We visited a Victoria's Secret flagship store and saw how it's trying to win back customers by turning up the lights and toning down risque marketing

·6 min read
Victoria's Secret store Bond Street
Victoria's Secret's new marketing campaign. Insider/Mary Hanbury
  • Victoria's Secret is in the process of refreshing its entire store fleet.

  • It's promising to turn up the lights and replace its bubblegum pink interiors.

  • We visited its London flagship to see how different it is to shop in its stores today.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

We headed to Victoria's Secret's flagship store in London on a sunny afternoon.

Victoria's Secret store Bond Street
The store opened in 2012. Mary Hanbury/Insider

It's located on New Bond Street, one of the more upscale shopping areas in London.

The most immediate difference we noticed was the marketing in its store windows.

Victoria's Secret store Bond Street
The store windows looked very different. Insider/Mary Hanbury

In the past, these would have shown racy images of its Angels. But with the Angels brand behind them, these were swapped out for more body-positive campaigns where the focus is on a day-to-day, toned-down look of underwear.

The store seemed radically different when we walked in. Previously, the lights were dimmed, music was booming, and images of its Angels (that have been described as borderline pornographic by some shoppers) covered the walls.

Victoria's Secret store Bond Street
Victoria's Secret's new marketing campaign. Insider/Mary Hanbury

On this visit, it instantly felt more modern and light inside.

Source: Insider.

But as we headed deeper inside the ground floor area, it felt a lot more similar to the old Victoria's Secret than we had first thought.

Victoria's Secret Bond Street store
The ground floor area. Insider/Mary Hanbury

The lights may have been turned up but its signature pink, black, and white interior remained...

Victoria's Secret Bond Street
Boudoir-like displays. Insider/Mary Hanbury

A spokesperson for Victoria's Secret told Insider that it plans to completely redo all its stores eventually. For the moment, some stores will only have more minor aesthetic changes.

...as did its boudoir-like fitting rooms.

Victoria's Secret Bond Street store
Fitting room. Insider/Mary Hanbury

While we weren't expecting the interior to be completely redone, we were expecting to see the more toned-down lingerie that appeared in the windows to be front and center of the store.

Victoria's Secret Bond Street store
Victoria's Secret's "Very Sexy" collection. Insider/Mary Hanbury

Instead, it put its most risque lingerie near the entrance, including its "Very Sexy," "Luxe," and "Dream Angels" collections.

It might have abandoned the Angels and its racy marketing but it felt like it's not quite ready for the product to match that.

Its signature push-up bras were in prime position but plus-size mannequins, maternity bras, and more casual underwear were nowhere to be seen.

Victoria's Secret Bond Street store
Push-up bras. Insider/Mary Hanbury

As we headed to the staircase at the back of the store we noticed a major change.

Victoria's Secret Bond Street
A giant silver staircase is a prominent feature in its store. Insider/Mary Hanbury

In the past, videos of its Angels walking its annual runway show would have run on a loop on the screens behind the staircase. When we visited, these videos had been swapped out for shots featuring curvier women.

As we headed up to the next floor, we were immediately greeted by a stand showcasing one of its partnerships with a British lingerie brand.

Victoria's Secret Bond Street store
Victoria's Secret launched a partnership with Bluebella in 2019. Insider/Mary Hanbury

The brand on display, Bluebella, was outspoken about the lack of inclusivity in the lingerie world before it partnered up with Victoria's Secret. The tagline of its new collection for Victoria's Secret is: "Lingerie designed for women who buy lingerie to please themselves."

This was our first glimpse of its swimwear collection.

Victoria's Secret Bond Street store
Victoria's Secret swimwear collection. Insider/Mary Hanbury

Victoria's Secret scrapped swimwear along with some of its apparel offerings in order to focus on underwear in April 2016. It brought this back in 2018.

This area of the store was dedicated to its more laid-back styles, including athleisurewear.

Victoria's Secret Bond Street store
Leggings for sale. Insider/Mary Hanbury

Victoria's Secret has been criticized for being slow to get on the athleticwear trend. One former senior staffer previously told Insider that former leaders felt "sweat is only sexy when you're having sex" and avoided sports bras because of this.

This week, it launched its new Lululemon-esque gymwear collection, "On Point," which is not yet available for sale in the UK.

We were surprised to see that there wasn't a bigger focus on these casual styles at the entrance of the store.

We found a mix of sports bras and casual T-shirt bra styles here.

Victoria's Secret Bond Street
New marketing appeared here too. Insider/Mary Hanbury

Next, we headed down to the bottom, and final, floor of the store.

Victoria's Secret Bond Street store
Insider/Mary Hanbury

This sprawling section is devoted it its Pink brand, which is targeted at college-age and teen customers.

This was the first time we spotted its new fuller-sized, mannequins. Victoria's Secret is promising to bring these to all of its stores.

While analysts have praised the mannequins as a more inclusive move, some shoppers say it's still falling short by not offering enough extended sizes.

Victoria's Secret Bond Street store
Fuller-sized mannequins. Insider/Mary Hanbury

"If I'm a size 14, which is on the smaller end of the plus-size range, and the largest panties Victoria's Secret makes are uncomfortably tight on me, I think about the 50% or more of women who are still unable to wear the brand," writer Mandy Shunnarah said after visiting Victoria's Secret's pilot store in Columbus.

Victoria's Secret said it offers up to a size 20, though not in all styles.

The Pink brand was once the strongest part of Victoria's Secret's portfolio from a sales perspective. But around 2018, sales slipped at the brand and it was forced to lean on heavy discounting to shift stock.

Victoria's Secret Bond Street store
The sale section. Insider/Mary Hanbury

While we still spotted a discount section at Pink, there wasn't an overwhelming amount of product on sale.

At that time, other teen-focused brands such as American Eagle's Aerie started to take market share with more inclusive marketing and body-positive campaigns that resonated with young shoppers.

Victoria's Secret Bond Street store
Victoria's Secret Bond Street store Insider/Mary Hanbury

Pink is clearly doubling down on this now. Videos promoting its campaigns around diversity and inclusion were playing in the background of the cash register for customers to watch while they check out their shopping.

Pink is known for being a logo-heavy brand, something that analysts have said can be detrimental. If a brand stops being seen as trendy, shoppers no longer see the value in their logos and they spend elsewhere, for example.

Victoria's Secret Bond Street store
Pink logos. Insider/Mary Hanbury

According to Victoria's Secret CEO Martin Waters, Pink has seen "super strong" performance for its logo business in the first three months of the year, however.

Waters said tie-dye apparel was a big seller for the brand too. This was tactically positioned right at the front of the Pink store.

Victoria's Secret Bond Street store
Tie-die is having a moment in fashion. Insider/Mary Hanbury

But bras and panties are still its bread and butter and there was a ton on display. More casual styles such as bralettes still had the Victoria's Secret spin, however, with the extra push-up.

Victoria's Secret Bond Street store
Pink bralettes. Insider/Mary Hanbury

While the store shopping experience does feel different, the company has a way to go to convince critics that its rebrand is more than just a glossy marketing campaign.

This means putting plus-size mannequins in all areas of the store and giving the lingerie that appears in its new more inclusive marketing campaigns a prime position in store.

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