Economy

Old Navy Responds To Consumer Backlash Over Charging Plus Size Women More

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After Renee Posey created a petition on Change.org calling out Old Navy for charging more for women’s plus size clothing without upcharging larger men, the retailer has announced changes to its policies. But it falls short of addressing the original complaint.

One immediate change is that, come December 5, it will start allowing in-store returns on plus size clothing. Before, the clothes, which are only available online, had to be returned by mail. The company also said it will form “a new customer panel to gather insights that will further enhance our plus size collections,” which will kick off in January and meet four times a year. It will test drive new plus size designs and give feedback directly to the company’s design and marketing teams.

But the company will not be changing its pricing. “Some of our customers have pointed out that our women’s plus line is priced differently than our men’s extended sizes line and they’re right – it is,” the response from spokesperson Edie Kissko reads. “It’s priced differently because it is different. We invest more in our product, and we’re proud of what we deliver.”

Posey’s petition, which has garnered more than 95,000 signatures, noted that the company charged $12 to $15 more for the plus size version of women’s jeans but didn’t charge any extra for larger men’s sizes. She also noted that the company makes plus size women shop in a different section of its website but keeps men’s clothing in the same place. A company spokesperson explained the pricing difference by saying that women’s plus size clothes “reflects the selection of unique fabrics and design elements” like four-way stretch materials and contoured waistbands to flatter women’s curves, but that men’s plus size clothes don’t have these added details and therefore don’t cost more to make.

Still, Posey is counting the changes as a win and plans to keep pushing for more. “Old Navy’s decision to change their returns policy and to create a panel of full-figured women to advise them on their plus-sized line is a huge victory,” she said in an email. “It shows good faith that they are committed to changing policies that unfairly single out full-figured women and opens an important line of communication between their organization and their plus-sized customers that has long been needed.”

She also said that in her conversations with the company, she has been told that “all options are on the table — from price changes to bringing the Plus line back into brick & mortar stores — and I look forward to working together with them to make the long-term, overarching changes to their pricing structure, design process and retail environment that are needed to create a shopping experience that offers plus-sized women the fashionable clothing they want in stores and at a fair price.”

Plus size women are not a niche demographic. Size 14 and over is usually considered to fall into this category, but the average American woman is a size 14 and plus size consumers are 67 percent of the population. Clothing sales are also growing for this group, increasing 1 percent in 2012 to reach $15.4 billion.

Some companies have benefitted from catering to these shoppers, such as ModCloth, where plus size clothes accounted for 8 percent of its revenue last year. Others have bumbled, such as Lululemon, which blamed women with large thighs for the controversy over its sheer yoga pants.