Why I Don’t Shop for Plus-Size Clothes Online

I recently posted on twitter about an idea that’s been rolling around in my head:

Shapely Women*: Why don’t boutiques in every town carry samples from all the online plus designers? If i could try then order, I’d buy way more!

And yesterday a designer responded, saying:

BlackRattle: @shapelywomen I’m always interested in getting more online business – what makes you nervous about ordering online? What would help you?

I responded with multiple tweets, then realized I’d just be better writing a post and linking that. So that’s what I’m doing.

How I Shop

Clothes by K·FREE, on Flickr

So I’m really picky. I go into a store, grab 20 likely items, and slip past the dressing room guard to try them all on at once. I know, bad customer! But this gives me a broad comparison of items, and I can rinse and repeat until I go home with my five favorite items from the store, all in an hour. It works for me, it’s quick, and I get to try on 40 items without the hassle of buying or returning.

By contrast, the internet is excruciating. Even with two-day free shipping and free returns from Amazon Prime, it takes me forever to make decisions that I could make in a snap in a store. Buying shoes online took weeks and returns, and the one shirt I bought from Lane Bryant was a pretty disaster, with shipping too screwed up and the store too distant to bother to return it. So I typically stick to books and electronics, and eye beautiful plus-size designs, that I want to support, but I get stressed out and never buy. The price feels high, I don’t know what I’m getting, and I can’t see someone face-to-face to ask about and be reassured about my purchase and how it looks on me. I love that plus designers are working on this and being innovative small-business owners. It’s just great — But it doesn’t reach me.

And I know it’s not just me. My mother, my aunts, my friends – with the exception of one or two hip young people, the rest of us plus-size gals never buy clothes online. Maybe 5-10% of plus ladies in America do, so designers are missing out on a BIG market that mostly just picks the least-icky stuff up from Kohls, WalMart, Lane Bryant, maybe Avenue or Catherine’s or the plus corners of department stores. And most of those clothes are just icky, baggy, and uninspiring — or low-cut & in wild colors that look downmarket on those of us who just want classy, curvy style.

So I see a big problem in distribution, and online doesn’t get me unless I already know the feel of the clothes and trust the designer. Or can see it on my friends — most of whom don’t shop online. So I don’t see plus designers selling at the level they SHOULD be, given the lack of brick&mortar style outlets for plus ladies.

2: What Online Plus Designers Need to Reach the Masses

by MarquitaRobinson, on Flickr

by MarquitaRobinson, on Flickr

Continuing from my last post which brought up some issues with online shopping, I think there’s a need for a system that makes plus clothes easily available for every American woman to try on. Right now, we’ve got boutiques in large cities, and that’s great, although they don’t reach the small-to-midsize cities as easily — can we say “fashion desert,” especially in semi-rural areas?

So what I envision is an expanded network of boutiques connected to an online system, so that designers can have samples available locally, and perhaps could also choose to sell finished pieces in these stores.

The stores could then take a 10% commission on orders made at an in-store kiosk (delivered either to store or person’s home). Think wedding shop – personalized attention, ordering whatever’s not in, and a friendly relaxed area for plus women to feel at home.

For Designers
For designers, you’ve got the problem of cost — how can I afford to send out samples? How can I make sure these will draw people in? This isn’t a big business, so how can I get the profits myself rather than giving them all to the retailer? How can people afford my clothes if there’s a manufacturing + retail cost?

But designers would just have this huge benefit from reaching out to people who aren’t on the plus circuit online, and then could draw them into online marketing once they already have some of your clothes and like your style. They could even announce that their new line is out at the boutiques, and give people coupons to take a friend with them and try stuff out there, drawing more people into the shops.

For Retailers
And for sellers, you’ve got the problem of making sure you do get a cut of things, and covering the overhead of your space and time. So perhaps this needs to start with existing boutiques adding samples and an ordering kiosk. Then we need shops in smaller towns or different neighborhoods, based on successful models. We need sharing of ideas between designers and retailers, as well as between retailers in the same area, who could perhaps agree to have both overlapping and contrasting lines so they can refer to each other and both get steady business.

Shops should also make money on alterations — as many of never get around to finding that tailor we know we need, but might if we were regularly at a shop that specialized in plus-size tailoring.

So… I’m not sure exactly how this works. But this is my schpiel: I know if I could tell my mom and grandma and aunt and sister and best friend and churchmate — “Come to this shop with me. You can try on samples in your size in a comfortable environment, find plus clothing you actually love, order and alter it (as needed), and look drop-dead gorgeous in it” — I know people would buy more clothes, even in this economy. Perhaps especially in this economy. I think an organic system of distribution through local relationships is also just what plus designers and retailers need!

Thoughts? Ideas? Responses? Let me know!

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