You Can’t Shop With Us: How U.S.-Based Value and Midmarket Online Clothing Retailers Position Their Plus-size Female Clothing Section

Women shopping for plus-size clothing face many challenges, and not just at local retailers. Even when shopping online, these consumers are being isolated through marketing, language and website navigation.

A study by University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications researchers found that clothing retailers have a long way to go to incorporate inclusiveness into their women’s plus-size shopping experience, especially online. The study shows that the shopping experience for plus-size women compared with that of “straight-sized” (sizes below 14) women falls short, leaving plus-size women feeling like a second-class, minority group even though the majority of women in the U.S. are considered plus-size.

The researchers found that nearly 80% of the online retailers studied completely separated out the plus-size section from the straight-size section on their website and that the language used to describe plus-size clothing was often body-focused (e.g. “show off your curves”) versus clothing focused (e.g. “soft satin midi dress”) for straight-size clothing sections. In comparison, clothing-focused language was found in the plus-size men’s clothing sections.

In addition, 63% of the online retailers placed the separated plus-size section near the bottom of a list or near the very end of a list of product offerings in the site’s navigation menu. In this lower position on the list of product offerings, the plus-size section was often placed near the “Sale” section. However, when assessing the positioning of Big & Tall sections for plus-size men on the sites of those retailers offering men’s clothing, most of them did not separate out the Big & Tall section from the straight-sized male section.

In terms of stock, the authors also noted that the number of jeans/bottoms available to straight-sized women was about triple the number of jeans/bottoms available to plus-size women and a plus-size juniors’ section for women was available but not for men. These findings indicate that even though the average woman is considered a member of this community by the fashion industry, plus-size women are treated as an “other” or outside group, separate from women who are considered straight-sized.

The authors believe that future research should assess how this separation and language translates into advertising for these popular retailers to determine if the problem also exists in this space. Additionally, future research could evaluate how this separation and these language differences affect plus- and straight-size women’s self-perception and social comparison tendencies.

The original paper, “You Can’t Shop With Us: How U.S. Based, Value and Midmarket Online Clothing Retailers Position Their Plus-size Female Clothing Sections,” was presented at the 2021 American Academy of Advertising annual convention.

 Authors: Summer Shelton, Amanda Bradshaw, Matthew Cretul, Debbie Treise

 This summary was written by Dana Hackley, Ph.D.


Posted: October 12, 2021
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