Champion Targets Plus-Size Women with Online Store

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Champion Athleticwear, a division of Sara Lee Corp., has made its first foray into e-commerce with the debut of an online store for women shopping for plus-size sports apparel.


Located at www.championwoman.com, the site targets the 20 million, size 14-plus women who are regular exercisers.


"We anticipated that a large portion of our customers will be current Champion customers who already know their size," said Heather Stefani, senior marketing director at Champion, Winston-Salem, NC.


The Champion Woman collection was first introduced to the market in 1999. The line is now available nationally.


But research by the apparel maker found that there was an unmet demand for a convenient way to shop online for hard-to-find sizes.


"Larger women yearn for style choices similar to the selection that is available for their slimmer counterparts," Stefani said. "Ninety-four percent [of those surveyed] said athletic apparel for larger women was highly appealing."


Championwoman.com will start off by selling eight sports bras, two T-shirts and six bottoms. Sports bras will sell online for $35, T-shirts $25, and bottoms from $24 to $38 based on the style and length.


In the summer, Champion will introduce Champion Woman wear online and at retail in deep sky and African violet colors.


Stefani is aware that apparel is a tough sell online, with returns a major bugbear for online retailers.


"For those customers wishing to make a size exchange or return, Champion will honor merchandise returns that are shipped back to Champion within 15 days after the date the item was shipped," she said.


The Web site will be plugged in a spring advertising campaign breaking in April, with the tag line, "Women come in all shapes and sizes. Now their activewear does too."


The company would not specify Champion's share in the plus-size athletic apparel segment.


Channel cannibalization is a major issue that could hobble Championwoman.com. Retailers may not like a manufacturer like Champion having its own competing store, albeit online.


But Stefani is not fazed.


"We feel that the availability of the Web site will enhance the consumer's awareness of the category and encourage them to look for it at their regular Champion retailer," Stefani said.


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