A long time ago, when I was doing research for a fashion retailer, I did a lot of accompanied shopping. Great research method, a chance to see consumers buying clothes, not just reading about it in a survey or listening to accounts in an interview. Much higher levels of validity, in my view.
One effect that intrigued me during these observations, however, concerned the issue of sizing and how consumers respond when accompanied. From a sample of 32 shoppers, 4 openly admitted to buying garments one size smaller if they were shopping with friends than if alone, an effect I witnessed myself along with the subsequent return and exchange the following day!
These days, consumer psychologists tend to refer to this as “vanity sizing”, whereby individuals deliberately either buy a size smaller than they need for the sake of appearances or, alternatively, shop in a retailer they know has differences in its sizing such that one-size-smaller actually fits. Some retailers also know of this effect, of course, and have revised their sizing levels accordingly to capitalise on this. But, what of the opposite situation… what happens if a garment actually turns out to be bigger than the consumer was expecting?
New research by Jo Hoegg and her colleagues sheds light on this situation. Their paper documents a total of five studies, with a number of intriguing results, and is well worth a read. Two findings particularly caught my attention, though… It seems that when consumers purchase a garment and it turns out to be too big, their self-esteem can suffer just as it would if the item was too small. I guess that’s logical enough as either way their appearance will have failed to achieve the desired effect. More interestingly, however, it appears consumers faced with such situations will engage in compensatory consumption to restore their esteem levels. Specifically, spending increases on non-sized items across a variety of product categories, from a simple jar of lip gloss to a classy diamond necklace!
Mmmnnn… if I was cynical, I might see this as the reason a number of retailers seem to change their sizing with every new fashion season, but surely they wouldn’t do that on purpose…would they?!?