Reading everyone’s responses to my last post about my meeting with the folks from Target Australia, I get one very clear message from so many of you – that you hope that these changes happen in your country/state/store of choice. That’s a very good hope, and I hope they do too. But I think we all need to step it up a bit – just hoping is not good enough. I think more of us need to speak up, and more often. After all, you know the old adage – the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
I do appreciate all of your thanks, and I do this for all of us, but collectively we have to put some more cohesive effort into this. We are customers, we have money to spend, we know what we want, and it’s time we collectively drove the market where we, as the consumers, want it to go.
People often ask me how I’ve managed to get audience with major retailers on the subject of plus-size clothing. How? I ask them. It really is just that – no magic trick, no major talent, no major effort. We need to ask more often. We need to ask together. We need to ask in a clearer manner.
I have worked in some form of customer service for most of the past 25 years. And the sad truth of it is that most unhappy customers have no idea how to complain constructively. To be honest, for every decent constructive criticism, there are 20 illegible, unreasonable, hostile, often bullying complaints. So it’s REALLY hard for many businesses to weed out the genuine constructive feedback to be able to take any action.
This isn’t to say that a lot of businesses really do ignore their customers, particularly we fat customers. We do get written off in so many instances with either formula responses or just “You’re being too sensitive/asking too much.” We’ve seen evidence of it right here on the blog where a prominent online store told us we should just “learn to sew” when I raised that I’d like to see their collection go to larger sizes. Another major Australian plus-size fashion chain patently ignores complaints as if they’ll go away… and sadly they often do.
However, one of the things that drives me absolutely up the wall about plus-size fashion pages on Facebook (or those who have blogs/Twitter) is the amount of whining that happens. I know how frustrating it is when these companies don’t listen. But I can’t tell you the number of times I see people complaining about things that if they actually set foot in the store (or checked the website properly), they’d find weren’t even an issue. My pet hate is people whinging they want sleeves and if they just went into a store, they’d find that at least half the stock is sleeved! What they really want is NO sleeveless at all, and that’s unfair to those of us who do want sleeveless. (That goes for a whole lot of other things too.) Or those who complain about something going on sale that they paid full price for last week. HELLO – that’s the nature of retail, that’s got nothing to do with plus-size stores. That is just how retail works – you either pick the thing up when it’s full price because you want it, or you take your chances and try to get it on sale.
But those things can also work in our favour. In a sea of whinging, a reasoned, respectful and clear criticism can stand out amongst the noise. For example, when 20 comments are “You suck, I want sleeves!!”, a comment saying “I was in your store yesterday, and I noticed that you don’t have any plus-sized corporate wear. Are you expecting any in the near future? It’s really hard to dress professionally when no stores offer corporate wear for plus-sizes.” stands RIGHT out. You give them a clear message as to what you’re looking for and you give them an actual question to answer, and most importantly, you let them know you actually shop in their stores and have looked at what they already offer.
I was asked on the last post how my meeting with Target Australia came about. It came about because I was in my local Target and was dismayed to see they had considerably reduced their plus-size section, and moved it to an awful location. I left them a note on their Facebook (you can see it here) and mentioned it around my social networks because I knew other people had the same thoughts. A few of them commented on it. A whole lot of other people that I didn’t know also commented on it. A conversation ensued on the thread, and I was very conscious of trying to keep the feedback constructive. After a few days, once Target clearly had some time to discuss it with their team, they responded with a contact email for anyone who was interested in talking to them about their wants and needs in plus-size clothing. I emailed the address and expressed my eagerness to help them get it right, while also reiterating the issues I had and gave them my contact details. From there, it all happened.
And looking back over my work with Autograph Fashion – almost the same thing happened – it started with their Facebook page and went from there.
You can do this too. In fact, you need to do it too. We all do.
Ok I’ll admit, I do have the gift of the gab. I can write/talk and I’m a quick thinker. That does work in my favour. But guess what? I’m happy to share that, I’m happy to let my fellow fatties use the stuff I do with businesses to build their own constructive feedback. In fact, I’m even happy to help you with proof reading and stuff if you really want me to. But here is the basic method that works for me. Of course, you have to be genuine in your feedback, but you can do that with a method. Let’s see:
- Tell them when and where you encountered the problem.
- Tell them exactly what the problem is.
- Tell them why it is a problem.
- Ask them if they already have any plans in place that will rectify the problem.
- Tell them what you need to solve the problem.
- If they get anything right, tell them that.
- Tell them that you want to continue to be their customer.
- Thank them for their time.
Want an example? Here, I’ll make a potted one up:
Dear Store. I was in your [location] store on Friday and I was disappointed to see that you have no plus-sized swimwear this season. I have been looking for a swimsuit and in the past have bought them from your store, but unfortunately could not this time. Are you planning to get any swimwear in stock in the near future? I’m really looking for a plus-sized swimsuit in size 26, that has good bust support. I know I can usually find good quality garments from you, that are reasonably priced, and I was hoping to do so again. I hope you can help me with this matter, thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Ok that one is more of a request than a complaint, but here, let’s try a complaint:
Dear Store. I was in your [location] store last week and found that the quality of your plus-sized stock has really dropped since last season. I have noticed the fabrics are all synthetics, and are very thin and don’t hold their shape. This means that your garments are now expensive for the quality received, and no longer last or keep their shape. Will you be continuing to use the manufacturer that you are currently using, or do you have plans to find a better quality one? I’m really looking for garments in natural fibres that will hold their shape and are constructed well. Particularly around the neckline and bust. Last season you had some beautiful dresses that were of a lovely soft cotton blend knit, I bought several of those and wore them a lot. I would love to see you have more stock like that, and would really bulk up my wardrobe if you had these kinds of garments. Particularly as it’s really difficult to find decent plus-size clothing anywhere, it would be fantastic to see good quality clothes in your store. I hope to see the quality of your stock improve in the near future, and look forward to hearing from you soon on this matter. Thank you for your time.
I know, it’s wordy. But when you’re getting complaints like “I hate your clothes!” and “The fabric your clothes are made of sucks!”, a paragraph like the above stands out, and shows that you’re reasonable and are willing to continue being their customer if they solve the problem. I’ve found that those people who whine the most are usually not giving the business any custom anyway.
That’s the important thing too – when they do make positive changes, and do get it right, spend your money there. Reward them for getting it right.
But look, the most important thing is that they hear from all of us. Individually, it’s bloody hard work to make a difference. But collectively, we CAN and DO change things. I’m not doing this on my own – it’s a combined effort of every cohesive, constructive criticism that these businesses get and the voting we do with our money. You have a head start over a lot of people – you are here so you have an internet connection, and you can read. Those are the first two tools you need!
I urge all of you to take the time to contact and talk to the businesses you want to see change in. Ask them for what you want. For those that ignore you, walk away from them completely and give someone else your money, someone who values you as a customer. Don’t forget to tell everyone who gets it right and who gets it wrong too – word of mouth is valuable marketing currency for businesses too.
We WILL change things. We already have, we just have more work to do. Who’s in with me?