Every plus-size woman has experienced the pain of shopping with thinner friends. The majority of stores won’t even carry both of your sizes and those that do keep them in vastly different areas. After wandering around the entire well-lit floor, waiting for your friend to try on multiple options plucked from racks and racks of clothes, you end up in the basement depths where the plus-size clothes are hidden behind home goods. It may sound like hyperbole, but this is the frustrating reality I’ve faced while shopping with my size-6 best friend, even to this day. Until now, the idea of shopping together, in the same store, at the same time, still felt like a pipe dream. Thankfully, ModCloth has heard our pleas for fashion equality and is launching its first size-inclusive brick-and-mortar store.
After 14 years of online-only business, ModCloth is opening its first physical location in Austin, TX. With a commitment to a positive and inclusive shopping experience, all of the clothing items in the store will be available in size XXS-4X (size 00-28/30). Although this is exciting, we’d expect nothing less from the body-positive brand after it integrated its “plus” assortment into its “regular” assortment, allowing shoppers to instead search by size or by clicking on “extended sizes.” ModCloth initially tested this inclusive retail concept during its “IRL Tour,” which featured pop-up shops around the country. These pop-ups allowed ModCloth employees and decision-makers to interact directly with their current and potential customer base, see the things she liked or abhorred, and gather intimate feedback in a personal setting. They knew that they had to create a unique experience for customers that wasn’t already available online. “The first thing we did after I joined [ModCloth] in 2015 was host a three-day pop-up event in our buying office lobby in L.A., because I wanted to meet the community,” ModCloth CEO Matt Kaness tells Refinery29. “And what was supposed to be something quiet and intimate, that was more, sort of, research-oriented, turned into this amazing three-day event success. More than 2,000 women showed up in the three days, lines around the corner; Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 10 hours a day. "And what we heard, time and again from everybody — and these are women from all walks of life — that they loved ModCloth for the values we stand for and they loved the product. They just wanted more of it and they wanted it in real life. They wanted a chance to interact with our team. And so from there, this kind of genesis point in my mind, having worked in the industry a while and seeing the power of delivering a multi-channel experience, it just was obvious that we needed to do this.”
But bringing inclusivity offline meant approaching “shopping” in a very different and unique way. The 4,000-square-foot “fit shop” will be unlike any store we’ve seen before. “The store model itself is a hybrid of a showroom and a traditional store, where the majority of the apparel and shoes are samples that she tries on,” Kaness explains. “It’s really exciting for us for a few reasons: One, it allows us to be able to get more styles into the square footage of the store space, because we’re not having to have a large back of house for all of the inventory. The selling area is larger. It allows us to invest in our store associates and Mod Stylists in the store and have them focus on the customer experience and servicing the customer, instead of managing the back of house and all that goes with a traditional retail store. It allows us to turn over the entire assortment in the store every month with each of our new ModCloth signature collection deliveries...and then with the cash-and-carry, which is predominantly non-apparel — jewelry, eyewear, handbags, home gifts, beauty — that’s all in stock, which helps to complete the look, tell the story.” And although the unique shopping experience might initially confuse shoppers, Kaness feels that the success of ModCloth’s pop-ups is all the proof he needs that this method will succeed. “We didn’t see much, if any, resistance to our fit-and-ship showroom concept, as long as the order gets there within a day or two after the in-store purchase,” he adds.
Most online retailers don’t expand to physical locations, considering their customer base is willing to already shop remotely. But Kaness sees this store launch as completing the trifecta of ModCloth’s omni-channel presence. “We found as a digital retailer that the fit shop concept does a bunch of things that are helpful to the online business,” he says. “The first is that stores are a great way to increase brand awareness, get our story out there, bring new people into our community, and acquire new customers, which as a direct-to-consumer digital brand is great. The other thing is it’s a content hub for our online community. "For instance, our native app, that just got ranked the number one full-price retail app in America, has a feature called ‘Fit For Me’ that will allow you to shop our catalog in the app and our algorithm dynamically sorts items that have the highest rating by women in the community who share your body shape and size. To have that ability to give her a personalized stylist session, get her feeling confident in what her true size is, but then to let her use her own data to personalize her app shopping experience; it doesn’t exist in the industry, it is the gateway for us in tying the offline back into the online experience, and we think that it is the future of digital retail from an omni-channel perspective." Although you’ll have to be lucky enough to be in Austin to experience this yourself, ModCloth plans to open several more locations and bring inclusive shopping to the entire country. Stay tuned for store announcements in the near future.
Where: Second Street District, 200 West 2nd Street, Austin, TX 78701 When: Doors open at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 12, for the grand opening weekend Store hours: Monday through Saturday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.