Retail Developments

My body can best be described as a compact, stocky frame. In other words, I’m a tubby short-ass. I will also acknowledge that my dimensions don’t fit into the sizing scale used by most clothing outlets. My current waist measures 41 inches (give or take a half-inch or so) and my inseam leg measurement is [sigh] 29½ inches. For some reason, U.S. trousers measured at 40/30 fit me fine, but in the U.K., Marks & Spencer’s offerings require me to pick the 42/29 in order to fit me properly. Don’t ask; I have no idea why the two countries’ inches are of different length, and why I should have to go up a size at the waist, and down a size in the length in the U.K. (The same is true of shirts, by the way: U.S. XXL shirts fit me perfectly, but I have to get XXXL shirts at M&S to accommodate my 51-inch chest and 18-inch neck.)

I should also point out that M&S is pretty much the only place I buy clothes in Britishland, and the only place I buy underwear, period. (Cliff Notes reasons for the latter: comfortable, durable and quality workmanship.) One of the reasons I like M&S so much is that their materials feel wonderful: I have very sensitive skin, and clothing that most people seem to wear without complaint drives me crazy with itching/scratching.

I’ve told you all that so I could tell you this.

Via Insty, I note that Nordstrom is testing a “new” kind of store in California (where else?) that features “personal stylists” who will guide customers in their purchase decisions, advising them on fitting and such — and then having the customer order their final choices online, to be delivered later (I guess) either to the store for pick-up, or direct to their homes. Stephen Green says:

“That might be a smart move, given that expensive floorspace and (especially) carried inventory costs are two huge disadvantages of traditional retail versus e-commerce,”

…and I agree.

I’m not going to go into a critique of this methodology, because Nordstrom generally does things right and they are, if nothing else, keenly aware of their customers’ wishes and wants. All I can say is that if they’re going to offer tailoring services (as the article suggests), they’d better have their logistics ducks in a row.

Marks & Spencer has sort of gone this route, except that they now encourage people to look at what’s available in-store; if you can’t find your exact size, then order it online at one of the many kiosks in the store, and M&S will then deliver it to any M&S location you choose — even their food-only stores and gas station outlets — if those are closer to you than the department store. It makes sense, I guess, but it also drove me scatty a while ago when I went to shop for some trousers at the Salisbury branch.

I found not only one style of trousers I liked, but three — except that only one was available in 42/29. So I asked a clerk if they might have any 42/29s in the stock-room, only to be told that M&S no longer has any stock-rooms — what’s on the floor is what you get. So I asked whether they were getting any deliveries in the near future, and was told that one was expected in a couple days’ time. Would this delivery include more of the 42/29 trousers, I asked, and was assured that their stock re-ordering system would probably handle the shortcoming.

You can guess what’s coming, right? I went back a week later, credit card clutched in my sweaty little hand, only to find that nope, their re-ordering system had obviously missed the out-of-stock situation. So I gave up, and reassured myself that in a couple weeks’ time, I’d be able to go to M&S’s giant flagship store on Oxford Street in London to get the two missing items.

Once again, you can guess what’s coming: not only did M&S not have that size in stock, but they didn’t carry that style of trousers at all. The Oxford Street branch did have some excellent shirts in XXXL, which I bought, but not the trousers I was seeking.

Never mind, I told myself: in a week’s time I’d be going to Bath, and surely I’d find my chosen trousers — which were now becoming something of an obsession — in Somerset. I’d also find some more of those excellent XXXL shirts in Bath (I’d cleaned out Oxford Street’s miniscule supply of the XXXL), so I could, finally, get all the clothing I wanted.

Not quite. Bath stocked the 42/29 trousers, which I snapped up greedily, but not that style of XXXL shirts — which they didn’t carry at all, and never had.


So when people ask me about going shopping, and why retail outlets are losing business to online shopping, I can give several reasons why. Because next time, I’m going to find the clothing I like at Marks & Spencer, not bother with looking for the sizes I need, and order them online.

But if I’m only in town for a short while and the delivery won’t be quick enough, I just won’t bother shopping there at all — which bugs the hell out of me because I love Marks & Spencer.

I love shopping at Nordstrom too, so I hope that someone there reads this and learns the appropriate lesson(s).


  1. Let me guess: were the 40″ trousers from M&S fine around the waist but tight around the crotch? And I too take a 3XL shirt – actually a 3XLT – in the UK but found that XXL in the US also fitted.

    I find myself shopping at High & Mighty quite often now, but their range is limited.

    BTW M&S do mail order direct to your home.

  2. I’d bet there’s a decent market for bespoke…and with modern fabrication and production, made-to-measure could be made reasonably economical.

  3. The sizes are different because the US uses Imperial inches, and the Brits use metric inches. Serves them right for adopting a French system.

    Hope that helps.

  4. Lone Cowboy: Retail isn’t dying, it’s committing suicide.

    And without the grace or tradition that seppuku would add to the process.

    I’ve worked on retail software systems, during which I’ve discovered nearly infinite shortcomings in both the software and the logic it supposedly supports, and especially the logistics necessary to Make The Whole Thing Work. Management, bless their hearts, almost always decided it would cost too much to fix.

    A quick example: I recently purchased a tool from Home Depot because they had it cheaper than Amazon (very true – Amazon uses “dynamic pricing” which means one can never depend on prices at Amazon). According to the corporate web site it was not available in any local HD store (don’t get me started on the “innaccuracies” – eg. “blatant lies” – of retail store inventory data on corporate web sites); the non-availability of this tool did, at least, save me a trip to a store to discover, as always, that “6 in stock at XXX” means “fuck you, we haven’t had it on the shelves for months because none of our employees know how to use numbers and whatever it is that we use for inventory control runs on an Etch-A-Sketch.”

    Anyway, in this instance there’s a close-by store, and the web site eagerly offered to ship it to my local store for free, where I could endure the travails of an employee with a single-digit IQ attempting to locate it (for great fun and amusement, give the “ship to store” option at Walmart a try – I know not who feeds and clothes the Walmart Drones, but it’s obvious they can’t do it themselves – but I’d suggest budgeting a full afternoon for the experience. “Speed” and “responsiveness to customers” are not in the Walmart lexicon).

    Anyway, the HD ship-to-store option required “seven to nine days” for delivery to the store. Since, however, the item was more than $45 HD would gleefully ship it to my address free. In this instance, I happen to use a commercial mail service which, by happenstance, is less than 500 feet across the street from an HD store, and from which I can retrieve mail and packages 24X7X365. That tool – which supposedly would have taken 7-9 days to get to a store – was delivered 500 feet away in 36 hours, with delivery notification by staff with a message to my Magic Elf Box (insert Tamara’s copyright here).

    Tell me again why I would ever want to set foot in some worthess asshole’s brick & mortar operation.

  5. “My body can best be described as a compact, stocky frame. In other words, I’m a tubby short-ass. I will also acknowledge that my dimensions don’t fit into the sizing scale used by most clothing outlets.”

    Have you ever tried shopping in northern Germany? I had a friend who was moving from the US to Milan. He was going to stop over in Hamburg to visit his parents and buy clothes. I asked why, if he was moving to Milan, a fashion capital, he was buying clothes in Hamburg. He said “because in Hamburg I can get clothes off the rack that fit me.”

    IOW, he had a stocky, barrel-chested, north European body type, rather like yours I think. (Presumably you have Dutch ancestry, which is right next door to north Germany.)

    Perhaps if you ever roam that way, you might do some trying on.

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