Store uses plus-size mannequins to reflect true shape of shoppers

A handout picture from Debenhams shows British Equalities Minister Jo Swinson posing for pictures with size 16 mannequins during a photo call at Deben...
Britain's Equalities Minister Jo Swinson poses with size 16 (US 14) mannequins at Debenhams department store in Oxford Street, London, on Nov. 6, 2013. Debenhams said it will become Britain's first mainstream high-street store to use plus-size mannequins to better represent "the average woman." DEBENHAMS/ANNE-MARIE SANDERSON

One of Britain's largest department store chains has introduced plus-sized mannequins at its flag-ship store in an effort to represent the shape of its shoppers better.

Debenhams, the U.K.'s third-largest department store company by sales according to research firm Mintel, introduced size 16 (U.S. size 14) mannequins at its Oxford Street store in London on Wednesday, and hopes to introduce them across the chain's 170 stores in Britain.

The average woman there is a size 16, but the majority of stores use size 10 mannequins to model their clothes, Isabel Cavill, apparel and luxury analyst at Planet Retail, told CNBC.

She described the move by Debenhams as "clever," and said it would likely be followed by other retailers with the same, mid-level target market.

"Recognizing that women's average size has increased is a clever move. Shops that still use size 10 mannequins – such as Marks and Spencer – are not reflecting the real market," she said. "Other brands will be watching the move closely."

British Equalities Minister Jo Swinson said the move makes business sense as recent research revealed women are three times more likely to buy clothes when the fashion models are their size.

"I hope more retailers will recognize that meeting customer demand for more diversity makes good business sense," she said in a statement accompanying the Debenhams launch. "Many customers want to see more realistic images in magazines, TV and on the high street, and having mannequins that reflect and celebrate our diverse society is one way of helping to achieve this."

Marks and Spencer said its size 10 dummies were "above industry average."

Mannequins, like people, get larger 1:41

Cavill, however, said Debenham's introduction of larger mannequins was part of a wider strategy to encourage consumers into stores, amid the growth of online shopping.

"Consumers will want to see what the clothes look like on the size 16 mannequins – because if they look good on that, they should look good on them," she added.

Debehams first tried out size 16 mannequins in 2010, and has since developed of a range of models which it says "are representative of the British public."

The new mannequins will be dispersed throughout Debenhams stores alongside size 10 models.

"Our in-house team has been working for 18 months to design and create a mannequin which we can now confidently say is not only the most versatile on the high street, but the most representative," Debenhams Director Ed Watson said in a statement.

"We hope that it will help people in some small way to feel comfortable about their bodies and crucially, that other retailers will follow."