Selection Doesn’t Fit with Consumer Wants

Discussion
Feb 23, 2007

By George Anderson

It’s not a new complaint. Female consumers have been saying for quite some time that the clothes found on store racks seem to be made for someone other than them.

Besides that issue, inconsistent sizing makes female shoppers have to work harder looking for clothes that are going to meet their needs. In short, shopping for clothes is becoming more like work and less like a playful diversion. More than half of all women surveyed by Retail Forward said that it is becoming more difficult to find clothes they find flattering.

Even finding clothes that are a close fit often do not end up in a happy customer experience. According to Retail Forward’s research, nearly one-fifth of women own clothes they cannot wear because they’ve never been altered.

Past experience has tainted women’s view of what’s on offer at many retail stores and specialty shops. Many no longer even bother to shop at certain stores assuming their experience will be no more satisfying than those in the past.

“While consolidation among traditional department stores and the rollout of several new private brands at retailers brought about many changes in merchandise mix in 2006, shoppers’ perceptions of positive changes in fit, as well as style, quality and value, are lower today than in prior years,” said Kelly Tackett, senior consultant and apparel analyst with Retail Forward in a company press release. “In fact, Retail Forward’s ShopperScape survey results indicate that with respect to fit issues, only Kohl’s and Target were cited by a larger share of shoppers than in prior years as having made noticeable changes.”

Discussion Questions: How can the sizing issue continue to be so prevalent in retail stores after years of customer complaints? How big an issue is the inconsistent sizing issue and is it time retailers demanded a single standard?

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17 Comments on "Selection Doesn’t Fit with Consumer Wants"


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Joy V. Joseph
Guest
Joy V. Joseph
15 years 2 months ago

The problem seems to be really exacerbated for women’s clothing, although some size incongruence does exist even for men. But sizes from different store brands can really be off for women. So much so that certain store brands get associated with women falling into different size groups. So there is an unofficial standardization in a manner of speaking, since you begin to realize that size 4 in store ‘X’ is really size 6 in store ‘Y’ and so on. A formal standardization in apparel may not be that easy to implement, due to the potential fallout from people who have been used to wearing smaller sizes suddenly finding out that they have to buy one or two sizes larger. But there may be a potential for a size ‘translation’ key that converts sizes between brands and stores.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
15 years 2 months ago
There are any number of issues at play here. Before we begin, let me say this isn’t necessarily a gender-based problem. For years I wore a Size 10 shoe. Today when I shop for shoes I can be fit in anything from a 9.5 to an 11, depending on the make, style, etc. The same holds true in clothes that are generically sized (S, M, L, XL, XXL, etc). While there is a general similarity between manufacturers, there aren’t identical fits. Hence, the famous, “They run large (or small)” line. In women’s fashion, the sizes have actually been changed. The argument leading to this was that as American women grew larger they wanted to (a) stay in the same size clothing and (b) find clothes that fit. The solution? Some enterprising manufacturers tagged larger garments with smaller sizes. Now, if Retail Forward found that, “…nearly one-fifth of women own clothes they cannot wear because they’ve never been altered,” that seems to indicate that customers purchased clothes they knew didn’t fit in the first place (i.e.… Read more »
Carol Spieckerman
Guest
Carol Spieckerman
15 years 2 months ago

Sizing is all over the map because sourcing is all over the map. Retailers like Chico’s have turned this into an opportunity by creating their own sizing systems (size 1,2,3) that guarantee consistency within their customer base; others, like Victoria’s Secret and Banana Republic, have developed fit standards in particular categories (bottoms) that build loyalty and help consumers avoid surprises. Consistent sizing and good fit definitely drive loyalty; however, creating sizing standards would seem to be a daunting, if not impossible, endeavor (back to sourcing)!

Lisa Bradner
Guest
Lisa Bradner
15 years 2 months ago

Models get skinnier, ordinary humans get fatter and fashion continues to revolve around NY and high-end designers’ vision of women’s bodies. We’re living in an era of fragmentation and desire to be different and special yet our clothes are mass produced somewhere in Asia. It’s not any great surprise–in order to be cost competitive companies need to mass produce clothes that don’t really fit anyone in order to fit everyone. Adopting a universal sizing standard instead of the vanity sizing so many retailers indulge in would help–at least you could take one size in the dressing room with some degree of confidence–but I suspect as long as we’re in the world of mass production there’s only so far manufacturers can go to fix this. Retailers like Von Mauer, who offer tailoring on site should be applauded for trying to help the issue–that may be the best most retailers can do.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 2 months ago
This is not just a women’s issue; men also must deal with inconsistent sizing. I think the sizes printed on clothes are not meant to set to an exact standard but rather certain range. Women’s clothes are often assigned numbers. From what I can tell, its like golf, the lower the number the better. Women seem to like to keep a more exact score. At the gym, the women will brag they wear a size 1 or 2 the way the guys will brag about their golf scores. If it’s high, they usually don’t admit what it is. For men, I like the sizes like medium, large, and x-large. Then again I don’t get many compliments on how I dress. But it’s nice not having to look through multiple selections in order to find something to wear. Women don’t like to see words like “large” or “x-large” on their clothes. Kinder, substitute words are sometimes used, but it doesn’t seem to help much. Men’s clothes often have room for growth in them, while women’s clothes… Read more »
Mary Baum
Guest
Mary Baum
15 years 2 months ago
My guess is that fit complaints are at a high right now because the mainstream look is very close to the body, so there’s less margin for error. On top of that, the current layered look features shorter outer layers–sweaters and jackets–over longer inner layers–tees and turtlenecks. In other words, fashionable women are intentionally creating the illusion of horizontal stripes from the sternum through the hips. Even the models in the catalogs have trouble pulling that off; in the dressing room, the consumer can only conclude that the clothes just don’t fit. So, yes, the designers (other than the ones you guys have mentioned above) have been extremely out of touch with what real (adult) women can wear. As for sourcing, in this age of electronic pattern drafting, is it not possible for designers to spec for any size and shape they need, or does that throw off the pricing models? Now, if my J Jill spring catalog is any guide, it looks as if some retailers are beginning to experiment again with a more… Read more »
Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
15 years 2 months ago
Apparel manufacturing is about as low tech an industry as exists today. Production chases low wages, low wage countries invest little in capital and technology. Garments are cut from patterns and sewn by people sitting behind a sewing machine, one piece at a time. Inconsistency in fit, even within a single style at a single retailer is not uncommon. That isn’t to say that there are no solutions. The technology exists to capture and update size specs on an annual basis should a company wish to do so. New technologies in body scanning which is converted to virtual size blocks and in turn to patterns and markers exist, and are not nearly as price prohibitive as one might think. Companies like TukaTech and Gerber have offered such solutions for some time. Companies like TukaTech have even set up franchise operations in major apparel producing countries that are much like a Kinko Copier concept. Retailers can work with them to establish size specs, these can be transmitted to makers (directly or via the service provider). Suppliers… Read more »
Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
15 years 2 months ago
It’s funny…nearly all of the people who have commented here agree sizing is a problem when clothes buying. But they see different aspects of the problem or causes for the frustration. You know what? I think they’re all right. It is a complex issue and therefore one not easily fixed. There IS a problem with spec. compliance, mainly in foreign factories. One need only to notice the variance in sleeve length on sweaters in size “S” on any store rack at any price range to know this. There HAS been serious size inflation especially over the past decade. As a collector of vintage garments of eras from the 40s through the 70s I can assure you that today’s size 6 is equivalent to your grandmother’s size 12. (I’m not sure they even had size 6 in the 40’s even though women in general were smaller then.) The shape of a woman’s (or man’s) body changes over time even if the basic weight stays the same. The size 10 Hollister teen, the size 10 Anne Klein… Read more »
Michael Tesler
Guest
Michael Tesler
15 years 2 months ago

This is in the nature and DNA of women, stores, and fashion. I am a 61 year old male…I know enough to know I know nothing about women and that is more than most men know…I do know that they come in a variety of shapes and sizes and tastes. I have owned fashion stores and I have been an executive in Fashion areas of department stores. Often we have seen one women love the fit of an item that a very similarly sized woman hates. Personal taste and attitude…some women love super tight jeans others have different definition of what tight is. The designers and brands are all trying to be unique and different from each other and balk at standardization. Trends and fads are constantly changing the definition of what a “good” fit is.

You can try to apply rational and analytical thoughts to sizing all you want but the fact is that it will always be a confusing maze and always changing…by “design.”

John Franco
Guest
15 years 2 months ago
As Ryan explained, there are many different issues here. A store like Hollister or Abercrombie & Fitch doesn’t have the same type of shoppers as a store like Macy’s, and probably gets away with size 4s that are smaller than size 4s at other stores. And their patrons are probably OK with that. If they made “standard” size 4s, their patrons would need size 2s or something even smaller. In addition, there are also considerations of length and (to put it delicately) more or less room in certain areas for stores that cater to teen and pre-teen customers compared to stores that cater to customers in their 30s and 40s. Given all of these (and other) considerations, I’m not sure that standardization is possible. Notice how men’s jeans come in discrete lengths (29, 30, 31, 32, etc) but women’s jeans come in petite, regular and tall, if you’re lucky to get that much variety. Do we need our pants to be like Starbucks? (I’ll take a loose 32 inch waist, small thighs, 33 inch inseam,… Read more »
Steven Roelofs
Guest
Steven Roelofs
15 years 2 months ago

Depending upon brand, pants that fit me may have a labeled waist size of 34, 36 or 38 and a labeled inseam of 32 or 34. Some of my shoes are labeled 9, some 9-1/2 and others 10.

Not only is any remotely proper labeling of sizes gone, but also the knowledgeable salespeople who would say that brand runs a little small and this brand runs a little large. Result? I no longer bother spoiling myself with expensive clothing. I find something basic that fits, then buy three or four, either the same color or multiple colors that I like, if possible. And I try on every single item because even two polo shirts labeled L may not both be L. I’ve saved money and simplified my wardrobe, which is good for me but not good for apparel retailers.

Jerry Tutunjian
Guest
Jerry Tutunjian
15 years 2 months ago

I think the issue is on the way of being resolved. Recent incidents in Spain and in Argentina, where fashion show organizers rejected “bulimic” sizes is the beginning of the trends to become more sensible, more realistic about the feminine form. Now that the international media spotlight has focused on the issue of size minus zero, next to come is a realistic global review of sizes and uniformity in sizes. After all, they keep reminding us we live in a “global world.”

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 2 months ago
Some of the men have chimed in to say that this isn’t just a women’s problem. It is also not just a clothing problem. Like Ryan, I’ve seen variations in shoe size. One of the catalogues I occasionally receive had a pair of shoes I liked the looks of so much that I ordered two pairs in different colours. When they arrived, they had obviously been made in different factories as there were slight variations in seaming and heel shape. The size also varied as one pair fit comfortably and the other didn’t. Just because a single specification was presumably sent out doesn’t necessarily mean the instructions were followed or the materials used behaved in the same way. Just like recipes, folks–same recipe with identical ingredients from a single store can look and taste quite different when cooked by several different people. Variations in size and shape are just another of those things we have to live with and if it means more time trying before we buy then so be it. Life can’t ever… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 2 months ago

You might note that women sometimes see themselves quite differently from the way others see them. Most women think they weigh less than they actually weigh. Most think they are taller than they are. They are not shopping for clothing, they are shopping for self image. They will therefore blame any fitting problems on the manufacturer/fashion before they examine themselves.

I remember as a kid being envious of the guys who had to wear boys clothes in “husky” (fat) sizes. Fat beat skinny any day, so men get conditioned to demand comfortable clothes from an early age. Women, on the other hand, dress for “presentation.” Give me one other reason for 3″ and 4″ heels.

Jim Leichenko
Guest
Jim Leichenko
15 years 2 months ago

It’s not just women who have this problem. It’s difficult for large men to find clothes as well. And I’m not talking about a “perfect fit,” I mean finding clothes you can get your body into. One example: the dwindling availability of XXL sizes at J. Crew. Check out their new shirt line at their Web site–not one XXL size in the lot.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

What a great opportunity for smart retailers: address size and fit issues. Which looks better: leading-edge fashion that doesn’t fit or something less trendy that fits well? How about something trendy that also fits well? Very few clothing retailers seem to have made this a priority. So if a retailer does make this a priority, and tells everyone, it would be a competitive edge.

Bernie Slome
Guest
Bernie Slome
15 years 2 months ago

In a recent Deloitte & Touche study, 64% of browsers walk out of a store WITHOUT making a purchase when they found their item out of stock. Retailers wake up! Not finding a size is the equivalent of the item being out of stock!

The study further found that a 2% increase in customer conversion resulted in a 10% increase in sales.

Retailers must do a better job of supplying apparel that will fit their customers!

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