Thursday, February 10, 2011

Price discrimination is never OK (an open letter to JC Penney)

Dear JC Penney:

To the left is a photo I took over the summer, in one of your stores near Buffalo, NY. I believe it was in the Walden Galleria mall, but precise location doesn't really matter as you have consistent stock across the country.

What you see is the exact same style shirt, only one is taken from the misses department and the other is from the plus sizes. The most important thing to note is that the plus size shirt costs $14 more than the misses size.

This is not OK.

There is absolutely no logical reason a size 1X should be more expensive than a size XL. I know what the stock answers are - that plus size clothing requires more fabric or that it is more complicated to make and therefore requires more skilled (and costly) construction.

I will refrain from using profanity in this letter, but let me say that my gut reaction to that "explanation" generally involves the excrement of male cattle.

Especially in this case. See, this is a t-shirt with some non-functional decorative buttons sewn to the front. This is not an underwire bra, a metal corset, a wedding dress or some other item that must conform perfectly to the wearer's body to function properly. IT IS A T-SHIRT. It's made of cotton; intended to hang from the shoulders and maybe cling to the lumps and bumps of the person inside. The construction does not vary greatly with size.

The other common excuse - that plus sizes require more fabric - wouldn't hold much water, either. The two shirts pictured above are an XL and a 1X. Arguably, those are barely different sizes at all. Now, I tried both on and I can say that the 1X had a little bit more room in it, but it didn't feel like it was even a whole size bigger than the XL. If higher supply cost were truly the case, all clothing would have prices that grade up with size. I mean, it takes more fabric to make a medium or large than it does to make an extra small, and yet those are always the same price. The cutoff point at which your company is charging more is arbitrary - based on a pre-determined line between sizes that are considered normal and ones that are othered. But there is no real difference if you look at it objectively.

So why do you, as a company, feel compelled to contribute to the rampant discrimination that plus sized people (in the case of this shirt, plus size women) already face on a daily basis? Is it not enough that we encounter taunts from strangers, rude comments from family and "friends," are ostracized from most clothing stores, kicked off airplanes, and constantly treated like we are stupid, lazy, gluttonous or hideous? Is it not enough that doctors ignore our legitimate concerns or blame every little thing on fat? Since fat people are more likely to be discriminated against for employment and more likely to live in poverty, how does it even make sense to try and charge us more?

And did you really think we were too stupid to notice? Luckily, my body is on the cusp between plus sizes and misses, so I grabbed a shirt from each department. Someone who is slightly larger might not even know the shirt was made in misses sizes, and therefore wouldn't know she was being charged more simply because of her natural body type.

This price gouging and discriminatory practice must end. I realize that this particular shirt is probably no longer in stores, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's not the first or last time you've cheated your fatter customers out of some of their hard-earned money. Therefore I demand that styles be the same price across departments. If they are the same style, there is absolutely no legitimate reason for them to be more expensive in plus sizes. Comparable styles must be comparably priced. Otherwise, you are committing an egregious act of size discrimination. I, for one, will not buy another item from JC Penney until it is rectified, and I will encourage my family, friends, and internet followers (yes, I have some) to do the same.

I encourage you to do the right thing.

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