After just two years with Victoria’s Secret, CEO Jan Singer has resigned. Singer, who came to the company from Spanx, Inc. in 2016, announced her intention to step down Wednesday—just one week after the taping of the Victoria’s Secret annual holiday fashion show, which premieres on ABC on December 2. In the same week, Adriana Lima, the world-class supermodel and Victoria’s Secret angel, announced via Instagram her retirement from working with the brand.
However, these two major events were unrelated to Singer’s resignation. Instead, it likely had something to do with declining sales and the controversial interview in Vogue magazine with Ed Razek, CEO of Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands as well as Singer’s boss. Vogue used a provocative line from Razek for the title: “’We’re Nobody’s Third Love, We’re Their First Love’—The Architects of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show Are Still Banking on Bombshells.” It only got worse for the company from there.
Razek made a series of politically incorrect remarks he probably now regrets. The CUT summed up the interview best: “Razek was quoted saying that he didn’t think ‘transsexuals’ should walk the runway ‘because the show is a fantasy.’ He also said that people didn’t want a television special for plus-sized women in 2000, and that they ‘still don’t.’ Finally, Razek concluded that people are critical of Victoria’s Secret because it’s so successful.”
Razek Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg
Razek’s interview was definitely a bombshell—just not the kind his company was banking on. But the problems started long before he let loose with Vogue. On Monday, L Brands will release its quarterly earnings and make a statement regarding Singer’s departure, so we’ll know more then, but in the meantime, let’s address those declining sales.
According to CNBC, shares of L Brands are down about 38 percent so far this year. According to THR, in her two years as CEO, “Singer previously tried to compete in the evolving lingerie business by embracing a fast-fashion model for panties with lower prices and new styles dropping more frequently. Despite her efforts, Victoria’s Secret has faced commercial struggles in recent years, with same-store sales dropping 5 percent in 2018.”
Victoria’s Secret is losing out to competitors like American Eagle’s Aerie, and they’ve been blaming the struggle on changing consumer demands. It’s a total disaster. CNBC reported that Singer’s replacement will be “tasked with improving the brand’s appearance to consumers.” This is true. CNBC also reported that “female shoppers today are increasingly turned away by Victoria’s Secret overtly sexy image, which is reinforced by its annual fashion show.” This is false.
Take Some Advice—You Need It
From a professional twenty-something woman who enjoys shopping, staying active, and feeling sexy, here are some tips for the next CEO of Victoria’s Secret to get those retail sales back up.
First and foremost, Victoria’s Secret does lingerie best. Sexy fantasy is its brand. Angels with dramatic wings, standing more than six feet tall in stilettos, wearing garter belts and push-up bras, catwalking down the aisle with an exaggerated pout—these are the hallmarks of the brand for a reason. When a woman is shopping for lingerie at Victoria’s Secret, her goal is to transform into one of those angels. Thanks to the annual fashion show, it’s reinforced every year that nobody does sexy better than Victoria’s Secret.
Still, women rarely go out and buy lingerie “just because.” Usually, she is shopping with a special evening in mind, like a hot date, a wedding night, the honeymoon, planning for vacation, celebrating her man’s birthday, or cozying up for the holidays. Certainly, there are many occasions in a calendar year to don a fabulous new teddy, but only selling lingerie isn’t sustainable when other companies are doing it cheaper online, even if the quality is worse.
Consistently listed as competitors of Victoria’s Secret are Adore Me, ThirdLove, and Aerie. Besides Aerie, Adore Me and ThirdLove have mostly an online presence. In my experience, the quality and fit of Victoria’s Secret lingerie is second to none. But there is something to be said for the online retailers’ lower prices and smart marketing tactics, such as Adore Me’s monthly subscriptions for customizable lingerie boxes.
The Shopping Experience Is Second to None
Aerie, on the other hand, is not even in the same league, and for Victoria’s Secret to consider this fellow brick-and-mortar retailer as a serious competitor makes no sense. Victoria’s Secret stores offer a wonderfully unique experience. I remember my first time visiting one, when I was 13 or 14, with a group of my girlfriends in Michigan.
Somebody’s parents had dropped us off at the mall. We saw a sign in the doorway for a “panty party” sale. It felt like being invited to the cool girl’s house for a slumber party where she lets you in on all of her beauty secrets. The walls are striped pink and they’re littered with fabulously framed stills of angels from fashion shows.
Lima’s signature pout is on full display above the shiny black tables covered in colorful intimates. She’s letting you know she shops here too. Victoria’s Secret is why she’s so sexy, and it promises to make you sexy too. There are dressers of lace and satin panties all sorted by style and size in drawers. There are shelves of fragrances with names like “Love Spell.” The whole in-store experience is all so unapologetically feminine, sexy, and confident, just like the angels.
Shopping at Aerie does not offer the same experience. It doesn’t even come close. The only similarity between Aerie and Victoria’s Secret is its PINK line, which is most recognizable, of course, by the VS Pink Dog Puppy logo.
Let Aerie Have the Teenagers
PINK is a more youthful, cutesy brand of Victoria’s Secret “sleepwear,” meant to target younger shoppers. PINK offers pajama sets, cozy “school spirit” sleep shirts, and bras and panties with flirtier patterns. But the Victoria’s Secret’s extensive focus on pushing the PINK brand is probably part of the problem. Teenagers might have more time to wander around the mall, but they don’t have the money to spend. Adults do, and working women don’t need polka-dot pink undergarments in their wardrobe.
On his Sirius XM channel “Pitbull’s Globalization,” Miami rapper Pitbull always says he likes his women to be “sexy and sophisticated.” There is no better way to describe what kind of shopper Victoria’s Secret’s key demographic should be.
The woman in the market for lingerie and sexy sleepwear are working women leading active lives. They are women who are kicking butt during the day and want to feel sexy during life’s most intimate moments.
They are career women who, after a long workday, want to sleep comfortably in satin pajamas. They are evening readers curling up in soft fleece robes with a glass of wine and a book. They are fans of old movies who want something pretty and relaxed to wear cuddling up next to bae on the couch. Many are jet setters and on airplanes, so they appreciate functioning loungewear. Let Aerie have the teenage mallrats and the BOGO specials.
Up the Variety, Please
Variety, too, was once a factor in Victoria’s Secret’s success, and could be again. They used to sell all kinds of clothes—carried jackets, cocktail dresses, jeans, boots, pumps, bra-tops, and beach attire. While scaling down the scope of the merchandise was probably wise, they made a huge mistake in 2016 when they eliminated swimwear.
Swimsuits are basically lingerie worn in public, and Victoria’s Secret did swimsuits the absolute best. Anyone who can remember the Victoria’s Secret Swim catalogues featuring the hottest slinky one-pieces, exotic bikinis, and flowing sundresses worn by angels with super-long torsos and tousled sun-kissed hair knows it. Swimsuits were a Victoria’s Secret item socially acceptable to post about on social media.
Bringing back the swim line would be a slam dunk for Instagram marketing. Every summer, every beach trip, every vacation is a golden opportunity for a woman to show off her beach bod and, most importantly, her Victoria’s Secret bikini. Victoria’s Secret understood at one point the need to appeal to Pitbull’s “sexy and sophisticated” woman. From the beach to the bedroom, one trip to Victoria’s Secret could have you covered. With some purchases, they even threw in a free overnight bag.
Capitalize on the Models’ Celebrity
Victoria’s Secret angels are major international supermodels. The Victoria’s Secret annual fashion show is still considered the world’s biggest fashion event. Surely, this is because of the angels’ celebrity.
This year, the event returns to New York City after recent productions in London, Paris and Shanghai. According to ABC, it will be seen in more than 190 countries. The Victoria’s Secret Angels joining the fashion show lineup this year include Lima, Behati Prinsloo, Candice Swanepoel, Elsa Hosk, Jasmine Tookes, Josephine Skriver, Lais Ribeiro, Martha Hunt, Romee Strijd, Sara Sampaio, Stella Maxwell, Taylor Hill, Gigi and Bella Hadid, and Kendall Jenner. Kendall Jenner alone has 98.4 million followers on Instagram. Gigi Hadid has 44.4 million. Bella Hadid has 21 million. Lima has 12.1 million. The audience is built in.
Victoria’s Secret has the marketing tools to dominate all of its competitors. They just need to sell what women want.