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FutureNow Article
Monday, Mar. 3, 2008

If Victoria’s Secret Wants Me Back…

By Holly Buchanan
March 3rd, 2008

I used to shop at Victoria’s Secret. They had really great stuff. But lately, when I walk into the store, I feel like I’m at a teenage pajama party, a porn video shoot, or both.

Victoria’s Secret used to be “my” store — a place that catered to sophisticated women. Now it feels like a store catering to teenage girls and creepy guys. Why, I wondered, doesn’t Victoria’s Secret want me as a customer anymore? Could it be because I’m not 25? But isn’t that a good thing? I’m older and I have more money.

Barbara La Placa is the associate publisher of marketing for MORE Magazine, a monthly magazine aimed at women over 40. In this OMMA article, she talks about women over 40 and their buying habits:

La Placa uses the example of lipstick to compare older women with younger consumers. “Open up my medicine cabinet and I’ve got 700 lipsticks. You don’t see that with young girls who get one brand everyone else has. Me, I’m 49, and I’m always looking for the right shade. And I have the money to buy the darn things,” La Placa adds.

Touche. Wake up and meet the boomer market. There are more women over 40 than ever before. They have money and they’re spending it.

According to The Wall Street Journal, even Victoria’s Secret is acknowledging that efforts to target younger customers may have disenfranchised their core market.

In the 1990s, professional women shopped the pastel-painted stores for colorful, European-inspired lingerie, supplementing underwear wardrobes previously filled with black, white and beige styles. Soft music played in the background while saleswomen discreetly offered help.

But over time, Victoria’s Secret adapted to a changing culture. One reason Victoria’s Secret got off track, Ms. Turney said, was the success of its Pink brand, which launched in 2002 and aimed to introduce college students to Victoria’s Secret stores. Pink has grown tremendously; in October, an executive said it would probably reach $900 million in sales for 2007.

But as teens and 20-somethings snapped up Pink underwear and pajamas, too many other product lines at Victoria’s Secret shifted to target that same customer, Ms. Turney said.

It was great that Victoria’s Secret brought in the younger audience, but they forgot about the rest of their customers (like me). I’m sorry, but a pink stuffed dog isn’t going to get me to buy more bras. (Though it might make a nice “friend” for my Boston Terrier with a humping problem.)

Victoria’s Secret is working on changing its image, toning down the “super sexy” hype and going back to its “ultra-feminine” roots. Can they win back customers?

Changing customer views will be a huge challenge. Sheri Coulter, a 42-year-old secretary in Flower Mound, Texas, worked at a Victoria’s Secret store three years ago. “It was like pulling teeth to get the women our age to come in there,” she says. “In our 40s and up, we are sexy — just not the same sexy a college gal is.”

For a time, she says, the store where she worked stopped carrying sizes 38 or larger, embarrassing some older customers who were turned away.

victoria_s_secret_home_page_image.png

If they want me back, that’s great. But if they are re-re-branding, Victoria’s Secret should take some redesign cues from its own website (which does a much better job than the store, in my opinion).

Here’s what VictoriasSecret.com does well:

  • The homepage shows a woman with an actual figure who looks sexy without being trashy.
  • Great categorization. I can shop by collection, style of bra, see specials, or get tips on fitting.
  • Product pages detail why each garment is or is not right for my body.
  • I can increase the text size so I can actually read the product descriptions. (Thank you!)

For now, I’d much rather shop at the online store than the retail store. That’s a problem. If Victoria’s Secret wants me back as a customer, they’ll need to match the experience they’re presenting online with the experience they present in their stores.

[Editor's Note: Holly Buchanan is co-author of The Soccer Mom Myth — Today's Female Consumer: Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys, and co-instructor of our Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar on March 28th in San Francisco.]

Add Your Comments

Comments (29)

  1. I had a friend who worked there in the late 90′s. She was told their biggest customer demographic (at her specific shop) was men (can’t remember the ages, but my impression was mature to middle aged) buying for their college-aged girlfriends.

    Don’t know if that was a local phenomenon (Los Angeles, home of the old fat homely guy with the supermodel girlfriend) or an insight into VS’s overall thinking, but I took it as one more store dumping a female customer base in favor of a less discriminating male customer base.

    And while less discriminating people may spend a lot, they can also be lured away by any new trend. If you impress discriminating customers, you have brand loyalty + spending power forever – or until you blow it.

    That’s just my theory. I know nothing about marketing but what I’ve read and observed over the years. :)

  2. Even back in the day, Victoria’s Secret made it no secret that slightly ample-sized women – I’m not talking about Biggest Loser size, just women on the plump side – weren’t welcome either. Too bad, since like boomer gals, that’s where the numbers are, too.
    So I take my taste and wallet for fabulous European lingerie to those B&M and online stores that recognize me as a customer of value.

  3. Holly, this is one of my clients: http://www.HerRoom.com

    You’re basically their target market. How are they doing in meeting your needs? What else can they add to appeal to you?

  4. It will be interesting to see how and if they re-brand. It seems many businesses these days lose what they originally stood for as far as targeting goes. Victoria Secret can definitely get back the market they lost…it may take a little patience and some rebranding but they have enough influence in that particular market to make the necessary changes and work their magic!

  5. I recently put up a post on my blog called “Is Victoria’s Secret Too Sexy? Yes,” although I didn’t get into the sophisticated women, teenage pajama party, porn video segmentation (although I wish I had!). Your concerns in this post are consistent with my comments about the “drifting” of the Victoria’s Secret brand. I think that Victoria’s Secret can peel the Pink brand away (for the teenagers), but it still needs to decide whether it’s focus will be sophisticated women or porn video.

    My blog: http://experiencematters.wordpress.com/

  6. Bill,

    HerRoom.com – I really like the “Bra Finder” feature on the top right – the choices in the “Feature or Style” dropdown are really helpful. Good job.

    Holly

  7. Thanks for the feedback, Holly.

  8. Holly,

    could I be so bold as to suggest you send them a boxload of copies of “The Soccer Mom Myth.”

  9. I completely agree with you – actually wrote a blog about the same thing last week (http://brandcritical.blogspot.com/2008/02/how-to-get-your-sexy-back.html). Victoria’s Secret needs to get back to basics and realize there’s a much bigger customer base than teenagers…and that mid-20-somethings and up are looking for something other than low-quality lingerie and Pink! pajamas with sexy written on the butt.

  10. When I conduct workshops, I find an interesting phenomenon.

    I run a series of slides, where I show participants about seven slides. Each of the slides contains a well-known brand. I localise the brand, so that if the workshop is in New Zealand, the brands are Kiwi brands. If it’s in the US, it’s US brands.

    And we find consistent answers when we ask three core questions:
    1) Who is their target market?
    2) What problem do they solve?
    3) What is their solution?

    When these questions are asked, you’ll find that some brands are rigorous about answering the questions, while others simply cause confusion. The core of marketing lies with those three questions. If you ever have to audit your marketing at a moment’s notice, then you’ll need absolutely clarity on those three issues.

    The clarity is important for a simple reason. It splits your audience into:
    1) Customers
    2) Non-customers.

    And interestingly enough, non-customers are vital to the mix, because it keeps them away from your product, and attracts only those who are interested in the product. When you have customers that kinda detest your product/service, you’re actually doing quite well.

    With this in mind, we would need to evaluate whether:
    1) Who is Victoria’s Secret customers?
    2) Whether they have kept that customer profile consistent?
    3) Whether their customers are clear about that message or not.

    The problem is always going to lie in whether they know, and audit who they’re talking to at all times. If they don’t have a clear understanding of the exact person they’re talking to, that’s where the problem begins.

    Sean
    http://www.psychotactics.com

  11. As a follow up to the earlier post: Does Vic’s Secret know who their ‘Katie’ is? Here’s a post that essentially talks about headlines, but is all about target profile.
    http://spidersecret.com/headlines-do-you-really-need-200-to-land-a-good-one/

  12. Hey Holly,

    Do you think that this leaves an opportunity for companies like Jockey.com (that still targets women over 30 years old) to take some of that market share that V.S. has left behind?

  13. And do you think VS ever had a clear audience?

  14. After reading the article “If Victoria’s Secret wants me back” I have to say I wholeheartedly agree with the nosedive into what could perhaps be “suggested” as tacky.

    I look forward to my business trips to the States (I am from the UK and fit the “young” later 30′s age group, with disposable income, demographic). The one hour of shopping I give myself out of my schedule, takes me stright into three shops, one of which happens to be VS.

    I just got back from my trip this week, empty handed. Instead of the usual discreet and calming experience I used to have, I was greeted by a window of stuffed dogs, met by a headset wearing, gum chewing individual, and couldn’t make out where I was supposed to look amidst the array of colour, frills and somewhat disorganised layout of the store. Needless to say – I walked straight back out!

  15. Holly,
    I absolutely agree with you on this point about VS. I was just in there recently and seriously had a difficult time finding anything that I would walk out of the store with, they usually had a range of design choices, but you’re right, it’s definitely dropped into the teen/college age now. At Christmas I was very uncomfortable with their holiday bag, they usually tried to keep things discreet in their pink bags, but these were models with lingerie and santa hats, if I had bought something I would have had to stash it in my own purse! Who will take the market for women 25+, I don’t like to buy my bras online, I want a store. Perhaps I’ll have to go to Nordstrom now…

  16. Ok, I’m going to eat my words on my previous post. Last week I needed a new bra for a photo shoot and I was walking by VS and Nordstrom was 15 minutes away so I caved and I bought a bra there and I have to admit that my experience was very positive, the sales girl helped find the right style, fit, price, etc. and the bag they gave me was the classic one, so no embarrassment on that end of it. Hmm…maybe there’s a tiny corner of the store where over 30 women can find a great bra and the teens can have the rest of the store.

  17. [...] I’m not a big Victoria’s Secret fan because of their recent marketing efforts, etc. (you can see the recent discussion about VS here and my comment that I wouldn’t shop there and then had to eat my words) however, when you’re in a rush, sometimes you go where [...]

  18. Sean,

    I think you ask the key question – who is V.S’s audience? I think when they started out, it was women. In my opinion, they were going after women who wanted to feel sophisticated and sexy – who wanted nice everyday underwear, and maybe a few pieces that were a little more “special occassion” worthy.

    Lenore Skenazy has a fabulous article in Ad Age about this very sujbect. She quotes Lisa Daily about who VS’s audience really is.

    “The problem, says Lisa Daily, author of the soon-to-be-published “Fifteen Minutes of Shame,” is that about a decade ago Victoria’s Secret shifted from being a store for women to being a store for men. “The catalogs got smuttier, the TV ads looked like network-approved lap-dances and the Super Bowl ads just ticked us off,” she says. “My lingerie-buying friends and I started buying our delicates somewhere a little less icky.”

    Lenore agrees. She thinks the problem isn’t that VS is too sexy, but that it is too trashy.

    “I’m trying to think of something trashier than Victoria’s Secret, and all I can come up with is preteen pole-dancing classes at the Y, which I don’t think actually exist. (Yet.) The place is, in short, trashapalooza. If trash were a country, Victoria’s Secret would be its Epcot — a ham-handed celebration of all its most trashy elements.”

    I don’t know if Victoria’s Secret actively made a decision to target men instead of women, but it might explain why women (who I would imagine are the core buyers of underwear and lingerie) aren’t resonating with the store anymore.

  19. So, we know that men are attracted to sleeze, since that’s what they’re buying. Your man is different, right honey?

  20. I don’t know what men are attracted to – I’ll let them speak for themselves.

    Guys – do you agree with Lisa Daily that Victoria’s Secret is targeting you?

  21. I have always thought that Victoria’s Secret was targeting men. Photos and TV ads with women in lingerie, how could this not target men on some level? I don’t believe that they are skewing their marketing demographic or targeting towards men over women though. I currently work on the sales floor for VS, and have worked for them (on and off) for the last 4 years or so. I’ve been privy,and subjected to, the various marketing campaigns and selling tactics they’ve pursued over the past years. As of late it does seem that they (VS) have been pushing the PINK line more, especially with the college crowd.

    I’m in grad school at FSU (the big one in Florida), and with this being a rather large college town they have tended to stick to the college demographic. However, they are now carrying a nursing bra (our store is one of only a few test stores for it), so that does point to a shift in product development. (Not sure how they will have one of the Angels Models advertise that on TV or in the catalog) As well, they are also selling a new panty under the “Angels” line called the “Starlet panty.” It’s super high-waisted, I think it looks dreadful, even on the models.
    Thought I would just throw my opinion into the hat since I stumbled on the blog while working on marketing homework.
    (I am in Art Administration and taking a marketing class for the arts, just happened to google VS and marketing terms to see what I came across)

  22. Great post and comments, provide very valuable information. Specially comments by sean.

  23. I used to work for a company whose one of many clients is VS. The root of this disconnect is something not well known to the masses.

    VS website is run as a separate business unit from VS retail (stores). Therein lies the problem. Customers see the brand as one, but the two business units aren’t always in sync with one another.

  24. Money not always has advantage

  25. Maybe the VictoriasSecret has strike oil by changing her major figure to cater to those young girls, but if she want the people like you back, she may take your favor into consideration

  26. The VictoriasSecret’s new target is to earn money by taking the young girl as their major customer,but this changing will lose another part of customer,too.

  27. Yeah, with how expensive things are there I don’t see why they would target such a young audience and leave out the older people who have more money.
    -Jack

  28. Victoria’s Secret doesn’t want you back, that’s the whole point. Every collegiate it has now will shop for years before starting to worry about how young the other shoppers suddenly look, and they’ll purchase more expensive items more often because it’s exciting for them. Are single women in the 20s going to be spending more money on lingerie over the next 20 years than moms in ther 40s, all things being equal. You betcha. Victoria’s Secret may appease its older shoppers, but the kids are their future and they’ll respond accordingly.

    – Mike

  29. I worked for VS in the late 90′s, and the styles have done a radical change. From sexy sophisticated to teenage porn.

    I’m now a 43 yr old mom – who feels sexier than I did in my 20′s! I still want pretty bras and panties that match!! I loved that VS had cottons that could be worn with most of their bras – now the panties are so minimally cut I might as well go commando!! And the bras don’t fit properly (overhang).
    And I’m wearing the correct sizes!
    Unlike in my younger days, I have $$$ to spend and I haven’t found lingerie that I like as well as the VS merchandise of old. Yes, I’ve tried the links suggested here.
    Sadly, VS has forgotten the concept that they started with, and turned up their noses on the customers who made them a world power.

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Holly Buchanan is a marketing to women consultant specializing in marketing to women online. You can read her blog at http://marketingtowomenonline.typepad.com She is the co-author, along with Michele Miller of The Soccer Mom Myth - Today's Female Consumer - Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys.

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