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Victoria’s Secret Chasing Retail’s Big Store Trend

Off mall.

Increasing the number of stores it operates outside of the traditional enclosed mall setting is in the works for Victoria’s Secret, according to an investor day presentation Monday from L Brands, which will decouple the struggling chain from Bath & Body Works next month.

Martin Waters, CEO of the soon-to-be-separate lingerie company, told investors the brand has “work to do” on its “tone deaf” and “culturally irrelevant” stores and marketing.

Victoria’s Secret will experiment with new “off mall” brick-and-mortars in the next 18 months, Waters said, following in the footsteps of brands like Gap that are similarly looking to minimize their presence in troubled mall locations. “We think there is significant opportunity for us to improve and increase our penetration in off-mall locations,” Water said.

The company has also been revamping “dark” and “overladen” stores, replacing their dated fashion-show imagery “that could be [from] any year in the last 10 or 15 years,” Waters said.

Despite an influx of rivals in recent years, Waters maintains that Victoria’s Secret still commands a market-leading presence in bras and underwear, if by sheer dint of its scope and scale. The company, he said, is “not at all complacent about competition,” which has “intensified significantly in the last three or four years partly because of inactivity on our part, but also just as COVID has impacted the market during 2021.” He cited the threat from big-box retailers skilled in digital, as well as nimble pure-play digital merchants and the brick-and-mortar challengers “that have always been there.”

Meanwhile, Amy Hauk, CEO of Victoria’s Secret’s Pink brand, believes the lingerie giant’s failings are better known to the press than to the everyday purchaser, which could play well to its reinvention efforts. Admitting how the company had “lost step” with consumers, Hauk acknowledged that the teen-centric brand “was about exclusivity when everything for the Gen Z customer is about inclusivity.”

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“We had a stereotypical kind of view of beauty… when it’s all about diversity and inclusion, different body types, come as you are,” she continued, and “really making everyone feel welcome and comfortable.”

That failure stemmed from “not really understanding our customers,” Hauk added. “So we have spent an enormous amount of time out in stores, on college campuses, doing our research, talking to our target consumer to make sure that our product is relevant.”

Waters also sees “enormous opportunity” to grow Victoria’s Secret’s presence in the sport and lounge categories, noting how the brand can leverage its “superior” creative development to “expand considerably from where we’ve been.”

Omnichannel is also a major focus for the company, with 200 stores slated to offer ship-from-store and buy online, pickup in store by the end of August, he added.