Monday, July 27, 2009

22 - Opening Salvo

First, a wee business lesson. If you didn’t already know this, Reitmans Canada is the big daddy of a corporation that owns the following stores: Reitmans, Smart Set, RW & Co., Penningtons, Addition-Elle, Cassis and Thyme Maternity. If you ever felt like the shirt you saw at Reitmans looked exactly the same as the one you saw at Smart Set, it’s probably because it was the same shirt.

Anyhoo, I’ve long simmered and seethed over the pricing of plus size clothing for women, but when I realized that the same corporation that can offer me at shirt at one store for $9.99 is happy to try and offer me pretty much the same shirt at another store for $16.99, I started to get kinda pissy. So I decided to write a letter. I know it’s just going into some massive in-box that’s being sorted by a lackey at Reitmans Canada, but this is just an opening salvo. I intend to keep picking away at this one, in Roger & Me fashion, until I get someone to explain why plus size customers are being treated as the profit centre for the company.

I have my thoughts on the matter. Regular size retail is a hell of a lot more competitive in Canada than plus size retail, so it becomes a matter of what the market will bear. With competition like Old Navy, H&M, the far less classy than it was when I was a kid Fairweather, Stitches and numerous others, just five feet away in the mall, Reitmans and Smart Set have to be at rock bottom to get a share of the market. One of the last bastions of plus size basics, Cotton Ginny, has closed three stores in Toronto in the past few months and seems like it might be on the way out. With competition like that, Addition-Elle and Penningtons barely have to compete at all. And a captive audience has made it clear to the company that they are willing to pay their crazy prices in order to, you know, not go about nekkid in the streets.

So I’ve written a letter to Kerry Mitchell, the president of Addition-Elle and Penningtons (see letter below). And I’ll keep you posted on what transpires.

Ms. Mitchell,

I'm a customer from Toronto, Ontario and I'm writing because I continue to be dismayed by the difference in price point on your plus size clothing sold through Reitmans vs Addition-Elle and Penningtons. I'm also concerned about the overall difference in pricing between regular and plus size divisions at Reitmans Canada.

Obviously, I'm a plus sized customer, and so realistically, there are not a lot of stylish chain stores for me to shop in at the moment. I've never understood the dearth of options for plus size women in Canada, but that's another issue entirely. Of Reitmans Canada-owned stores, I prefer to shop at Reitmans because the price point is very reasonable. However, even in some of the biggest locations in this city (for example, Dufferin Mall) there are maybe a total of 20 wall and floor racks dedicated to plus sizes (including plus petites and tall) with probably close to 100 wall and floor racks dedicated to regular sizes. So if I want variety I end up at Penningtons or Addition-Elle. And that's when things get whacky.

Astonishingly, the price of just about everything literally *doubles* when I enter those stores. Presently a v-neck T in regular sizes at Reitmans retails for $7.99; in plus sizes for $9.99. At Addition-Elle, that price jumps up to a whopping $16.99 on sale—regular $22.99. Is it literally taking twice the fabric overall to produce plus size clothing? I have a hard time believing that. It starts to feel like we plus size shoppers are your corporation's cash cows—no pun intended.

At this point, because I'm determined to enjoy shopping again, I'm back on a weight loss plan, but Reitmans Canada might not be the recipient of my business when I get back into regular sizes. Right now I'm a captive audience and I feel absolutely treated like one.

Looking at three of the regular size clothing stores on your roster, Reitmans, Smart Set and RW & Co., the prices at all those stores are reasonable. Any woman seeking great style at great value would be able to shop at those places. On the other hand I know plenty of plus sized women on a budget who just can't afford to shop at Addition-Elle and Penningtons. I couldn't always afford it. Why is this difference in pricing so pronounced? It's certainly not a difference in quality. Items I've purchased at Addition-Elle or Penningtons don't last any longer than the ones that I buy at Reitmans.

I realize you only head up Addition-Elle and Pennington's and aren't responsible for the pricing at all of Reitmans Canada's divisions, but I'd like to at least begin to understand the rationale around the pricing from someone intimately involved in the plus size division. I would be so grateful for a reasonable explanation. Plus size women have enough discrimination to contend with in an average day—it would be nice to feel like the clothing stores we support were supporting us in return.

Looking forward to your response,

Heavy Me


Anonymous said...

The plus size market is still much smaller than the average size market. The way things are going, this might swing the other way, but for now lower demand means fewer competitors and a higher price. Also, plus size clothes do have a slightly higher cost component. Lastly, you cannot compare AE with the plus size division of Reitmans. If you really looked at the prices, you'd find that RW is at a higher price point compared to Smart Set and Reitmans. This is because of the quality of the materials and the fashion aspect. The same can be said when comparing AE to Reitmans. It costs more to chase trends.

Heavy said...

Thanks for your comments Anon!

As per my blog, I agree that less competition likely does breed high prices in the plus size market. Unfortunate, but true.

Having shopped at Reitmans, Smart Set and RW, I would agree, the price point at RW is higher than that of the first two (I'd also say the price point at SS is lower than Reitmans so it kinda comes out in the wash), but I'd still call it pretty reasonable. Certainly not the heady prices at AE. I actually stood next to a gal suffering sticker shock at an AE counter yesterday and it sort of hit the nail on the head.

But back to RW, I've always found the clothes there really classy, so the price point seemed appropriate. I'm not sure if you'd call RW reasonable or not; you'd have to weigh in on that.

I'm going to have to beg to differ, however, on the quality of the clothes between Reitmans plus and AE, as a consumer of both. I haven't experienced a noticeable difference at all in quality. I have items from both stores that have lasted me years and others that have lasted me months. I get where you're coming from on the trend chasing aspect of it (and I wish to Jeebus AE would slow down and just park on some great basics all year 'round), but that's why I tried to compare apples to apples. A t-shirt is a t-shirt is a t-shirt kinda thing.

CLK said...

I really can't wait to hear what she has to say when you talk to her! I am very interested in these price differences across stores! Thanks for doing this!!!