’s Daughter
  • Ezibuy
  • K&K
  • Zebrano

Kmart, Farmers and The Warehouse appeared to be staples. The problem with price points expressed by Kerr in her interview with The Register was echoed by many of the 21 people who replied directly to our question.

It feels like there's two extremes - either Kmart & warehouse, or city chic, Zebrano (amazing but expensy) tcd, ts14 etc, wish WISH there was a glassons for size 16-22+!!!

The choices are ok if you know where to look, could be so much better though, when you think of a mall and how many clothes shops there are and how many stock larger sizes is not a fair percentage. I shop at Carpenters Daughter and just recently Augustine, also shop at Farmers, Ezibuy and occasionally K&K. We are not catered for well enough I reckon!

Augustine by Kelly Coe

How easy is it to shop plus-size?

When ease of access was queried, eight of the 12 respondents expressed a preference for shopping online, while the other four were just as committed to shopping in-store. The online shoppers typically cited limited availability of plus-sized clothing in their local area, while many of the in-store buyers were concerned about sizing and fit.

I don't have many issues with finding things I love in my size other than, it seems that things in my size range are often sold out, meaning there must be more demand than supply for sizes 18-24!!

My biggest issue with shopping isn't finding my size though - it's finding things that are colourful and fitted! For some reason all the plus-size clothing I find in stores is shapeless and dark....as though I shouldn't want to show off my curves, just because I have a few more of them ;-)

Zebrano

What are the pain points?

A question asking posters what the most difficult part of buying plus-size clothing in New Zealand drew the second-biggest response, attracting 39 direct replies and 10 likes.

The question specified price points, fit and style – price points was the most common complaint, cited by 22 commentors; followed by style, with 17 mentions; and fit, with 16.

The perceived mismatch between quality and price points which had been identified earlier was also much-discussed in this thread. Many of the younger posters felt plus-sized fashion tended to be more homogenous than mainstream clothing, as well as pitched to an older age group.

I'm happy to pay for quality, but I will not buy something just because it's my size, you know? I want things that speak to me, and give me the same ability to express my personality that standard sized women have.

Also, I often struggle to find plain fabrics as a lot of plus size clothes are patterned (especially trousers - argh!). I am over patterns and granny looking fabrics! I think perception is that mostly older women are plus size, so they forget to cater to us younger ladies.

Those who had turned to online shopping from overseas vendors to satisfy their desire for more fashion-forward clothing and a greater variety of styles were also concerned at the cost of shipping items to New Zealand.

Ezibuy

What’s working well?

Our question about what was the best aspect of shopping for plus-size clothing in New Zealand also drew a lot of attention, attracting 22 direct replies.

Unfortunately, more than half of these comments were wholly negative, and only eight respondents had anything good to say about their retail experience as plus-size shoppers. It’s clear there’s a long way to go.

 Hell no, I honestly cannot think of one more positive thing at all 

The respondents with positive comments focused firmly on customer service, displaying considerable customer loyalty by naming stores and even individual outlets.

The best thing about plus size shopping is that nine times out of ten the service is excellent! The people working there are friendly and helpful. It makes such a difference.

Rose and Thorne got a mention – “I refuse to buy online from them since I’d rather go in and have a chat with the lovelies who work there” – and Autograph and Farmers also received compliments. City Chic was praised three times but twice criticised for its range, fit and quality.

TS14 Plus

What needs to change?

Forty eight people replied directly to our question about what changes they’d like to see in plus-sized retail.

The most popular comment called for high street retailers like Glassons and Cotton On to increase their ranges. It attracted 37 likes, and many further replies which also called upon Zara, Max, Dotti, Just Jeans and Jacquie E.

I would like to see more "chain stores" extend their range to include larger sizes. It would be nice to go into a mall and be able to shop in the same shops as everyone else without feeling "marginalised" by having to go into a speciality plus size shop.

Another popular comment highlighted the difficulty of finding flattering shoes for wider feet.

I have indigenous feet, these babies don't squeeze into a simple boot very well... Many Māori and Pacific Island women have wider feet, and it's hard to find flattering shoes.

Several of those who responded addressed the way plus-size clothing is presented both online and instore. There were multiple calls for modeling shoots which showed “plus-size clothes on plus-sized people”, including those at the upper end of the plus-size spectrum.

I want them to show us the clothing on various sizes, ages, shapes and ethnicities of real plus women!

Two respondents also wanted plus-sized ranges to be more prominently displayed instore. Consistency of sizing was a recurring theme, with one creative respondent calling for a complete rehash of sizing structures: “Not numbers, maybe different flowers or colors. I wear "size pink.”

Overall, the same concerns about fit, price points and style which were present throughout Kerr’s interview and the previous comment threads were presented over and over in this one. The issues are clear – so, why aren’t more retailers addressing them?

We’ll let the below commenter have the last word.

I'd like all stores to have extended size ranges. I went in to a store I never frequent with a slender friend recently. I was blown away by the choices she had. Looking around I just couldn't see why any of the clothes on the racks couldn't go past size 16. With so many of the population over size 14 it seems so oddly [un]balanced. Why doesn't commercial sense create the market? I just don't get it.

Autograph
​ ​

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