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Plus-size retailers are shifting their focus to the in-store experience

Eloquii is the latest plus-size retailer expanding into brick and mortar.

Taking a cue from brands like ModCloth — which opened its first store in Austin, Texas in December, offering all styles in sizes XXS to 4X — Eloquii is opening a temporary, experimental physical space in Arlington, Virginia this spring. The store is largely a response to consumer demand for a brick and mortar location, and will be open for three months at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, which serves the greater Washington, D.C. region.

The move comes on the heels of several brands expanding their size offerings, including traditional plus-size brands Gwynnie Bee and Lane Bryant, and New York-based label Of Mercer, which recently extended its size range to size 20. However, despite these offerings, plus-size brick and mortar stores are few and far between, with Lane Bryant and Torrid serving as the primary mainstays in the market.

Mariah Chase, chief executive officer of Eloquii, said the shop will help the company glean insight into how its consumers shop in-store versus online, and how to integrate technology into the shopping experience. The store will leverage digital signage and iPads for point of sale transactions, and the team will use heat maps to analyze foot traffic and where consumers are spending the most time.

“There’s been a focus on bringing digital technology to the offline experience,” Chase said. “We want to make sure that we’re doing it because the customer wants it and it benefits them — not just doing it for our own sake, to say we have interesting technology in our store.”

Eloquii has solidified itself as a key player in the plus-size fast fashion market since it relaunched three years ago, after formerly operating as part of The Limited. Prior to the relaunch, Eloquii had select brick and mortar spaces, which were shuttered after the brand disbanded from The Limited. Chase said the delay was a result of the company redefining its identity and determining its consumer preferences.

Its revitalization has paid off: Earlier this year, the store received buzz when Saturday Night Live star Aidy Bryant wore an Eloquii dress to the Emmy Awards. Bryant posted the look on Instagram, which quickly led to a 500-person waitlist of shoppers trying to get the look.

While Chase said she isn’t sure just yet what the next move will be upon completion of the shop’s three-month lease, she said brick and mortar is an important part of apparel sales, noting a 2015 study by TimeTrade that found 85 percent of consumers prefer shopping at physical stores.

“What we hear from [the customer] is she wants to have a real fashion store,” Chase said. “She wants to have a fashion experience that’s like our site: just for her. There is nothing like being able to try things on, no matter what your size is — and we hear from many of our customers that they would love to be able to try something on, to be able to talk with someone and feel the fabric.”

The push to brick and mortar is also a way to continue to expand offerings to the $21.1 billion plus-size fashion market, an area several brands and designers have been slow to dabble in. 35 percent of American women wear plus-size clothing, according to research firm NPD, but plus-size offerings only comprise 15 percent of the market.

While brands like Eloquii are pushing to close this gap, Nadia Boujarwah, CEO of Dia & Co, told the Glossy Podcast that there is still significant work to be done to increase inclusivity in the fashion industry.

“We’ve seen more progress in the plus-size space in the last two years than was probably true in the previous ten years,” Boujarwah said. “Simply paying plus-size women the compliment of acknowledging she exists is not enough.”

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+ see this recent research by ELSE Corp