It looks like Charming Shoppes – what we know as Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug, Catherine’s, and Cacique – has been purchased for $890 million by Ascena Retail Group. This is the retail holder of Dress Barn and Maurice’s. Maurice’s only recently entered into offering plus sizes in the past five years, and Dress Barn has gotten word-of-mouth buzz for its dramatic improvements in plus-size offerings. This “whole shebang” purchase is also a dramatic turnaround from earlier this year, when Charming Shoppes corporation developed an agreement with Fashion Bug president MaryEllen MacDowell for a 150K bonus, based on the planned sale of Fashion Bug.
So what does that mean for plus-size shoppers?
Hard to say right now. A merger can be very, very good or very, very bad for consumers. Fashion Bug stores have been shutting down all over the country for the past five years, despite attempts in 2009 to boost sales by lowering prices. Still, they offer a few brands unique in the market – notably Zana Di denim – and their generous and frequent clearance sales have boosted my wardrobe many times. I noticed during my recent Dress Barn visit that the setup is almost identical to the Fashion Bug layout. Plus size clothing is divided from straight size by a wall, accessories are in the middle, and shoes are off in a back corner.
While the plus size clothing choices at Dress Barn has improved considerably, Ascena’s acquisition may make itself apparent in some of the more obnoxious retail marketing practices en vogue today. I actually did not make a purchase during my visit to the NorthTown Dress Barn for two reasons:
1)the sales woman who actually got so invasive she physically touched me without my permission (a big no between total strangers in the US)
and 2)they demand emails and sometimes phone numbers when you go to make a purchase. The sales people are trained to imply you can’t buy their clothing unless you fork over your information. I have empathy for the sales people – most retail floor employees have no health insurance, are paid less than a living wage, and are expected to give some of their hard-earned cash back to the company to display that company’s clothing on their person. Most would likely lose their jobs for refusing to engage in these lower-than-dirt marketing practices, and are likely penalized if enough people refuse in a day. Why? Because someone high up in Ascena marketing is a total jerkwad. In these situations, if I like an item enough to tolerate the crap, I use this email:
firstname.lastname@example.org. I invite all of you to share this particular technique.
Space invading retail employees from the Midwest I can deal with – but demanding my privacy when I’m already giving you money? I’m not cool with that.