Sunday, July 13, 2014

Consumer Driven Selection Myth

I took a trip over to Rainbow Shops today (, the brick and mortar kind, which is something I rarely do. I usually like to save myself a walk of shame to the back of the store.  I had some burning questions that needed to be asked, however, so the trip was more necessity over pleasure. I use the word "pleasure" loosely. Let me walk you through my experience. 

First, let me introduce you to the Hylan Plaza Rainbow shop in Staten Island. Staten Island is a borough of New York City that looks like a forgotten suburb. This isn't the glamorous part of New York  city, this is strip malls, elastic waist bands, scrunchie land. 

There you go, there's Rainbow nudged between a telco and a soon to be opening Salvation Army. When you walk up to the store you'll notice two things, rainbow has two signs that say rainbow and also a large 5$, 7$, 10$ clearence sale. Doesn't that sound nice? 5$ fashion? If we can do it to foot longs as I guess we can do it for clothes. Except, what they really mean is only straight sizes (mostly) and that was the target of my first question.

Just about all rainbows share this pleasant clearence sign a few times a year. I clearly needed some assistance as I was looking through the racks outside of the store. I couldn't find a single plus size peice inside these clearence racks. Then I stumbled upon some plus size dresses on an unmarked rack. It was the secret 12$ rack for plus size women. I quickly found someone working there and asked them to show me where the 5/7/10$ plus size clearence was since a day prior I was told to look at the racks outside. I was told that the plus clearence was mixed in. I said , no, you're mistaken I've looked through each and every single rack out here. She then lead me to the rack with the dresses. I then pointed out, this isn't the 5/7/10$ clearence as noted and if you can not direct me to the correct area then this is false advertising. This is when I am brought deeper into the store. All sorts of quesrions started to pop off in my brain. Why am I being lead AWAY from the deals? Why do I have to go deep inside the store for clearence? Why can't I feel the warm summer breeze against my skin while I shop? Would it really be so bad if a plus size woman was seen perusing clothing in front of the store? I let that all slide away when the sales  associate showed me three racks in the middle of the store. 

After passing countless racks outside the store and about 6 inside the store I was a bit underwhelmed over the selection. Only one rack was 7$ and it contained basics, another rack was 10$ and it contained mixed peices. The third rack was a 15$ rack (funny, I didn't see that on the clearence banner!) I asked why wasn't it advertised up to 15$ she said she didn't know. She invited me to go deeper into the back of the store under the giant, low hanging, central air conditioner to check out the 7$ basics. Under other cercimstances, if someone tried to lure me to the most rear part of a building for the best deals i would have assumed she was peddling drugs or a prostitue. Nope, just 7$ basic tank tops. 

Clearence aside, the plus size section was about 1/4th of the rest of the store. It was slightly smaller than the abysmal shoe selection (that only went up to size 10). This left me with a few questions. Why is the plus size section getting smaller? Why is it so far in the back? Why doesn't the store front say they sell plus size? Why do the fashions look drastically different? Where are all the sales associates? As I browsed I saw many of the same styles over and over. Peplums, leggings, shirts with quotes, ripped jeans,   Maxi dresses, skin tight dresses, and a plethora of basics. The  straight sizes had more variation in style, color, selection, and better prices.

The stand outs of the plus size section included a white, 1982, nightgown, looking dress, a pair of 100% polyurethane pants (yes, more of the paint sealer) which rang up as "Novelty Leggings". Let me stop there. I want you to wrap your mind around this with me. Plus size clothing, made out of paint sealer, is not only considered acceptable for sale but also, novel. Cut up shirts saying "I woke up like dis", and tons of polyester pants with all different designs that varied from color blind toddler all the way up to this is what the machine spit out. While there were a few nice peices, many didn't even have the correct label. Pants labeled as 3x measuring in at a messily 36 inches. 

3x pants on 3x shorts. 

My friend was with me during this trip. She saw a dress she wanted hanging high on the wall. She tried to wave down a sales associate. She waited, and waited. She grabbed the bar to pick up hangers off the wall. She took down all the dresses. No one even noticed. No one came to help. She then put all the dresses back up. Ignored would be an understatement.

As I went to be rung up I asked quite a few questions

Myself- When will the plus size section be expanding?
Cashier- We can't expand unless we have more sales in the plus size section

M- Do you think the declining sales has anything to do with the vastly different styles between straight sizes and plus? I mean look at how many more options the straight sizes have. 
C- We only put out what we are sent, what they think will sell. 

M- The styles are very limited and basic compared to the rest of the store, maybe if the same clothes from the straight sizes were sent sales would expand?
C- There is a large selection online. 

M- What about the mannequins? I don't see any plus size mannequins in the window, and the ones I do see in the back have all the styles pulled back destorting them. 
C- We only have two plus size Mannequins. We can't put one in the window. 

M- you don't exactly advertise that you sell plus size, your clearence sale isn't even accurate, and these pants I'm buying, are pure polyurethane. 
C- :: looks shocked :: but they are on sale. 

M- Is that a good thing? It also doesn't help that I have to walk to the back of the store, there is minimal assistance. The average woman wears size 14, 64% of women are plus size. Yet the selection is horrible in here
C- we can only get more selection if more sales are made in the plus size 

M- So wouldn't you rather want to advertise that you sell plus size, 64% of women are passing your store because they don't even know. So your selection shrinks further isolating the profits. You then direct people to shop online. How does that solve your stores problem?
C- no answer.  

So my understanding of this whole shopping experience is- stores like rainbow will sell plus size clothing, push it to the back, may or may not have a sign indicating plus sizes, lack a dressing room, mislead you with sales that don't apply to  plus size, and worst of all tell you that they can't improve selection without better sales. There are a plethora of women wanting to spend their money on affordable, trendy, accessable, plus size clothing but with this treatment in store and often the inability to try garments on anyway, it is easier to shop online. Why should we be pushed though? Why can't a store just take a risk and treat the plus size woman like they treat the straight size woman. Maybe if their was this equality, the majority of the population, their target market, would be more willing to spend. 

Sadly, their logic is useless. Stores don't seem to understand that plus size women won't stand for this treatment. We are being sized out of stores and pushed to the back and expected to spend more or the same as a straight size woman who is assisted and can folly through endless racks of options.  We understand exactly how we are being treated and either subconsciously  or consciously we decided that our money shouldn't be spent in an atmosphere like the brick and motar stores that will only treat us badly. Instead of the retailer blaming their own size shaming practices they blame the customer. I've heard this same story from pretty girl, target, and other big name retailers. 

I'd love to simply urge all plus size women, to use the power we apparently possess, and shop in store as much as possible and as often as possible to see a real shift in the market. However, the truth is I would be telling you to take one for the team by allowing yourself to be mistreated. I'd never ask you do to that. I do want you to make a note of how you're treated when you shop. If you feel you're not being treated correctly, you don't like going to the back of the store, being directed to shop online, subjected to bad selection/ materials, I urge you to complain. I urge you to email, call, write, even face to face with a manager about how you feel. If we can all at least have some say over this shameful behavior, maybe we can see a real change that doesn't put another useless penny in the pockets of retailers that lack basic respect. 

We are 64%, lets control this market, lets get that equality and representation in stores that we deserve. 


  1. I never have a lot of luck with rainbow or lane byrant in my opinion they must think we have to wear the ugliest clothes. Do you have a Dots near you? I like shopping there, just watch out because sometimes the quality isn't there. but the price is.

  2. I know what you mean!! I have the $$ but the selection of cool plus size is virtually non-existent! Even Lane Bryant here isn't that great. So sad :(