Connecting With Every Customer: A Plus-Size Opportunity for Retailers

Plus-size shoppers have money to spend on great fashion, and for brands that can satisfy that demand, there’s significant opportunity for growth. According to Racked, 65 percent of American women wear plus-size clothing, and USA Today reports the plus-size market grew six percent year-over-year in 2016, with sales reaching $21.4 billion. But amazingly, the long-overdue shift to serve this market has only just begun.

We believe that a combination of ecommerce-driven customer centralization, an influx of successful direct-to-consumer channels, supply chain improvements, and speedy micro-manufacturing technology are creating a perfect storm that’s enabling savvy retailers to finally provide the experience that traditionally underserved shopperssuch as those in the plus-size marketwant, in a sustainable model.

More and more innovative companies are developing new ways to meet the needs of customers of all sizes, and their innovative, customer-centric approaches seem to be gaining them more loyalty from plus-size consumers.

Three major strategies that brands are adopting in order to join this inclusivity shift are better CX technologies, direct social media interaction, and more creative brick-and-mortar experiences.

Enhancing Customer Experience with Technology

The biggest risk for all online shoppers is finding the right fit. The most straightforward solution for e-retailers is to offer painless (and free) shipping and returns. Although shipping and restocking costs cut into a seller’s bottom line, this perk can go a long way in creating positive customer experiences and establishing brand loyalty. Even if a shopper initially buys multiple sizes and returns the ones that don’t fit, retailers have opportunities in both the shipping and returning process to communicate with the shopper ahead of time, building a valuable relationship in the process.

Universal Standard, a fashion startup specializing in sizes 10-28, is a perfect example of a brand that makes delivery and returns simple for customers. The company offers free shipping and returns in the U.S., and—through its Universal Fit Liberty program—offers the option to replace certain pieces from the brand’s core collection for free should their size go up or down within one year of purchase. (And it’s all for a great cause—all returned clothing is laundered and donated across a number of charities supporting women in need.) Because a Universal Standard purchase is low risk, customers are more likely to shop with them again in the future.

Of course, it’s better for both the retailer and the purchaser if every purchase can be a one-and-done deal right off the bat, and technology can help in that regard as well. Thanks to companies like Fits Me and Virtusize, retailers can help their customers determine which size will be the fit best before any final decisions are made. Fluctuate between sizes 16 and 18 depending on the manufacturer? Technology-assisted sizing analysis can eliminate the guesswork for shoppers and drive sales.

Even if brick-and-mortar stores maintain their stronghold on try-it-and-then-buy-it retail, the increasing number of shopping-driven technologies offer online retailers new and innovative ways to build loyalty within the plus-size shopping community.

Connecting Through Social Media

Plus-size shoppers may dominate the marketplace, but they’ve spent years taking a backseat in retailers’ brick-and-mortar spaces and advertising budgets. Social media gives brands a new way to court these shoppers by engaging with them on a more personal level—a critical step for smaller companies looking to build a loyal following.

Whether it’s through chatbots giving up-to-the-minute delivery updates or Snapchat stories announcing new product line launches, brands are turning to social media to create a stronger connections with their customers. For example, up-and-coming plus-size subscription service Dia & Co. hosts Facebook Live styling sessions, and uses the comments to tweak its business model. “We’ve learned about the ways she wants to shop, the type of content that’s resonating most, and generally, more about who our customers are beyond size,” CEO Nadia Boujarwah tells Glossy. “We consider ourselves a company of listeners. Our success is based on that feedback.”

Brands are also enjoying success by incorporating user-generated content (UGC) into their social media feeds. IGIGI and Swak Designs, for example, encourage plus-size customers to post photos wearing their fashionable purchases with brand-associated hashtags #igigistyle and #myswakstyle for a chance to win a gift card. The tactic not only gives customers real-world style inspiration, it helps amplify the brand across customers’ social media channels—a smart play in the drive for more customer loyalty.

Social media gives brands a new way to court these shoppers by engaging with them on a more personal level—a critical step for smaller companies looking to build a loyal following.

Getting Creative with Traditional Brick-and-Mortar

While a lot of growth in the plus-size market comes from ecommerce sales at brands like Eloquii, Modcloth, and Dia & Co., some of them are complementing their online presence with updated brick-and-mortar and enhanced digital experiences. As Gabi Gregg, blogger behind GabiFresh notes, “Sometimes you have a last minute event or something you want to go to, and you have nothing to wear, and you have nowhere to shop.”

Few mass retailers offer options for plus-size consumers, often relegating the section to the back of the store (if they even carry it at all). Because the category is often treated as an afterthought, traditional department stores and other brick-and-mortar shops not only wind up ignoring the entire plus-size market—they also ignore the potential revenue that comes with it.

Smaller brands like Eloquii recognize the need to experiment with retail pop-ups. Eloquii CEO Mariah Chase told USA Today that her customers repeatedly asked for a real-life Eloquii experience, so the company decided to test the market in Washington, D.C.’s Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. “There’s a unique value-proposition that a store provides, which is that she can see and touch and try the merchandise,” Chase explained. So far, the Eloquii experiment has been profitable, and the company is contemplating more brick-and-mortar locations.

Even some brick-and-mortar mainstays are finding success in the plus-size space as a result of these up-and-comers’ omnichannel expansions. JCPenney, while reducing its overall real estate portfolio, has seen outsized success from plus-size offerings through its shop-within-a-shop, The Boutique. Chief merchant John Tighe reports that plus-size sales performed better than the rest of women’s apparel combined in 2016.

“Millennials want a customer-centric experience in which they feel wanted and valued. Whether it is in-store or through social media channels, showing interest in these shoppers creates loyalty.”

There’s plenty of opportunity in the marketplace for brands that are willing to embrace customers of all sizes, particularly among younger shoppers. “Gen Z is the most diverse cohort in history, so companies that embrace inclusivity now will be better poised to earn their loyalty in the future,” Rachel Krautkremer, insights and strategy director of youth-research firm Cassandra, tells Glossy. Forbes concurs, “Millennials want a customer-centric experience in which they feel wanted and valued. Whether it is in-store or through social media channels, showing interest in these shoppers creates loyalty.”

Retail could enjoy substantial growth by courting plus-size consumers and their spending power across channels. For brands looking to thrive in this constantly-evolving retail landscape, products and experiences designed to better engage with underserved shoppers can result in lucrative growth.