July 26, 2006

Fashion Challenged Wal-Mart

Evidently Wal-mart's sales of it's women's clothes is down. This according to a recent Business Week article. It's no surprise really. I almost never buy clothing at Wal-Mart. There are a couple of reasons. One, the fitting rooms are too close to the registers. They are small, dirty, and cramped. If I feel I should try something on before buying it, I won't buy it. The last few pieces I bought I should have tried on - the mediums were really sized as a large. Oh well, at least it was only $5 wasted and a lesson learned.

In the book Nickled and Dimed on Not Getting by in America, author Barbara Ehrenreich worked covertly for Wal-mart. As a sales associate in the women's department, she spent most of her time putting away returns from the fitting rooms, store returns, and cleaning. She never spent any time assisting customers or pushing sales. According to her anecdotal evidence, 80-90% of the clothing taken to the fitting room is rejected. This points to fitting issues.

The next reason I don't buy clothing at Wal-mart is the clothing looks cheap. Some of the styles were cute, but the finishing details were lacking or the colors were too garish. One outfit had simple, exposed serged hems instead of a rolled or blind hem. This screams cheap. I also know this won't hold up in the wash.

Girls dresses also scream cheap. Their isn't enough fabric in the gathered skirts to look like a skirt. Ribbon and flower trims are wrinkled. Same issue with the garish colors. To be fair, the basic children's clothing is fine. You can get a great value on Carter's brand clothing. But skip the Rose Cottage label.

At one company, I helped create private label merchandise for the Rose Cottage Brand. It is true that Wal-Mart has greatly improved its quality program. But they are still missing the boat. In order to get the product to hit their price point, you have to reduce gather ratio's, remove linings, reduce trimmings. When you are done with the dress, it looks incredibly cheap. For a couple dollars more, you could get a dress that looks like a real dress at another store.

So the secret for Wal-Mart's success is to take a cue from Target. Create affordable merchandise with improved quality, the right colors, the right fit, and be mistaken for a more expensive piece. Oh, and move the clothing department away from the main drag of the store. Do I really want my neighbors to know I buy my underwear at Wal-mart?

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