Victoria’s Secret has been in a downward spiral for a hot retail minute now. The brand has faced not one but several PR crises of late and is failing to resonate with consumers amidst the emergence of new competitors better aligned with consumers’ shifting values. According to Seeking Alpha, the brand’s “protracted slump” is responsible for dragging down parent company L Brand’s revenue, with little hope for improvement in the next twelve months.
While these factors alone don’t necessarily mean that Victoria’s Secret is doomed, it’s clear that the old school behemoth is overdue for a resurrection. Here are 5 things that Victoria’s Secret could do to turn things around.
Promote cultural inclusivity & body inclusivity.
Victoria’s Secret isn’t blind to the fact that the image that once made the brand a success is no longer well-received by consumers. Nonetheless, leadership has been slow to adapt.
In late 2018, then-CMO Ed Razek told Vogue that including plus-size and trans models doesn’t fit into the (now defunct) VS Fashion Show’s “fantasy” vibe. Fast forward a year, and management seems to have changed its tune. They recently included a facsimile of body-positivity in its marketing campaigns, adding a transgender model and a plus-sized model and launching a collaboration with female empowerment focused lingerie line, Bluebella.
But for many, these moves felt like too little, too late. After all, Victoria’s Secret was one of the last lingerie companies to use diverse models and their recent nod towards inclusiveness felt begrudging at best. Slumping sales indicate that the reluctant baby-step towards diversity may be getting picked up by Millennials’ and Gen Z’s BS detectors. Bottom line: it’s going to take a lot more than a small collaboration and two new models to shift consumer’s perception of the brand.
Expand the product line.
Victoria’s Secret has also been slow to offer products made for a wide variety of skin tones and body types. Their website shows models of color posing in “nude” bras that are completely unmatched to their skin tone. Compare this to the wide variety of perfectly matched nude t-shirt bras offered by ThirdLove and it’s easy to see why customers wouldn’t want to keep shopping with a retailer that doesn’t offer inclusive colorways.
Beyond that, it’s tough to get consumers to believe your brand cares about women of all sizes when you don’t offer many plus-size options in-store. Consumers have repeatedly called upon management at Victoria’s Secret to expand their plus-size offerings and start making plus-sized consumers feel like there’s a place for them with the retailer. While Victoria’s Secret reportedly now offers bra sizes 30AA to 40DDD, a very limited selection of styles is available for plus-sized consumers.
In fact, many consumers (and retail journalists) have shared negative experiences looking for attractive lingerie in their size in-store. When you compare the bra-hunting experience at Victoria’s Secret to that of a brand like ThirdLove that carries size AA-I, donates a portion of profits to women in need, and encourages customers to love their curves, it’s easy to see today’s shoppers are foregoing VS.
Step it up with crisis management.
In a post-#MeToo and #TimesUp world, consumers are quick to jump ship amidst accusations of the exploitation of women. It didn’t help VS when a group of over 100 present and past Victoria’s Secret models recently wrote an open letter to L Brand’s CEO, Leslie Wexner. The letter cited his past relationship with Jeffrey Epstein as well as the multiple allegations of abuse by young VS models at the hands of the brand’s contracted photographers.
The letter asked Wexner to join RESPECT, an anti-harassment program designed by and for models. The RESPECT website says, “Signatory companies make a binding commitment to require their employees, agents, vendors, photographers and other contractors to follow a code of conduct that protects everyone’s safety on the job, and reduces models’ vulnerability to mistreatment.”
While one would think that joining RESPECT after such a PR crisis would be a no-brainer, Wexner has yet to respond. Instead he addressed members of the Wexner Foundation about his longstanding relationship with Epstein. Victoria’s Secret has yet to create a significant partnership with a women’s rights organization… not a good look for a company that relies on women for sales.
Focus on health and wellness over seduction.
Leadership at Victoria’s Secret has struggled to respond to consumers’ shifting priorities and to find an approach that works in the new retail paradigm. It looks like once-iconic retailer no longer knows what moves to make: pulling and then re-adding the swimwear category, reducing physical square footage, hiring its first trans Victoria’s Secret angel, deciding not to put on its annual fashion show… and the list goes on.
Meanwhile, Victoria’s Secret has been called “the Sears of brassieres” due to the company’s flagging sales and the waning popularity of even its core product. The Guardian reports, “sales of push-up bras have fallen by 50% compared to a year ago, while sales of bralette, or triangle bras, have rocketed by 120%.”
SmartBrief found that that Gen Z consumers have a perception that “health and wellness is about holistic balance,” and that physical health is an important component of that. No wonder athleisure brands like Lululemon, with its own vast intimates assortment and a new practical and minimal self-care product line, are giving Victoria’s Secret a run for their money.
Consider how the merchandise feels.
It’s not just about health and wellness. Comfort is queen for consumers in the new age. The starchy fabrics Victoria’s Secret’s uses to create hyper-sexualized lingerie just doesn’t resonate with next-gen consumers.
In contrast with VS, American Eagle’s feel-good lingerie line, Aerie, whose lingerie is built for comfort with minimal padding, is on its way up. Business Insider reports that American Eagle had a 14% increase in Aerie sales in quarter one of 2019 marking the 18th consecutive quarter of double-digit positive growth for Aerie. Unlike the boudoir polyester and plastic jewel-bedecked glamazons tromping down the Victoria’s Secret runway, the models on Aerie’s website and social media pages are diverse, unretouched, and smiling. It’s easy to see why consumers find Aerie’s fare more relatable.
The Bottom Line
It looks like Victoria’s Secret is vulnerable to suffering the plight of many other retail hotshots of yesteryear. VS dragged their feet on implementing the necessary changes to keep up with the times, and now they feel less relevant and more inauthentic. The in-store experience at Victoria’s Secret was an issue for consumers and, unfortunately for VS, management realized this fact far after the majority of their consumers.
That said, all hope is not lost. If Victoria’s Secret can step up to the plate with savvy crisis management, product revamps, and marketing that resonates with with today’s consumer, they may still have enough brand equity to turn things around.