How Express Is Trying To Make Its Retail Shops Relevant Again

Monday, May 7 marks the launch of Express' latest campaign, "Express. Your Rules," in celebration of the American retailer's new initiative to bring its extended sizing to a majority of its physical locations. While this is the first time Express has prominently featured curve models (including Candice Huffine and Jordyn Woods), the cheeky video ad is less of a breaking news announcement and more of the beginning of how the company is attempting to broaden the shopping experience within its stores.
If you were to sum up Express' motto of what its future looks like, the response would be something along the lines of: forward, but cautious. And who can blame them? In the current retail landscape, we're seeing the demise of suburban malls, legacy brands are shutting down a staggering amount of their brick-and-mortar shops, and fast-fashion stores are normalizing poor quality and trend turnaround at a breakneck pace. It's a tough game to be playing, and even tougher if you're dead set on growing your physical presence.
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But that's what Express has set its eye on. The main drive behind "Express Your Rules" is to highlight the traditional mall crawl embracing its prior online only offering of size 16-18. As of today, 130 of Express' physical retail stores will carry product in sizes 00-18. To further the play, e-commerce shots on the brand's website now show an array of size diverse models wearing each product, a move ASOS recently picked up as well. A costly model, but one Express has no intent from shying away from.
Jim Hilt, executive vice president and chief customer experience officer at Express, explains the move to bring the size to its physical locations: "The decision was easy...in thinking about offering a wider range of sizes. We should make sure that 100% of that’s available." Hilt continues: "We really dug into it and spent a ton of time with customers and prospective customers, the number one thing that we kept hearing is, ‘I still want this fashion available in stores.’"
We live in an age when it feels easier to spend $500 on a free shipping, free returns order, try on what we want from home, and immediately box up the rest back to the warehouse it came from than make a Saturday detour to the mall. But Express is trying to reel back customers to its stores by letting them know they can still have a comfortable shopping experience in person. Hilt says: "Our view is the store is a critical piece of the total brand experience. We are innovating the way we think about the store experience in many difference ways." For Express, Hilt explains that comes in the form of "the work that we’re doing in these stores where we’re driving 100% of the assortment [of extended sizing]."
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One thing Express has running for them that most other brands dipping their toes in “size-inclusive" offerings don’t? Making it available in every product they sell, not just a specific smattering of denim options, or a capsule collection with brand "inspired" pieces that aren't readily available in straight sizing as well. This limited method can often hurt brands' morale to continue producing in extended sizes since they're not representative of the brand as whole. Shopping is already a daunting experience for plus-size women, let alone further being serviced as the "other" in the shopping realm when brands hold back from allowing them to wear what's already available to everyone else. For Express, it's been inclusive of all of its products from day one. Hilt states, "Our intent is to, over the course of the next couple of months, offer all of [Express' product] choices go forward in the wider range of sizes so that way by the time you walk into our store, everything in that store will be available in those sizes."
Maybe, in turn, we're adopting Express' own attitude towards itself. With 67% of U.S. women representing a size 14 and up, stopping at a size 18 is far from the end all be all. But it's a step forward, and that's more than most brands can say for themselves. So we're cautious, but optimistic. Hilt tells us: "We are very clear that offering extended sizes is kind of a first step in a journey as we look at expanding the assortment to really meet his or her needs. We have a lot of history in terms of continuing to grow the offering that we have for them and we’re going to take this one step at a time. I think that we’re being really thoughtful about it. We’re going to see where it takes us." And while no step forward will ever truly be enough, there's a hell of a lot of progressive ground to cover to get to where we need to be. But it's still progress, and that's a win we're willing to celebrate.
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