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Women of generous proportions: an empirical study of full-figured brands and the consumer bonding experience.

INTRODUCTION

Shopping for clothes has always been a part of an urban woman's lifestyle. The fashion need of women led to the emergence of a special segment that wears a size 14 or larger--the Plus Size.

Weight loss doesn't happen overnight and for some urban women, they want to look their best every day. Various studies about fashion, apparel and clothing mostly involve the regular sized segment. However, studies missed out on the buying behavior of the female market for clothing & apparel that provide information about a special female segment that was once a niche market.

Years ago, women who were size 14 and above were overlooked and ignored by fashion brands, which focused more on the slender market. These "generously proportioned" women settled for wearing oversized, unfashionable and undesirable clothing which made them feel less happy about themselves and inferior to their regular sized counterparts.

Clothing brands have since discovered the potential of the rising segment and now attempt to serve the size 14 and beyond. Due to the seemingly hefty eating patterns of women, obesity occurred at a faster rate in developing countries than in the developed ones. In Asia, the problem of obesity rose in the wake of economic development and nutrition transition. (Dugee, 2009). Specialty plus size clothing stores entered the Philippine market and catered to the hefty-sized segment to their advantage and addressed the rising markets' ignored needs. These stores tried to provide fashion-forward apparel that is a size larger than the clothes worn by the regular size. Yet, stores seem to have overlooked certain factors or attributes that better addressed the needs of this special market. Providing apparel that simply fits (literally) the consumer does not exactly address certain unmet needs.

This study aimed to discuss attributes and values "owned" by specific local plus size brands and determined if these attributes and values are sought by plus-size consumers that result in brand preference. The research banked on the uniqueness of the local Philippine market. Past researches concentrated on other culturally different markets such as the plus size American Market, Indian & South African female clothing markets and structured their study on different contexts such as role of aesthetics, store image, perception of store and customer loyalty.

Several plus size brands were cited in the study, with the attempt to validate the relationship(s) between "owned" attributes of particular plus size brands (independent variable), values (intervening variables), and brand preference (dependent variable) of female plus size consumers. Significant brand attributes were considered to aid in determining brand preference(s) of consumers on local plus size brands for women.

"The power of a brand derives from a curious mixture of how it performs and what it stands for. When a brand gets the mix right it makes us, the people who buy it, feel that it adds something to the idea of ourselves, (Olins, 2002)".

HYPOTHESES

Research Problem:

To determine if Plus-size consumers:

a) Associate specific brands with distinctive attributes that differentiate them from other brands?

b) Connect a brand's "owned" attributes to consequent values or preferred modes of being or behavior?

c) Express a preference for the brand whose consequent value or preferred mode of being or behavior is most congruent with their own?

RH1 Plus size consumers who place a higher importance on self-actualization/beauty are more likely to prefer the brand whose "owned" attribute is "style that flatters the full figured" than "comfortable fit" and/or "size availability".

RH2 Plus size consumers who place a higher importance on personal gratification/comfortable life are more likely to prefer the brand whose "owned" attribute is "comfortable _ fit" than "style that flatters the full figured" and/or "size availability".

RH3 Plus size consumers who place a higher importance on responsible self-actualization/self-esteem are more likely to prefer the brand whose "owned" attribute is "size availability " than "style that flatters the full-figured" and/or "comfortable fit".

LITERATURE REVIEW

Studies have been done by various researchers to further understand the relationship/s between brands, brand attributes and brand preference. This chapter focused on studies that established the relationship(s) among variables, which linked brand to brand attributes and eventually with brand preference. The following literature cited from previous researches that applied the means-end chain analysis was arranged according to different industries in chronological order to further establish the uniqueness of the proposed research.

Means-end chain theory was originally developed by Jonathan Gutman (1986) to provide a framework explaining how concrete attributes of a product or service (the means) were related to abstract personal values (the end) by eliciting the perceived consequences of these attributes for the consumer. It is a structure that identifies and describes the major elements, variables or constructs.

Kaciak and Cullen (2006) studied the analysis of means end chain data in marketing research on smokers' perceptions of cigarettes. Attributes mentioned were: cheap, quality, filter, strong, mild taste, and aroma. The consequences/benefits of the cited attributes were identified as: project good image, save money, smoke fewer cigarettes, less damage to health, kill nicotine hunger, feel pleasure, physically feel better and socially acceptable respectively. Social recognition, benevolence, health, self direction, conformity, hedonism and achievement were the values of the mentioned consequences/benefits respectively. The research concluded that all attributes eventually lead to self direction.

The means-ends chain approach was used by researchers in the tourism industry to understand the important attributes that consumers value when enjoying leisure venues. Yueh-Yun (2008) conducted a research on the analysis of visitors' perceived values of leisure farms in Taiwan. It identified the following attributes: artificial landscape, dining & accommodation, ecology facilities for leisure activities, personal interpretive services, atmosphere of rural living, and scenery. The consequences of visiting a leisure farm included: relaxing, awareness of the importance of environmental protection, enjoyment of family/friend gatherings, an increase of farming knowledge, appreciating natural beauty, arousing nostalgic feelings. The components of values included: act, feel, relate, sense and think. His research revealed that the concept of experiential marketing is applicable to the leisure industry. Both the experiential values "feel" and "sense", were considered to most important from visitors' viewpoints. According to Yuehyun (2008), the perspective of "feel" was formed by the results of relaxing, scenery, artificial landscape and the atmosphere of rural living. "Sense" on the other hand, was derived from the results of feelings of appreciating natural beauty.

Mo Koo, Jin Kim and Hwan Lee (2007) investigated the motivational effects of personal values on benefits, attributes and re-patronage intention in the context of online shopping on 279 experienced online customers in South Korea. The study involved the following attributes: visual design, product assortment, information quality and after-sales service. Hedonic and utilitarian consequences/benefits lead to the values self-actualization and social affiliation respectively. Their research concluded that a personal value of "social affiliation" acts to motivate a customer to seek hedonic and utilitarian benefits, whereas as personal value of "self-actualization" produces motivation to seek only utilitarian benefits. The seeking of utilitarian and hedonic benefits leads customers to evaluate certain attributes of online stores (visual design, product assortment, information quality and after-sales service), which have a positive effect on repatronage intention.

Chen's (2003) research identified the e-store loyalty drivers and examined the effects on consumers' e-store loyalty intention through a perceived value focus based on the means-end chain approach. She identified three value components: value for money, trust and shopping efficiency that have direct, positive effects on e-store loyalty intention. Her study identified eight e-store attributes: relative price, merchandise quality, e-retailer's reputation, customer service, safety, order fulfillment, information quality, and website navigation. Chen's (2003) study solicited data from 375 college students. Her study concluded that the three perceived value components (value-for-money, trust, and shopping efficiency) had significant positive effects on e-store loyalty intention. Seven of the thirteen proposed relationships between e-store attributes and perceived value components were supported. An examination of the total effect suggested that shopping efficiency had the biggest effect on loyalty intention among the three perceived value components. Order fulfillment was the most influential e-store attribute on loyalty intention.

Studies on plus size clothing and purchases were written by scholars such Otieno, Harrow and Lea-Greenwood (2005). Their purpose was to explore fashion availability, fit and affordability in UK stores especially for those women who wear size 16 and over. Plus size womens' satisfaction/dissatisfaction with retail experiences was examined. Research findings conclude that a large percentage of females who wear size 16 and over were dissatisfied with retail environments, fashion and sizing provision among major UK market players. Larger women had great difficulty in finding well-fitting fashionable clothing in general, and with certain categories being most problematic. The study concluded that there are many unhappy shoppers across all sizes and age ranges. The shoppers who are most unhappy are those in the size 16 plus who have emotional responses to numerous issues concerning fashion shopping experience. The study revealed that size 16 women could not find clothes they perceive as fashionable, fit well, affordable do not make them feel inferior to their slender counterparts.

On the other hand, Meng's (2007) study explored how plus-size consumers perceive their bodies and themselves, how their body-esteem and self-concept may influence involvement with clothing, and how these factors may impact their perceptions of the importance of plus size store attributes. Some of the store attributes involved in the study were: merchandise price, merchandise assortment, responsiveness of sales personnel and store display. The results of the study concluded that consumers' body esteem and self-concept significantly affect their perceptions of merchandise quality, responsiveness of sales personnel and store display.

METHODOLOGY

A cross-sectional descriptive type of research design was utilized in this study. The population of interest for this study was all full-figured individuals who bought in the past 3 months from these three brands--Moda Plus, Tubby, and Maxine and were part of their client database. The usership (i.e. bought at least once from the brands) was a requirement for more accurate results that were based not only on pure awareness but also on experience and/or referrals (as a result of positive feedback). A survey was conducted through telephone interviews as well as face-to-face interviews among the selected target buyers of the brands at a given period. In this process, customers were asked about their perceptions, feelings and attitudes toward the brands' "owned-attributes". A specific randomization process such as interval sampling method from a client database provided by each brand was implemented to ensure that the projection of the results was conclusive to the total population under study.

Probability sampling was used in the study. Specifically, a Systematic Interval Random Sampling design from a verified client database was employed. The client databases provided by the three brands were composed of those who manually signed up for each of the brands client database records. This was an appropriate design because the respondents can be randomly selected from a sampling list of customers, i.e. all full-figured individuals who bought from these three brands in the past 3 months, including the immediate purchase.

Formula for sample size:

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Plug in formula:

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Margin of Error

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Moda Plus

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Tubby

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Maxine

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Computing for the Interval Size

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Plug in values

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Standardized Residual Analysis

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Plug in values

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After filtering the brands preferred by the respondent groups, the table below reflects the summary of the hypotheses being tested:

Respondent group 1 (RG1) who gave more importance to size availability prefer Moda Plus, although the owner claimed their brand provides customers with "style that flatters the full-figured".

RG2 who gave more importance to comfortable fit prefer Tubby, although the brand claims to position itself as having "size availability.

RG3 who gave more importance to style that flatters the full-figured prefer Maxine, although the brand claimed that it provides customers clothes with "comfortable fit"".

Based on these results, it can be initially summarized and concluded that all hypotheses are not supported as shown on the Table below:
Respondent Groups          Attributes         Brand
                                             Preferred

Respondent Group 1    Size Availability      Moda Plus

Respondent Group 2    Comfortable Fit        Tubby

Respondent Group 3    Style that flatters    Maxine
                      the full-figured

Respondent Groups        Claimed Owned        Is the Attribute
                         Attribute of           Important to
                             Brands           Respondent Group
                                              the same as the
                                             Claimed Attribute
                                             of Brand Preferred?

Respondent Group 1    Style that flatters            NO
                      the full-figured

Respondent Group 2    Size Availability              NO

Respondent Group 3    Comfortable Fit                NO

Respondent Groups     RH Supported/
                      Not Supported

Respondent Group 1    RH3 Not
                      Supported

Respondent Group 2    RH2 Not
                      Supported

Respondent Group 3    RH1 Not
                      Supported


Respondents think of each brand's attributes very differently from the proprietors' brand positioning as reflected below:
Proprietors/   The "owned attributes"    What plus size
Brands:        that Brands claim:        customers perceive:

Moda Plus      "Style that flatters"     "Size Availability"

Tubby          "Size Availability"       "Comfortable fit"

Maxine         "Comfortable Fit"         "Style that flatters
                                         the full figure"


The brands' "owned attributes" are not the same as the consumers' perceptions. In the consumers' minds Moda Plus owns "size availability", Tubby "owns comfortable fit", and Maxine owns "style that flatters full-figured".

The findings are of importance particularly to the brand owners, in that the research paradigm assumed that:

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

As it turns out, the assumptions are not validated, and so the hypotheses are not supported.

Hence the new results:
Respondent     Attributes      Owned Attribute of
Groups          Important         Brands as per
                                   Consumers;
                                   Perspective

1                 Size          Size Availability
              Availability

2            Comfortable Fit     Comfortable Fit

3              Style that      Style that flatters
              flatters the       the full-figured
              full-figured

Respondent   Is the Attribute    RH Supported/
Groups         Important to      Not Supported
             Respondent Group
              the same with
                the Owned
               Attribute of
             Brand Preferred?

1                   YES          RH3 Supported

2                   YES          RH2 Supported

3                   YES          RH1 Supported


The research determines the attributes that plus size customers associate with the three (3) brands namely: Moda Plus, Tubby & Maxine ascertains if consumers are likely to prefer a brand whose consequent value or preferred mode of being or behavior is most congruent with their own.

It confirms that plus size consumers who place a high importance on self-actualization / beauty prefer the brand whose "owned attribute" is "style that flatters the full figure. Plus size consumers who place a high importance on personal gratification/comfortable life, prefer the brand whose "owned attribute" is "comfortable fit". Plus size consumers who place a high importance on self-actualization/self-esteem prefer the brand whose "owned attribute" is "size availability".

Based on plus size consumer responses obtained from the telephone assisted survey face-to-face interviews conducted, plus size customers perceive each of the three brands (Moda Plus, Tubby and Maxine) as owning an attribute very much different from the brands' positioning as seen below:
Proprietors/        The "owned           What plus size
Brands:            attributes"             customers
                   that Brands              perceive:
                      claim:

Moda Plus      "Style that flatters"   "Size Availability"

Tubby           "Size Availability"     "Comfortable fit"

Maxine           "Comfortable Fit"        "Style that
                                       flatters the full
                                             figure"


REFERENCES

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Chen, Zhan (Sandy), Ph.D. (2003). Consumers' value perception of an e-store and its impact on e-store loyalty intention. Purdue University

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Sancheti, Yukti kamal Singh (2009) Understanding tween girls' self percecption and Clothing behavior: a conceptual framework--Auburn University

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Jhoana P. Acosta, MSM, De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines
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Author:Acosta, Jhoana P.
Publication:Academy of Marketing Studies Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 18, 2012
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