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Riding the Plus-Size WaveConsumer Behavior Case Study By Robert A. Willard Tolga Yaprak

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The underlying theme within this case as well as the reasoning behind our proposed strategic alternative is: how do we increase sales and alter the consumption habits of our target consumer market with in the plus size clothing industry.

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Page 1: Plus Size Case

“Riding the Plus-Size Wave”

Consumer Behavior Case Study

By

Robert A. Willard

Tolga Yaprak

Page 2: Plus Size Case

Contents

I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY................................................................................................................. 1

II. INTRODUCTION………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..2

III. ANALYSIS OF THE ISSUES AND RELAVANT CB CONCEPTS ......................................... 3

IV. VARIOUS ALTERNATIVE ACTIONS ....................................................................................... 7

Strategic Alternative 1: ............................................................................................................................... 7

Strategic Alternative 2: ............................................................................................................................... 9

Strategic Alternative 3: ............................................................................................................................. 11

V. BEST ALTERNATIVE ACTION ................................................................................................... 12

VI. IMPLEMENTATION PLAN: ..................................................................................................... 12

VII. MEASURE OF EFFECTIVENESS ............................................................................................ 13

VIII. CONCLUSION ......................................................................................................................... 14

IX. CITATIONS/NOTES/REFERENCES ........................................................................................ 16

X. APPENDICES………………………………..……………………………………………………………………………………..…18

Appendix A :..………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………18

Appendix B :..………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………18

Page 3: Plus Size Case

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I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The underlying theme within this case as well as the reasoning behind our proposed strategic

alternative is: how do we increase sales and alter the consumption habits of our target consumer

market. In the following sections, we describe the industry and our company’s position within

the industry (section II), as well as the behavioral aspects of our target consumer market and its

relationship to our sales (section III). After careful study of theoretical reasoning, we’ve found

that consumers with lower self-esteem tend to spend less. Our strategic alternatives therefore

attempt to enable our consumers to increase their self-esteem and thus, altering their

consumption behavior in favor of shopping at Lane Bryant and Lane Bryant’s new boutique

shop, Cacique. The strategic alternatives (section IV) that we propose are:

1. Implement new clothing lines which address the issue of differing “shapes” among

women, as opposed to the traditional numerical sizing method.

2. Implement a marketing strategy which will discard the usage of the term “plus-size” and

coin new terminology, such as “normal sizing”.

3. Implement a two-pronged approach, running parallel programs that utilize both new lines

for shape-based sizing, as well as a marketing program using new terminology.

We propose strategic alternative ‘3’ (section V) to Lane Bryant to implement by manufacturing

new clothing lines that appeal to shape-based consumption, as well implantation of the marketing

program in more traditional methods, such as advertising and celebrity endorsements (section

VI). We plan to measure the effectiveness of our strategic alternative by using key performance

indicators in addition to return on investment metrics (section VII).

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II. INTRODUCTION

This case study explores how plus-size female consumers perceive their bodies and themselves,

how their self-esteem, body-image and self-concept, self-consciousness and cathexis may

influence involvement with clothing, and how these factors may impact their perceptions of the

importance of plus-size store and clothes attributes. Additionally, how the aforementioned

concepts factor into their consumption practices.

Fat, big, over-weight, full-figured, big and beautiful and curvy all have one thing in common:

they are another way of saying “plus-sized”, which is considered a derogatory term for most

female consumers. This plus-size term is the equivalent for men's plus-size clothing term big and

tall, but big and tall in the USA is not considered derogatory and in most situations is considered

sexy. Plus-size is a clothing category for women size 14 and up. The term “plus-size” was first

used to represent those women who were larger or taller than the sizing average. 1

Over the years the term “plus-size” has gained a negative perception and attitude toward

it. However, there still remains a major need for plus-size clothes. “According to a 2008

survey conducted by Mintel, a market-research firm, the most frequently worn size in

America is a 14. Government statistics show that 64 percent of American women are

overweight (the average woman weighs 164.7 pounds). More than one-third are obese.

Yet plus-size clothing (typically size 14 and above) represents only 18 percent of total

revenue in the women’s clothing industry.” 2

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Lane Bryant one of the market leaders of plus-size clothes was founded in 1900 in New York as

the first women’s appear retailer devoted exclusively to plus sizes.3 Companies like Lane Bryant,

have realized this and they are starting to market to plus-size women because they now represent

the MAJORITY and no longer the minority. The Plus segment is the largest and fastest growing

segment in women’s apparel industry for the past several years. The plus-size clothing market

presents a very attractive proposition to both marketers and retailers, accordingly with the rise in

obesity in America. According to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this

obesity trend has been increasing rapidly over the years (see appendix B).

The major issues addressed in this case are: 1. Not enough size choices 2. Not enough body

shape customization 3. Negative perception and attitudes toward the category, “Plus-Size”

III. ANALYSIS OF THE ISSUES AND RELAVANT CB CONCEPTS

The following issues have been identified with the Plus-Size clothing industry:

1. Not enough in-store choices for plus-size women

2. Not enough body shape customization

3. Negative perception and attitudes toward the category, “Plus-Size”.

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Not enough in-store choices for plus-size women is the first issues we have identified with the

plus-size clothing industry. This issue is due to the fact that most “plus-size” clothing tends to

come in a general, one-size fits all designs, while the majority of consumers who qualify as

“plus-size” continue to have difficulty shopping for clothes that actually fit them. Thus, the

recent availability of “plus-size” clothing doesn’t tap fully into the potential of the market.

“Many plus-size consumers are not only frustrated by the lack of fashionable clothing catered to

them, but experience added frustration when at a store like Lane Bryant and they are still unable

to find and purchase clothes that fit them.”4 Not only are stores like Lane Bryant missing out on

potential revenue when a consumer walks into their store, but risk the negative experience that

the consumer may place with the store and potentially never return, due to their belief that they

don’t carry items that will fit them. This causes female consumers to have a negative attitude

toward the plus-size clothes attributes being sold and the retailers selling them. This negative

attitude toward the clothes attributes and retailer attributes causes consumers to be less motivated

to shop and buy plus-size clothes which results in a reduction in sales. If plus-size retailers like

Lane Bryant has more size options both online and in stores this would lead to a potential

increase in sales.

The second issue that we have identified with the plus-size industry is that there is not enough

body shape customization. With a lack of plus-size clothes that fit the shapes of female

consumers body it leads to a reduction in self-concept and self-esteem. Lynette Lederman, an

assistant to City Councilman Doug Shields, says, "It’s humiliating and exhausting…" of the

search for clothes her size in mainstream department stores. 5 Although there has been a trend

towards accommodating for women’s sizes, like at Walmart where they have an extensive “plus-

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size” collection,6 most of Lane Bryant’s competitors continue to use traditional sizing methods,

Walmart included. In fact, according to Cynthia Nellis, a well-known authority on women’s

issues at About.com7, most U.S. and international retailers add a “W” (to indicate ‘wide’) after a

numerical size, i.e. 34W.

This shows that there is nothing being done to accommodate for different women’s shapes,

regardless of size, besides simply making clothes wider. This implies that anyone who does not

fit within the traditional “Misses” size range, (0-20, or maxing out at 38 inches at the waist) must

have a letter placed on their purchase virtually labeling them a “W”, and outside of the

traditionally accepted size range. Lane Bryant has recently opened up a lingerie line and

boutique store to sell it in, named “Cacique”, and has pointed to Victoria’s Secret as their

competitor.

Besides taking into account Victoria’s Secret’s market dominance and brand dominance,

Cacique shouldn’t have too much competing with them; Victoria’s Secret doesn’t sell anything

over a size 16, which they have aptly termed ‘XL’!8 The fact is that women’s clothing retailers

have fixed on the concept of women’s bodies falling within distinct numerical sizing, whereas in

reality transfixing a woman to a number instead of a shape is extremely difficult, and may have

negative impacts.

Women use clothes to express their individualism and let the world know who they are which

leads to an increase in self esteem. This lack of body shape customization for female consumers

that leads to a reduction in their self-concept, (i.e., the beliefs they hold about their own attributes

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and how they evaluate their self on these qualities) and self-esteem (the positivity of one’s self-

concept) this lack of positive self-esteem results in less consumption. Less consumption happens

because people with low self-esteem expect that they will not be looked upon favorably and

attempts to avoid embarrassment, failure, or rejection (i.e., shopping at plus-size retailers like

Lane Bryant). If plus-size retailers like Lane Bryant were able to create shapelier plus-size

clothes for women it would lead to a potential increase in sales.

The third issue that we have identified with the plus-size industry is the negative perception and

attitudes toward the category, “Plus-Size”, (i.e., fat, ugly and full-figured). A person’s view of

their physical appearance plays a large part of their self- concept and body-image. This

issue also concentrates on behavioral issues in buying products, such as, self-esteem, public self-

consciousness, body- image and body cathexis. In effect, the industry ironically uses a term that

for the most part encourages the development of lower self-esteem, immediate awareness of

body image, and potentially embarrassing social interactions, (i.e., being seen by peers shopping

for “plus-size” clothes or shopping at a “plus-size” store). Consumer’s usage of this term exhibits

a direct and social differentiation between so-called “plus-size” consumers and their peers.

According to Charming Shoppes, which owns Lane Bryant, “sales are actually stronger at

the higher end of the size range. “With bridge” — here connoting sizes 14 to 18 — “you

have that notion of, ‘It’s temporal for me; I’m going back to a 10 or 12.’ This is a woman

who might have been a size 8 or 10 earlier in her life, and she doesn’t easily adjust to the

idea that she has gotten bigger.” In other words, the larger a woman is, the more likely

she is to be settled with her self-image”9

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The idea that most plus-sized women are still feeling that their current “plus-size” is only

temporary proves there is a need for a perception and attitude change. Because of this plus-size

consumers purchase less “plus-sized” clothes with the idea that they will be returning to their

normal size soon. Plus-size consumers who feel this way would be more motivated to purchase

clothes that fit them if there were no negative or adverse perceptions and attitudes toward “plus-

size” clothes. Furthermore if plus-size consumers were more acceptant and confident about their

current body size and body image it would lead to a potential increase in sales.

IV. VARIOUS ALTERNATIVE ACTIONS

Strategic Alternative 1:

The first recommendation to Lane Bryant and other plus size retailers is to develop clothing lines

that have multiple body shape categories (proportionately correct) in their sizing. For example a

few of the standardized body shape categories that women fall into are: apple/inverted triangle,

(i.e., large above the waist while being thin below), pear/spoon, (i.e., larger hips and waste with

smaller bust), banana/rectangle, (i.e., bust, waist and hips measurements that are similar in

size), and hourglass, (i.e., equal hip and bust measurements with a narrow waist).10

A visual of

this can be seen in Appendix A.

By adding different shape categories, (i.e., apple, banana, pear, hourglass) along with sizes (14

and up) for each category they will be maximizing the potential of a women finding something

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that fits. This increased potential of finding something that fits should also increase women’s

self-esteem and attitude and perception of their body image. This also allows manufactures to

mass produce shape categories and sizes. By providing clothes that fit plus-size consumers will

have an increased their self-esteem and body-image. This should lead to an increase in sales and

long lasting relationship with plus-size consumers.

Another way for clothing designers and manufactures to further customize their sizes and

maximize their sales would be to use body scanning technology such as the ones that [TC]2 has

developed.

“ [TC]²’s scanning technology scans the whole body in seconds and rapidly produces a

true-to-scale 3D body model. The included automatic body measurement software can

extract over 400 unique measurements many of which can be user customized. The 3D

scanner is world leading in terms of price, small size (3.75 x 5.5 feet), ease of use, subject

privacy and safety.

High-fidelity, accurate, realistic avatars can be created from body scan data, or through

the use of [TC]²’s avatar engine with the input of a few basic measurements. The

measurement extraction software package features capabilities for Virtual Fashion

visualization with links to 3D garment content from major industry CAD packages.”11

This would give each woman a unique fit to their specific body and increase their motivation of

future purchases. Levi Jeans has recently implemented a similar idea of custom body scanning.

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“Levi's latest move in wooing women: an online fitting service. Having recently re-launched its

global sizing for women with the Curve ID system, America's iconic jeans-maker aims to help

them find their ideal fit in the privacy of their own (digital) spaces.”12

This further customization will potentially lead to an even bigger increase in sales and more

customer loyalty for repeat sales. The biggest benefit for Lane Bryant and other plus-size

retailers isn't just increased sales but also loyal customers who aren't as price-sensitive as their

slimmer counterparts.

The main problem associated with this recommendation is that it will potentially increase our

operating expenses, (i.e., R&D). We will have to employ designers to create patterns and

prototypes for the different aforementioned shapes; increase fixed cost of manufacturing

garments and variable cost of manufacturing (production people and materials,) and overhead

cost associated with these items.13

However the expenses associated with implementing this strategic alternative would not only be

covered by future sales, but also be a platform for us to continue to grow and expand our

customer base, as well in increase consumer loyalty, all of which would increase margins.

Strategic Alternative 2:

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The second alternative proposed for Lane Bryant and other plus-sized retailers would be to

concentrate on re-branding of the term “plus-size”; though more importantly, ceasing to use the

term “plus-size”.

By re-branding the term “plus-size” it will lead to more acceptance and confidence for female

consumers about their current body size and body image. Instead of creating an atmosphere

where female consumers are socially segmented from their peers, it creates an environment in

which female consumers feel comfortable with their current body size and body image.

Another benefit of this alternative, (i.e., re-branding the term “plus-size”) would be an increase

in self-concept because the negative association with the term “plus-size” is now being replaced

with a new term creating a positive association. This increase in self-concept will lead to an

increase in self-esteem. This increase in self-esteem will be motivation for female consumers to

buy more plus-size clothes and shop at plus-size retailers.

By taking this different approach, it should potentially increase plus-size sales as well as benefit

the entire industry

The main problem with this alternative is that it is the same product in a new proverbial box.

With this alternative no changes will be made to our product lines; thus our marketing program

will benefit in the short-term by increasing our exposure while creating a better environment to

shop in, though does not address the long-term needs of adding to our product line.

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Strategic Alternative 3:

The third alternative recommended incorporates a dual-action plan, incorporating both

alternatives one and two into one parallel action. This would give us the best of both worlds by

combining more clothing options with a re-branding of the plus-size term.

By implementing both the addition of new product lines that are based more shape as opposed to

the traditional numerical method, as well as rebranding the industry term itself, we hope to

achieve short-term and long-term gains. The new marketing program consisting of the coining a

new phrase will have the effect of exposing our brand to consumers more. With the increase in

brand awareness, as well as the creation of a positive atmosphere that lacks the traditional

method of potentially derogatory labeling by the letter “W”, we believe that there will be an

immediate impact on the frequency of consumers in our stores and our website, as well as the

amount of time that they spend there. The critical point that makes this alternative unique is that

by having distinct lines of clothes that are more suited to our target consumers’ shape, we will

have not only given them justifiable reason to enter and spend time in our store, but we will be

able to give them the product that they need. In doing so, we will experience the short-term gain

in customer frequency as well as the long-term gain in increasing brand equity.

Unfortunately, the cost of implanting this plan will be high. It will have the combined cost of

both alternatives, but at the same time, which means that the cash flows generated by current

operations and financing will need to be sufficient. Considerable investments in fixed assets and

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labor will need to be made for the production of the new lines, as well as the R&D for those lines

and the expenses associated with the new marketing campaign.

V. BEST ALTERNATIVE ACTION

The best alternative action for Lane Bryant to pursue is Strategic Alternative 3. The third

alternative is the recommendation that we propose to Lane Bryant for the reasons that it provides

for the opportunity to create the maximum possible value for the company and its shareholders

for both the short-term and long-term. (See Section IV-3 for details).

VI. IMPLEMENTATION PLAN

It is recommended that Lane Bryant and other plus-size retailers implement a two part plan. As

previously mentioned, the first part would include implementing new lines of clothes that

address the needs of plus-size consumers by increasing the variety of sizes and body-shapes of

fashionable plus-size clothing and the second part would be to re-brand the term plus-size into a

new term like “normal size”, and other variations. A similar strategy has recently been used by

Queen Latifah who recently introduced her own line of plus-size clothes through HSN that she

calls, “all sizes”.14

The effects of “normal sizing” would have an immediate impact on the

perception and attitudes of consumers toward plus-size clothes eventually leading to an increase

in sales.

The exact implementation of this strategy is dependent upon parallel processing. Firstly, Lane

Bryant will have to come up with new designs and methods for manufacturing new lines of

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clothes. This could be done in-house or with outside help. Following this, these designs would

need to be manufactured and shipped out to retailers, which may require an increase in fixed

assets in the form of machinery as well employees to perform the manufacturing. Parallel to the

designing of new lines, the details of the marketing plan will need to be drawn up, including such

elements as: finding celebrity endorsements, acquiring advertising slots on different media, as

well as potential promotions to get the new theme out. After those have been accomplished, then

Lane Bryant can roll out the new lines and the advertising in conjunction, as running the program

together will be much more beneficial than running the programs separately.

If implemented separately, the alternatives face unnecessary limits in their ability to accomplish

the overall goal of making this a more profitable company. However, if both parts are

implemented in congruence with each other, each will be able to feed off the other’s success.

For example, part 2, (i.e., re-branding of the term “plus-size”) on its own lacks a quality product

to back it up, while on the other hand part 1, (i.e., increasing size and body shape options) on its

own may not increase sales as much as it can. But when both are implemented together they will

create an optimal shopping environment while providing the consumer will a variety of items for

purchase.

VII. MEASURE OF EFFECTIVENESS

Our implementation plan will be measured by a combination of key performance indicators

(KPI) and return on investment metrics (ROI).

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The KPI’s used will be the following:

1. Brand awareness level

2. Customer satisfaction index

3. Conversion rate

4. Customer acquisition rate

5. Customer loyalty rate

The ROI metrics that will be used are the following:

1. Increase in market share

2. Year-on-year sales growth

3. Sales increase

4. Marketing ROI

VIII. CONCLUSION

With the plus-size clothing industry at a critical turning point, where it has grown and is

continuing to grow it leaves room for Lane Bryant and other plus-size retailers to expand. A

market research report conducted by IBISWorld returned the following results.

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According to IBISWorld analyst, Nikoleta Panteva, the plus-sized fashion industry

segment is bucking the trend. Retailers in this industry specialize in plus-size women’s

clothing, which is clothing proportioned specifically for larger women, including plus-

size dresses, plus-size pants, plus-size tops and plus-size outerwear. “The fashion

industry is increasingly catering to the plus-sized demographic by using larger models on

the runway and in magazine spreads,” says Panteva. “This has already spurred demand

from the plus-size market, so stores that can meet this need will also find a place in the

domestic industry.” The plus-size market still has some way to go to really hit the big

time.

Many plus-size stores remain isolated in strip malls and shopping centers and the

recession hurt the largest plus-sized clothing retailer – Charming Shoppes – forcing the

closure of many stores. About 75.0% of its merchandise caters to the plus-size

demographic. The company operates about 2,100 retail outlets in 48 states under three

distinct brands: Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug and Catherines Plus Sizes. In addition to

closing 150 underperforming stores in 2008, the retailer halved its budget for new store

openings during 2009. Company growth post-recession will arise from its ability to sell to

a growth market. With half of American women wearing size 14 or larger, the company's

focus on plus-size apparel will continue to be its key advantage. 15

Also, according to Pittsburg Post Gazette, $32 billion plus-size apparel market has grown by 50

percent in the past five years.16

These two examples clearly demonstrate that there is a major

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need more growth that will lead to a potential increase in profits for the whole plus-size clothes

industry.

IX. CITATIONS/NOTES/REFERENCES

1 Standardization of Women’s Clothing - http://museum.nist.gov/exhibits/apparel/role.htm

2 Plus Size Wars -

http://ow.ly/biHjWhttp://community.nytimes.com/comments/www.nytimes.com/2010/08/01/magazine/01plussize-

t.html

3 Lane Bryant - http://www.charmingshoppes.com/aboutus/history/our_history.asp

4 Plus Size Wars Comments Section -

http://community.nytimes.com/comments/www.nytimes.com/2010/08/01/magazine/01plussize-t.html

5 For many women, finding plus-size clothes is still a reach - http://www.post-

gazette.com/stories/sectionfront/life/for-many-women-finding-plus-size-clothes-is-still-a-reach-435216/

6 Walmart.com - http://www.walmart.com/cp/Apparel-Size-Charts/538384

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7 About.com - http://fashion.about.com/od/stylebasics/a/MissesSizes.htm

8 Victoriasecret.com - http://www.victoriassecret.com/CustomerService/ShoppingOurSite/SizeChart

9 Plus-Size Wars - http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/01/magazine/01plussize-t.html?pagewanted=4&_r=1

10 The shape of things to wear: scientists identify how women's figures have changed in 50 years -

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/the-shape-of-things-to-wear-scientists-identify-how-womens-

figures-have-changed-in-50-years-516259.html

11 [TC]² 3D body scanning - http://www.tc2.com/index_3dbodyscan.html

12 Levi's for Women: Shape, Not Size, Matters -http://www.brandchannel.com/home/post/2010/09/17/Levis-

Women-Curve-ID-Digital.aspx

13 Cost of Clothing - http://ezinearticles.com/?Cost-of-Clothing---What-Are-the-Costs-Involved-in-the-

Outsourcing-of-Clothes-Production?&id=2575291

14 Queen Latifah Rebrands 'Plus Size' Clothes - http://www.essence.com/2011/05/28/queen-latifah-plus-size-

clothing-line-queen-home-shopping-network/

15 Plus-Size Women's Clothing Stores Industry Market Research Report Now Available from IBISWorld -

http://www.cisionwire.com/ibisworld/r/plus-size-women-s-clothing-stores-industry-market-research-report-now-

available-from-ibisworld,c9186926 16

16 For many women, finding plus-size clothes is still a reach - http://www.post-

gazette.com/stories/sectionfront/life/for-many-women-finding-plus-size-clothes-is-still-a-reach-435216/

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X. APPENDICES

Appendix A

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Appendix B