Avenue is the latest plus size clothing brand to shut down stores.
They’re also laying off 152 employees by Sept 30th, according to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) notice they filed with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development in New Jersey.
Avenue has been around since 1983 (when it was then known as Sizes Unlimited) and is one of the major plus size apparel brands that offers clothing for women above a size 24.
While the plus size apparel market is growing and flourishing, store closings and bankruptcies are becoming sadly more frequent.
With the plus size clothing business currently worth $21 billion dollars and projected to increase to $30 billion in 2020, this begs the questions…
WHY are physical plus size stores becoming a dying breed?
WHY are some plus size brands not able to be successful in a profitable market?
“The plus-size divisions are in trouble because research has shown that this customer does not want to feel isolated and shop in a store devoted to plus size.”
Hali mentioned how mainstream retailers like Nordstrom and Target are successful in offering women of “all” sizes a place to shop together while offering a range of sizes in multiple departments.
Is that true? Do plus size women NOT want to shop in a plus size dedicated store because she feels isolated?
So I went to the masses on social media and asked this very question, also sharing the news about Avenue.
The reaction was mixed with more women saying they would prefer to shop in a plus size dedicated store. And they also voiced their opinions on shopping experiences and how that may be why plus size women don’t want to shop in-store.
Here’s some of those comments:
“I’d much rather buy from a plus-only place because generally I feel like they care more about plus-size clothes. There are some exceptions but that’s generally how I feel.”
“I prefer not to have to sort through everything i cant wear. Just take me to the plus size section please.”
“I prefer a dedicated store but I’ll brave Target for a cheap t-shirt.”
“I feel relieved when I walk into the stores that are all plus size bcuz I know I can shop and find something – maybe too many things I like & want!”
“I prefer plus size stores, but I’ve noticed they’re fewer and farther between these days. And I’m in a large city. I can’t imagine what it’s like in more rural areas.”
“Plus size stores all the way. Tired of being treated like a second class citizen in a clothing store. Ridiculous!”
“I prefer plus size stores, without Torrid I wouldn’t know what to wear.”
This comment in particular caught our attention:
“While I understand that some plus size shoppers still feel self-conscious and ostracized by shopping plus size sections in stores, for most of us who’ve done the work to get comfortable with our size and shape, we prefer a separate plus size section.
Most plus size women I’ve heard from on this topic prefer separation simply because it’s easier to find their size, so they don’t have to wade through all the straight sizes to find the size they need. I agree, and also add an issue of my own: I prefer to have my own plus size section because it upsets me to find something I love in a straight size, but can’t find it in my size. I prefer to avoid looking through straight sizes altogether simply because they often have more options that aren’t available for me and it hurts my heart to see a cute top, jacket or skirt that I’d really love in my size, only to realize it’s not available to me.
Plus size people deal with enough marginalization as it is and we’re already well aware that most retailers would prefer that we didn’t shop in their stores and don’t really care about their plus size customers. It only serves to marginalize us further when we’re forced to look through straight sizes to find our own size and see firsthand how many more options there are for straight size customers that aren’t available to us. If I can avoid the straight size section altogether, just walk right past it or not have to scroll through straight sizes online to find my size, I’m a much happier customer. And happier customers are return shoppers. Unhappy customers are not.”
After reading through all the comments posted, it’s evident that there’s three major reasons why some brands are failing to be successful in a growing, profitable market. Let’s take a deeper look – please note that some of the comments reference Avenue directly:
#1: Store Environment/Customer Service
One commenter mentioned a poll she held online asking people if they prefer to shop online versus shopping in-store:
“Part of the reasoning for shopping online is a lot of people reported feeling embarrassed to be shopping in store, that sales people treated them badly, and fitting rooms weren’t built to accommodate larger bodies. I am sure that if these issues are addressed properly, people would be more likely to shop in store.”
An ICSC survey found that “not being able to find employees to help, and negative employee interactions” were two of the main frustrations of shopping in-store.
Fashion is personal and if a customer doesn’t feel welcomed in a place that’s supposed to be for her, she will not return or recommend that store to others.
They also found that “Women are more likely than men to give feedback to the company, and 30 percent of women said they would write a review on social media in response to a positive experience. For negative experiences, 50 percent of all consumers are more likely to leave a review. That said, most respondents (72 percent) said that a retailer can do something to correct a situation.“
Great customer service should be a given, especially when customers have the power of the dollar but unfortunately it is not. For plus size women, customer service and a safe, welcoming store environment can truly make a difference for both them and the company’s bottom line.
Commenters had A LOT to say about Avenue’s offerings and the overall lack of stylish and modern options.
“So I think Avenue has more problems that are causing the decline in sales. They sell plain, old fashion clothing. They don’t sell fashions. I am guessing they are also becoming a victim of online shopping. Even my mom hardly shops at Avenue anymore because it’s mostly old lady clothing.”
“The last few times I bothered to go to Avenue, there wasn’t much I’d wear. Most of it was mumu garish. The ones near me rarely had Talls anymore. I was leaving empty handed.”
“There’s Avenue in my closet but it’s been a while since they had clothes I even liked enough to try on.”
In other words… Companies should be listening to their customers on what they want instead of offering what they THINK she wants.
Plus size women want access to the same level of fashion that their straight size counterparts do.
In regards to Avenue and the comments above, they have such a great opportunity to be a leader when it comes to offering fashion in a wide size range, IF they update their assortment to what their customer wants.
#3: Fit & Quality
We all know that sizing across the board is inconsistent since there is no cookie cutter version of a plus size body. Some companies make a conscious effort to use larger fit models and listen to their customer feedback.
But some companies (particularly those who offer straight sizes and add plus sizes to their range) will just grade up the original (and smaller) pattern, as this one commenter pointed out:
“Plus-size retailers typically carry clothing brands that are designed and produced off of an appropriate size pattern, where the clothing in non-specialty stores just continue sizing-up, but there is typically no deviation from the original pattern.”
Shopping in-store means women get to try items on in-person and buy the right size, instead of ordering something online and having to return it.
“They picked the wrong story on why. That should read that the store produces cheap tents with horrid florals and designs that’s not made in mind for anyone, as the sizing is always off in some way. The quality is gone down over the last few years as well, requiring you to have to go to the store for hours to get maybe one thing that works as it’s not made for a senior lady, not fashionable women. This has made it so that I only buy from them on deep discount because of their actions. And for some reason, I’m now buying from true size exclusive brands that update their patterns to what works for women. The pants that I got in the last 2 years from them all last about half a year instead of two because of quality issues.”
“I would be extremely disappointed to find plus size shops close. Very few retailers care enough to successfully manufacture appropriate plus size patterns. Fit is my biggest concern. Then the issues so many posted above, especially I don’t need further reminders that 10 cute shirts are carried in straight sizes for every 1 plus size shirt and the disappointment of ‘oh that’s not in plus sizes’.”
“My problem with Avenue clothes is they are poorly tailored. Catherines clothes are poor quality. It’s hard to be a senior and plus size. I spend a lot of time searching for garments that look like they are made for mature women.”
“I will shop anywhere that has my size, but I have a lot better luck with fit (as in how a garment fits, not physically fitting into it) in plus specific stores.”
“The Avenue closest to my neighborhood is closing. I’m sad to see them go and see one more in-store option for plus size women disappear, although I have to be honest that I haven’t shopped at an Avenue store in years. Every once in a while, I’ll look at their website and maybe find 1 item I want to buy, but in general, Avenue’s always been more miss than hit with me. As someone above wrote, their styles don’t appeal to me and seem to fall into what I term ‘cruise ship wear’ – created for ‘women of a certain age’ who like to go on cruises and need outfits to wear while playing shuffleboard on the Lido deck. That’s not really my style.”
If a company gets its fit right, they will have a lifetime customer. Particularly in the case of plus size women, they just want stylish clothing that fits.
We don’t want to see Avenue go. I especially feel we need Avenue to stick around as there is already a lack of plus size brands who offer above a size 24 AND offer a physical store to be able to go into and try things on.
We’re hoping they find a buyer and turn things around.