City Chic

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Getting it Right; Getting it Wrong

Published April 4, 2011 by sleepydumpling

How can two companies, both owned by the same mega company, both basically in the same business, have such wildly polarised modes of customer service?   If you don’t know, Autograph Fashion and City Chic are owned by the same company, Specialty Fashion Group.  They’re like big sister and little sister of the same company.  Both are plus-size clothing retailers.  Both are Australian based companies.  Both have an online arm of their business, that will sell overseas.  I don’t know how cross pollinated their staff are (ie whether head office actually covers both brands), but you think there’d be at least some communication across the organisation.

But it seems not.

Both retailers have a Facebook page (City Chic/Autograph), and post pictures of their up-coming stock to the page, where people comment on it.

However, how each company responds is vastly different.

When there were lots of women leaving comments on the Autograph page that they wanted sleeves, Autograph responded with a pre-run search link to all of their tops, tunics and dresses with sleeves.  When there were lots of women saying that they wished that Autograph would style their outfit shots more than to just put a model in the dress and photograph her in front of a white background, Autograph changed their images.

From this:

Lovely model, shows the dress, but a quite dull.  To this:

Styled hair, styled make-up, interesting background, nice lighting, some accessorising.

When the posters on Autographs page responded that they would like more fashionable, modern clothes, Autograph responded.  They introduced cute boots* (someone mentioned wide calf boots on their Facebook wall some time ago too), new styles, some more colour.

When I wrote a blog post critiquing the frumpy nature of a particular season’s clothes, Autograph contacted me, and as you probably know, have been amazing sending me products to review.  I know myself that in the past six months or so, I’ve gone from wearing Autograph clothes that look like this:

Which is from the first parcel of stuff they sent me, to this:


This is from their current stock, a lovely big parcel of such they sent me last week – both those boots and the top/dress I am wearing are available right now.  Let me just tell you, the boots are so bloody comfortable I tromped around in them all day (I haven’t worn ANY heel for almost two years) running through our biggest library with a vendor, walking up to the shops at lunch time, all over the place, and I wasn’t in any hurry to take them off when I got home.  And that top is lined in the bodice which makes it drape so beautifully, and is made of the lushest, soft, weighty knit fabric.  I’m not just saying that because they sent it to me for free either.  I promise, if they send me anything that sucks, I’ll tell you.

When people complained that their fabrics were thin, lost shape and clung in all the wrong ways, Autograph stopped stocking them and have moved to much nicer (and really soft) fabrics like the top above.

The list goes on.  Autograph are listening, they talk TO their customers (as best they can around the ones that one can never make happy at any time) and they make changes when people speak up.

Which brings us to City Chic.  I’ve never seen City Chic respond on Twitter to a negative comment.  They’ve only re-tweeted the positive ones.  City Chic post their stock on Facebook, and when people complain about their high prices… nothing is said.  When people say they’d like garments that they can wear a proper plus-sized bra of ugliness under without it being exposed, City Chic respond “Well, buy a shrug.” (I don’t want a shrug, I want a garment that fits my body and my underwear properly, and besides, I live in BRISBANE).  When customers said their prices were too high, they ignored it, and their prices have got even higher.

Well the straw that seems to have broken the camel’s back happened over the weekend.  When someone noticed on Friday that City Chic had quietly dropped any garments over a size 22 from their website, word travelled pretty quick.  By Friday night, there were several posts on their Facebook page exclaiming dismay at this.  They ignored it all weekend.  By this morning, a lot of people were talking about it, on their Facebook page, on Twitter, on Tumblr and various other places.  There were a lot of angry fatties out there, making it very clear that they were offended at City Chic removing the upper range of plus sizes.  Along with a lot that spoke up and said that their sizing was shoddy as it is, smaller than standard and a fit that doesn’t work for many bodies.

Instead of engaging with their customers quickly Friday afternoon, or even over the weekend (we just saw posts bragging about how they were off to London), they let it brew up, until this afternoon, when they responded with what I feel is a somewhat snarky post.  It’s long, and you can see it here. (You may have to “like” the page – it’s really long so I can’t share it here).  Basically it says that we considered our sizing and because you fatty fat fats didn’t buy enough of our stuff at full price, we cut out the upper sizing.  Perhaps City Chic need to have a wee think about just why people aren’t buying their stock at full price.  Perhaps full price is over priced.  Perhaps their sizing is wrong.  Perhaps their fits are wrong.  Perhaps the garment quality is not good enough (the three garments I bought from them some years ago when they still had some size 26 pieces fell apart very quickly).  Perhaps the styles can’t be worn successfully with a size 24 or above bra under them… the list goes on.

What really galled me is their admission that they use a size 16 fit model.  What??  A size 16 fit model for a range that was going up to size 24??  Ok, find someone who you know is a size 16.  Now look at my body in the picture above.  What the hell are they thinking to use a size 16 fit model for the upper range of plus sizes???  There is a positive plethora of differences of shape and proportion between a size 16 body and a size 26 body (and all sizes in between).  A smart company would have two fit models, or even three for plus sizes, because they vary so much more than straight sizes do.

I actually emailed them on Friday afternoon and left some constructive criticism (and an expression of dismay) at their cutting off their sizes at size 22, and how their clothes were poor construction/overpriced/cheap fabrics/sized strangely.  Guess what I got in response today?  The explanation that they posted on Facebook, cut and pasted into an email.

Great customer service huh?

All this, PLUS I discover that they go to size US28 (about a size 32Aus) and offer cheaper prices to customers in the US.  But customers in their own country don’t get that, oh no.

As I say to all plus-size retailers that I give criticism to – I want to give them my money.  I want to become a loyal customer who tells everyone how awesome they are.  I want to spend too much money on their clothes and complain I’m broke.  I want to hang about their shop on a twice weekly basis, annoying their staff asking when the new stock they’ve been advertising on Facebook comes in.  I want people to see me with their shopping bags, to ask me where I got that cute top/dress/boots/pants/skirt.  I want my straight sized friends to say “Damn, I wish those fit me!”  Again, I want to give them my money.  And lots of it.

But they don’t seem to want me to do those things.  They don’t want to size clothes to my body, they don’t want to provide clothes that last, or are of pleasant fabrics, and the certainly don’t want to offer a price that is reasonable for the product they are selling.  It is very, very clear they don’t want my  money.

So until they prove that they DO in fact want my money, I’m going to give that money, and praise, and word-of-mouth advertising to companies who do.  Like Autograph Fashion**.  Who LISTEN to their customers, make attempts to make them happy, and acknowledge that their customers include those who are very fat, and that they need to create clothes that adequately fit those very fat bodies.

City Chic – learn from your big sister.  She has much to teach you.

* City Chic have almost the same boots as the tall riding boot from Autograph.  Autograph’s cost $99.99.  City Chic have them at, wait for it… $299.95
**I hate having to add this caveat, but there has been a very vocal claim that I am “selling out” by praising Autograph because they send me free products.  If Autograph get it wrong, I am going to say so, free products or not.  Just as loudly as I call City Chic out here.

Plus-Size Clothing Retailers Take Note – Positivity Makes Money!

Published December 5, 2010 by sleepydumpling

As part of the + Plus-Size Plus + campaign I’m working on to improve the variety, quality and price of plus-sized clothing options from major chain retailers in Australia.  I’m focusing on the major chain retailers like Target, Big W, KMart, Myer, David Jones, City Chic, My Size, Autograph Fashion and the like because these are huge companies with a lot of buying power, and they’re the places the most plus-sized women go to first for their clothing needs.  Those retailers are the most prevalent, offer a range of price points that cover the broadest range of Australian women’s incomes, and in being the biggest companies, have the most room to give.  I believe they also have an obligation to their customers to offer ALL of their customers an equal range, prices and quality, not just the straight sized ones.

One thing I’ve been doing as I think about ways to go about this, is read the social media pages of these retailers.  Some of them don’t have any presence at all in a plus-sized clothing retailer capacity, but the specialists like City Chic, Autograph Fashion and MySize all have Facebook pages and I follow them all.  One thing I really notice is that every time one of them posts, most of the comment threads dissolve very quickly into a whole lot of body loathing.  It only takes one or two comments until the “flattering” concept comes up (usually a big old bun fight about whether plus-size retailers should bother selling sleeveless clothes) and then ends up with a mix of “We fat women shouldn’t wear *insert garment feature here*.” or “I really like that but I could never wear something that bares my *insert body part here*.”

This got me thinking about the marketing we see from plus-size retailers, the language they use about the bodies of their customers and how they could change their marketing to really encourage women to enjoy wearing clothes/fashion, which I believe would encourage women to BUY more clothes/fashion.

What I would really like to see, is one of these retailers be brave enough to come up with a truly body positive, empowering marketing campaign for their products.  Instead of playing on the whole “flattering” concept, and tiptoeing around the fact that their customers have fat bodies, how about a campaign that focuses on raising the self esteem of their customers?  Here’s what I’d like to see a plus-size clothing retailer do:

  • Get rid of the euphemisms.  No more crap about “real women” and curves/voluptuous and all of those things.  Just call themselves plus-size clothing retailers and focus on selling plus-sized clothing.  I know they can’t/won’t use the word “fat”, but let’s stop with the euphemisms that imply shame for being plus-sized.  Let’s stop pretending that your customers are not plus-sized/fat.
  • Focus on positive body messages.   Fabulous fashion for fabulous women.  Love your body, put our clothes on it.  Be confident in our fashion.  Gorgeous you, gorgeous clothes.  Messages like this.  No more talk of “flattering”.
  • Use models who actually look like the women who will be buying the product.  Let’s face it, most size 14 or 16 women, while they are catered for in these stores, don’t shop there.  You can get size 14 and 16 and sometimes 18 in quite a few straight size sections.  There are a lot of women in a size 14 and 16 who are not even going to go near a plus-size section.  The plus-size retailers are catering to those of us who cannot buy from the straight-sizes at all.  How about some models with bodies that look like ours?  Often the models they use are not even plus-sized at all.  UK blogger Lauren from Pocket Rocket Fashion has done posts this week on the topic (here and here).  I shared the first post on + Plus-sizes Plus + and the response I got back was that women want to see what clothes look like on bodies similar to their own.
  • Seeing women that look like we do is only going to make us feel better about ourselves in the long term.  Especially if these women are depicted as fashionable, happy, fun and glamorous.
  • Value your customers, understand what they want, treat them like they’re special (after all, they’re giving you their money and keeping you in business, that makes them VERY special) and understand that they have different needs to straight-sized customers, but want the same experiences.

Can you imagine how awesome, and how radical, a marketing campaign that promoted body love, self esteem and positive representations of their actual customers (rather than “aspirational” representations that would never actually purchase the stock) would be?  Particularly from a major chain retailer?  How many women would be empowered and inspired to enjoy dressing and fashion and shopping?

I know that’s a company I would want to give my money to.

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