5 retail lessons learned from the upcoming lingerie wars

| by Chris Petersen
5 retail lessons learned from the upcoming lingerie wars

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When I started this blog 12 years ago, I could never have imagined that I would be writing this post about women's intimate apparel retailing. My background and career have been in "hardline categories" of retail, especially consumer electronics.

However, I am increasingly intrigued with the disruption and transformation of retailing across other categories, especially specialty retail. A recent post online caught my eye. A pure e-tailer in lingerie is planning to build hundreds of stores in order to compete with prima donna of intimate apparel. There are lessons to be learned from the pending lingerie wars that will apply across all of retail.

Why this is important: NO one is safe or immune from retail transformation. Customers decide what, when and where, not the retailers. The retailers who will thrive are the ones who seek out trends and quickly adapt to stay relevant.

I have posted previously on the need to use a variety of resources to stay current on retail trends. I have mentioned free resources, including RCE (Retail Customer Experience) that cover a variety of trends across many retailers and categories. One highlighted how a pure commerce player is planning "to get physical" and build 300 stores.

The fascinating aspect of this story is how Adore Me apparel views building stores as a requirement to take on the giant of lingerie, Victoria Secret's. No brand is immune. No retailer is safe from disruption by competitors, who can create consumer relevance and a better seamless experience across time and place.

Victoria's Secret is not invincible – legacy does not ensure success
An obvious upfront disclaimer: as a male, I'm not an expert on woman's intimate apparel! However, it is hard to walk through a U.S. mall and not see "sexy" lingerie and the "Angels" displayed in Victoria's Secret stores. Here in lies part of the challenge. The Victoria's Secret brand has been associated with "sexy", which might not be as well received in today's climate.

Victoria's Secret is far from financial disaster. However, there are trail signs that competition is heating up, with competitors lining up to take some of Victoria's Secret share. In the fourth quarter, same versus store sales were down 1 percent. Without e-commerce sales were down 6 percent.

Adore Me – lingerie and experience for millennials

Online rivals like Adore Me, True & Co, Lively and Thirdlove, are aggressively targeting customers who want comfort and convenience. Adore Me has been very successful online with memberships, personal styling, free shipping and returns. The interesting development is that Adore Me is following the formula of Warby Parker and forecasts building 300 physical retail stores in order to compete with Victoria's Secret.

Increasingly, pure online is getting physical by building stores to create a more holistic experience matching where and how customers want to shop.

5 Lessons learned from lingerie that applies to all of retail
Upon reading about the pending "lingerie wars," it struck me that there are some fundamental lessons that apply across all consumer brands, categories and retailers.
1.  The past might not be the best predictor of the future
Victoria's Secret has a legacy built upon an image of "glamor and sexy." Those products will still sell, but current cultural trends point to millennials preferring "comfy and affordable." Retailers must constantly re-evaluate and curate assortments based upon consumer trends, not top selling items of the past. As Adore Me and others push comfort and a relaxed style, Victoria's Secret needs to leverage their PINK brand, and re-evaluate how to curate assortments both online and in store.
2.  To predict what will sell, watch what is pinned and posted
If you are in the intimate women's apparel business, women dominated media such as Pinterest and Instagram have become essential real time listening posts for consumer trends. If today's women are raving about "functional, comfy and affordable," you will find it in what they pin and post (as well as the top brands and their preferred products). Listening via social media applies to other categories. Women influence 85 percent of purchases made for the household. The power of prediction lies in their pins.
3.  Stores will not die, but they must transform to stay relevant
It is fascinating to watch pure online retailers like Warby Parker open physical retail locations for eyewear. They call them "showrooms," not stores. Adore Me "stores" have plans for bars and hang out spaces focusing more on experience, aka Apple like. Future store design is increasingly about how to stay relevant, as well as being a bridge to online. "Virtual shelves" promoted in store enable less inventory, more total customer choices, and the opportunity to build ongoing omnichannel relationships.
4.  It's not either / or … it's all of the above
Adore Me, Warby Parker and a host of pure e-commerce players are planning on hundreds of "physical spaces." Why invest in stores as e-commerce continues to rise? Like Amazon, e-commerce realizes the power of the customer experience, and the need for data as consumers shop in a physical environment. The other reality is that well placed store locations GROW online sales in those markets. Customers are channel agnostic, retailers need to be, and need to make the experience seamless.
5.  Amazon and Walmart are everyone's competitor
Fast fashion and apparel are on the radar screens of the retail goliaths. My Amazon search today yielded 70,000-plus items for women's lingerie, which included everything from "sexy," to "casual,"to petites and plus sizes. While the store experience of the giants may not exist or be optimum, there will be expanding click and collect options (lingerie collect at Whole Foods and Walmart lockers?). Bottom line, no one beats the Amazon experience to your door at this stage.

The stakes are simply too high, and the competition is too great to rely on your legacy. Focusing on how to adapt to changing customer preferences and patterns is a requirement for survival. Just ask Toys R' Us, Circuit City and other "category killers" that are now bankrupt.


Topics: Consumer Behavior, Customer Experience, eCommerce, Marketing, Merchandising

Chris Petersen
Chris H. Petersen, PhD, CEO of Integrated Marketing Solutions is a strategic consultant who specializes in retail, leadership, marketing, and measurement. He has built a legacy through working with Fortune 500 companies to achieve measurable results in improving their performance and partnerships. Chris is the founder of IMS Retail University, a series of strategic workshops focusing on the critical elements of competing profitably in the increasingly complex retail marketplace. wwwView Chris Petersen's profile on LinkedIn

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