What Victoria’s Secret can learn from lingerie upstarts

After long dominating the lingerie market, Victoria’s Secret is under pressure.

Last week, it announced 200 job cuts and a corporate restructuring, while also trying to ween itself off reliance on its iconic print catalog in favor of a focus on customer loyalty and social media.

The struggle the brand faces is, in an age of body positivity, it feels distinctly 1990s, while upstart competitors like Adore Me and Negative to Third Love are making inroads in the $17 billion U.S. lingerie market that Victoria’s Secret continues to dominate with nearly 75 percent market share.

“It’s a smart move because they’ve been able to successfully navigate the increasingly competitive lingerie and “athleisure” markets, so now is the perfect time to keep optimizing the brand,” said Megan Hartman, strategy director at Red Peak Branding. “They could definitely learn from the new players like True & Co. in terms of utilizing data — they need to prove that they are more than a sexy image, that they can innovate with new fits, fabrics or customization and keep up with the more nimble startups.”

From Here’s what Victoria’s Secret can learn from the upstarts:

Double down on data
San Francisco-based True&Co, founded in 2012, has risen into prominence because of its data-driven approach to lingerie manufacturing. While retailers have been experimenting with quizzes for a long time, the e-retailer has managed to use its two-minute quiz to provide a truly personalized and customized experience to its customers. The site also carries other brands and new lists, and recommendations are constantly curated based on what consumers are browsing, buying and returning.

“The edge that True&Co has is that they not only use data but are also very product-forward instead of model-forward,” said Steve White, Razorfish’s vp of commerce strategy.

Provide digital utility
Sizing is a major issue plaguing all e-commerce retailers and is even more pronounced in the lingerie category. Which is a why a number of these retailers, including True&Co and Negative, offer free returns. But ThirdLove, another e-commerce lingerie retailer by former Aéropostale retail director Heidi Zak, has taken it a step further. The e-retailer has an iOS app that lets shoppers take a snapshot of themselves wearing either just a bra or a fitted tank top in front of a mirror. The brand then uses the photo to measure the client’s exact measurements, even going in half sizes for bra cups.

“The idea was always how we can use technology to solve problems in our lives and make an awkward and sometimes unreliable experience better through it,” said Rachael King, director of communications at ThirdLove. “We don’t just use the data for sizing but also use that to develop and customize products even further.”

Prioritize the customer
Adore Me is perhaps the most well-known among the lingerie e-commerce upstarts, with a fast-fashion approach that launches 30 to 40 new designs each month. This direct-to-consumer approach, where it produces affordable quality products rather quickly, makes it stand out in the category. It also has a pulse on its customers with an active social presence, including a cheeky Instagram and Snapchat accounts.

Have a seamless user experience
For White, Negative is ahead of the curve as far as user experience is concerned. The brand recently unveiled a website redesign last week, centered around customer feedback while still remaining true to its brand philosophy. The site will also integrate new functionalities such as a “cheat sheet” for new fans, a sizing help tool, an “evergreen gift finder,” shoppable lookbooks and bundling curated sets in the future.

“We wanted to provide an experience as similar to the in-store experience as possible,” said Lauren Schwab, co-founder at Negative. “The idea is that we’re as focused on functionality as we are on aesthetics and comfort.”


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