LONDON – The Battle of the Bust is over, and consumers have triumphed.
Britain’s largest clothing retailer, Marks & Spencer, has backed down on its incendiary policy of charging a 2 pound ($3) surcharge for bras that are DD or larger in the face of a spreading consumer revolt.
Think women don’t care about this issue? Then think again — that’s what M&S executives had to do after some 14,000 women gave their name to a Facebook campaign aimed at eliminating the big boob penalty.
“We always try to do the right thing by our customers and we thought we had, but it’s clear we’ve got it wrong this time,” said M&S chairman Stuart Rose. “From Saturday, no matter whether it’s large or small bras you need, the price will be the same.”
To get the message out, the company paid for an eye-catching full-page advertisement in several national newspapers Friday. It showed a full-figured woman in lacy green lingerie. In the ad, the company apologized for its mistake and offered a 25 percent reduction in all bras of all sizes for the next two weeks.
“We are just overwhelmed,” said Becky Mount, a co-founder of the Busts 4 Justice group that brought retailing icon M&S to its knees with a canny Internet and media-oriented campaign. “We’ve won, and we never thought it would happen so quickly.”
The group, which grew exponentially in the last few days, had vowed to challenge Rose and other M&S executives at the company’s annual meeting this summer. Mount said this threat, and growing media support for their crusade, made the company’s leaders realize they were losing the public relations battle.
“They didn’t want a lot of big-breasted women storming their meeting,” said Mount, 19. “I think they realized they were dealing with a much bigger force than they thought originally, and that we weren’t going to go away.”
She said the group’s members would be happy to shop at M&S now that the surcharge has been dropped.
The new policy brings M&S into line with other major retailers in Britain, who decline to pass the higher cost of designing and manufacturing large-size bras on to the consumer.
British lingerie specialists ranging from the pricey Agent Provocateur to the saucy Ann Summers line do not charge more for DD bras, despite the extra work that goes into producing them. In the United States, bra prices on the popular Victoria’s Secret Web site do not change as sizes get larger.
But policies change store by store and brand by brand.
At the upscale Rigby & Peller shops in London, which specialize in personalized fittings, the company’s own bras are priced the same regardless of the size, said buyer Nicky Clayton. But some outside brands the store sells do contain a markup for larger sizes.
“Some brands like the Italian company Prima Donna charge us more, so we pass that on,” she said. “But for Rigby and Peller bras the prices are exactly the same because we’ve got total control and can maintain pricing across all the sizes.”
She said M&S probably ran into trouble because its lingerie price policy differed from the strategy used for other items.
“If they charged more for larger sizes of all their items, like garments and outerwear, it would have been fine,” she said. “It was just that they took this policy only on the lingerie sector, that made it a problem.”