YOU Have the Power to Drive Change

Published January 16, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

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:

  1. Tell them when and where you encountered the problem.
  2. Tell them exactly what the problem is.
  3. Tell them why it is a problem.
  4. Ask them if they already have any plans in place that will rectify the problem.
  5. Tell them what you need to solve the problem.
  6. If they get anything right, tell them that.
  7. Tell them that you want to continue to be their customer.
  8. 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?


18 comments on “YOU Have the Power to Drive Change

  • Count me in! And thanks for the sample letters. Sometimes I go into full rant mode just when it’s least useful, and having those to look at will remind me to use my words for Good.

    • Twistie, I know full rant mode all too well! I’m learning to leave it for here on Fat Heffalump and use constructive criticism for the complaints.

      Not that I always succeed!

  • David Jones replied to my tweet which said I didn’t really enjoy their sale (they asked if people did) and asked me to fill out their online feedback form. I tried to be as constructive as possible, giving examples of fashion labels found at other ‘fancy’ department stores overseas, pointing out I was looking forward to buying a new wardrobe but sadly nothing was suitable, which was disappointing considering the high fashion labels they carry in ‘regular’ sizes.

    They wrote back and said they were sorry I was disappointed and that they would pass this on to their buyers, but I haven’t heard anything else from them. I’ll keep writing. Maybe they think fat women don’t want to buy designer clothes, I don’t know. But there are plenty of fat executives and professionals who need to dress the part and can afford to pay high prices for designer clothes, as well as giving everyone who wants it the opportunity to have high-end clothing, whether they can afford it outright or have to save up for a year for that classic suit.

    It fits with what most people were saying about Target – just please give us the same options as smaller sizes, whether it’s discount or designer.

    • You know MadamQ – I’ve been on Target’s case for a few years now. I think it takes time, and I think it takes as many voices as possible. I might take on David Jones later on (I don’t really shop there, they’re so unwelcoming!)

  • Having also worked in customer service for a while (I’m not nearly old enough to have done 25 years of it but 3 years has been more than enough to totally get what you are saying) I wholeheartedly agree. When a customer calls my office to complain about something, I am WAY more likely to be able to take their feedback seriously, and plan for a solution, when they are polite and actually articulate what they DO want as well as what is bothering them. It’s a refreshing change from people that just yell and carry on, and it does stand out.

    The feedback that Kath has given to Target is an awesome example of how consumers can nudge companies to do the right thing by their customers and get actual change happening.

    Looking forward to seeing a change in the way Target caters for it’s plus sized customers 🙂

    • Isn’t it frustrating Bec? Have you heard the term “Manufactured indignation”? It’s the whole entitlement thing that muddies the water of legitimate customer complaints. When you get one through that gives you clear, honest and constructive criticism, they totally stand out.

  • Kath, thank you for your advice about speaking to retailers. It’s much-needed. You’re right, many of us are not aware of how to do this effectively. I am not greatly into fashion these days, since I work from home. But I have some questions here:

    In recent times, my weight has been greatly affected by illness and drugs, therefore I need at least a few properly fitting pieces. So that’s where I’m coming from here.

    1) For those of us who don’t keep track of fashion, would it be necessary to do so at least minimally? I ask because I like particular styles and colors, and if even thin people aren’t getting them, what hope is there for us? I refuse to buy anything with more than half polyester in it, but only the polyester items come in interesting colors and patterns; most other items are drab on drab.

    2) How much should one figure in demographics in one’s letter/email? In my neighborhood there is a big retailer who has cut its plus-size department to the bone. Really, the gift-wrap department is bigger. My neighborhood has a high proportion of East Asian immigrants, who tend to be very small. I’d like to think I’m not sending a complaint which only pertains to myself and a just of handful of others!

    3) To whom do we send complaints if we don’t care where we get a particular type of item; we just want it available? I want beautiful shoes and boots, made for wide feet and wide calves. The store that offers them will get my business. But there are hundreds of shoe manufacturers and stores, so what approach would be most effective here?

    4) Are there places on the net for particular geographical areas that organize letter-writing campaigns meant to give the fashion industry a nudge?

    • For your second point: You say ” I’d like to think I’m not sending a complaint which only pertains to myself and a just of handful of others!”

      It shouldn’t matter how many people there are like you in your community, everyone has the right to the same access to clothing no matter what.

      I understand what you mean about possibly being a minority in the area you live but that doesn’t make your complaint or request any less valid. YOU live in the area too, YOU deserve clothes that suit YOU just as much as the smaller people in your area deserve (and pretty much always get) clothes that work for them.

      So complain away! (Constructively of course)

      • Also for your question about shoes: I would start by approaching the retailers that are most prominent in the area where you live. Maybe three or four places. Construct a letter that you could easily adjust and send to all of them. Don’t try to change the entire shoe industry, just focus on the places you would like to shop at. Maybe approach a store that stocks styles you would buy, if they came sized to fit you, and request that this become available.

        • Okay, let’s say I’ve done some recent shoe-shopping online because I get disgusted at constantly having to check out whether particular stores sell WW width shoes or not. Let’s say shoebuy or zappos, some e-place like that. They are likely to say, “we’d love to sell you the shoes you want, but nobody’s making them”. So where do I start? Do I start with a manufacturer who’s making a shoe style/color I want but not in my size? Or a manufacturer who makes my size but only in the most utilitarian styles?

          The REAL catch-22, which has been around ever since I was a kid – how do you convince a retailer that there’s a demand for something when no retailer stocks it?

          I think our best hope is mass protests.

      • Bec,
        Of course I deserve nice clothes. That isn’t even a question. My point is that a particular store is not obligated to provide them to me, and they won’t do so unless they think they can make a profit.
        There are other stores in town which do have my size and I will probably wind up using them, but getting around has become somewhat difficult of late (again, a matter of illness), so I’d rather shop close by if possible.
        The store I’m referring to is a branch of Macy’s, a store that, in my mind, should have EVERYTHING. They had a larger woman’s department years ago before the demographics shifted. I’m mulling over in my mind whether I’d even want to go back to shopping there, or am I just pissed off because options have drastically decreased.

        • Sorry I didn’t mean to misunderstand you. I think it’s worth approaching them anyway, as a smart company will hopefully realise that there is a market, however small, for plus sized clothing – if they don’t I guess it’s their loss as you’ll rightfully take your money elsewhere that does cater to you. There wouldn’t be any harm in giving them some feedback about how you feel re: the decrease in options for plus size people. A department store like Macy’s should really have options for every bpdy shape and size regardless of how many people of each demographic tend to shop there. When I hear a store say “well we don’t stock plus size clothing because we have no plus size customers” my response is generally “you might get more plus size customers if you offer a bigger range to them ;)”

    • OK, sorry I haven’t responded to you sooner Mulberry – it’s been a busy couple of days!

      Whether you’re in to fashion or not – you still need suitable clothes, you still need to be treated respectfully in the stores you shop in for those clothes, and you still need all the other bits that go with clothes – underwear, sleepwear, etc. This isn’t just about fashion – it’s about the products you need/want and the service you deserve. For some of us that’s fashion. For some of us it’s practicality. For some of us it’s professionalism. For whatever you need clothes for, it all works the same – your criticism of a business might be for a different reason to the next person, but the basic format of criticising a company is the same when you’re doing it constructively.

      The demographics aren’t your problem. If you want something to change about a business – voice it. Whether there is one customer, or 50 customers, the businesses need to be listening. Sure, the scope of what they can do for you might not be the same, but they do need to address your issue no matter what the demographics are. However, if you DO know that there are several people wanting the same as you – gather them, tell the business and encourage those other people to give constructive criticism to the business as well.

      Send complaints to the business that you believe should serve your needs. You’re not going to complain to a shoe store about plus-size coats. You need to determine that for your area – no use complaining to a company that doesn’t have a store that you can get to – start with department stores that you can go to. The reason I approached Target is twofold – one, I shop there already for everything else, and two, they advertise two slogans – “100% Happy” and “our aim is to make stylish living affordable and available to all Australians.” Well, I’m an Australian and I wasn’t 100% happy.

      And finally, I don’t know of any groups to organise letter writing campaigns by geographical location, but there’s nothing to stop any of us starting one. Or doing like I’m doing here – encouraging you all to voice your needs and wants.

  • Fantastic post, Kath! And you’re absolutely right, we all have the power to drive change.

    I’ve been attempting to give constructive feedback to retailers for a couple of years now. I haven’t seen the same results (working with the company directly, wow!), but I do think (hope) that they have had some positive effect.

    Companies that stand up and let the dialogue continue are amazing. I’m so glad that they’ve taken the initiative to work with you and there will be great things as a result. I know it worked with Autograph! I’ve been met with a lot of standard replies of “Sorry we’re not interested or planning on changing in the near future” (*cough* Asos) but it all accumulates and if enough people speak up… we do have the power to change things!

    If it wasn’t obvious already, I’m in. 😉

    • You’ll get there Nicole. We just have to keep clear, constructive and constant with our feedback to these companies – eventually they’ll see us for the forces to be reckoned with that we are. It’s so frustrating when you get those cut and paste responses, but I got those from Target and Autograph a couple of years back – it takes time and the smart ones get it eventually.

  • I made a resolution for 2012 that I would no longer be shamed and quiet when I felt I could be receiving better service. I kicked off the resolution by emailing Qantas regarding their appalling toilet facilities on board their 737 aircraft that led to an uncomfortable, embarrassing and shameful flight for me on Christmas Eve. I haven’t received a response yet, but I hope to, and I will start speaking up when before I might have stayed quiet. We can achieve change by speaking up, I believe.

    I’ve spent the last half hour reading through the Target Australia Facebook page and I am really, really impressed by the responses on there. They reply to all the comments thoughtfully. Good job, Target!

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