In today’s discount-led, online world, bricks and mortar stores need to make the most of their retail space to drive footfall and maximise sales. But with so much competition, how can lingerie shop owners ensure they are making a profit across all product categories, from sports bras to swimwear?

In a series of special reports, Lingerie Insight will provide a unique breakdown of the main areas of the lingerie shop and, through an expert view on the area, outline how owners should merchandise their products, offer the best customer service and drive sales.

This month, we focus on post-surgery lingerie in an exclusive interview with Ameona, a specialist brand in this field. UK marketing manager Rhoda White outlines the key bra shapes all lingerie retailers should stock, how they should be displayed in store and how sales staff should guide their customers to find the right style for them.

With one in eight women developing breast cancer in their lifetime, post-surgery lingerie is rather more mainstream than one might think, and therefore it’s a shopping choice that all lingerie retailers should make available to their customers.

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Before taking stock of post-surgery styles, however, there are some key points that buyers, merchandisers and sales assistants should be made aware of.

The most important thing to remember is that women who have had breast cancer surgery have specific requirements, but they don’t want to feel different to other women.

Retailers should treat these customers with consideration, without singling them out.

Stores who keep this in mind when buying, displaying, fitting and selling post-surgery lingerie will be successful.

Shopping list

Like most female shoppers, women who have had breast surgery are looking for everyday lingerie basics, plus some pretty choices for when she wants to feel extra-feminine.

Buyers should therefore shop for the same shapes and styles that make up a typical lingerie wardrobe, whilst keeping in mind the special design features that post-surgery customers require.

“Comfort is important in the weeks immediately after surgery and if a customer comes to you for a bra that she can take into hospital with her, the ideal style is a soft bra that is front-fastening for easy dressing, and has pockets to hold a ‘softie’ prosthesis comfortably in place without irritating her surgery site,” says Amoena UK marketing manager Rhoda White.

“For women who have passed the six-week post-surgery period and can wear their choice of lingerie, we recommend stocking a basic T-shirt bra, a sports bra, a multi-way bra for adaptability under summer tops and dresses, a choice of non-wired and underwired styles and at least one pretty fashion set.”

Lingerie retailers should always stock a core range of continuity styles that customers come back to time and again, and then introduce some fashion elements each season, so that women can try different styles according to their mood.

“Your customers’ age range will vary enormously, so try to stock styles that will appeal to younger shoppers too,” White adds.

Fit and comfort are extremely important in a post-surgery bra – if the bra fits properly, a woman will find her prosthesis sits well and she will get the best, most natural outline in all her clothes.

So what are the design features that contribute to a good-fitting and comfortable post-surgery bra?

“Elasticated edges on the cups for extra security, bra cups that are designed to completely encase the breast form, pockets that are easy to access from the top or sides and a comfortable underband to help support breast forms and provide stability,” says White.

“Straps are important too – some of our styles have wider straps with gentle padding for improved comfort, particularly in larger cup sizes – and our straps are designed to be fully adjustable to any length, for a great fit whatever a woman’s shape or size,” she adds.

Breathable fabric is also a must when it comes to post-surgery bras.

“Your customers may be taking hormone therapy as part of their treatment, and this can lead to menopausal symptoms like hot flushes, which is why breathability is key,” explains White.

“Look for a high cotton content or fabrics like micro-modal and Microsense that are as soft as cotton but are even faster-drying and better in terms of wash-and-wear performance.

“Our bras have Coolmax pockets that help with moisture management – a bonus when you’re wearing a prosthesis all day, particularly in hot weather. Remember, too, that not all your customers will need to wear a breast form, although they may still choose a post-surgery bra, so look for styles that have soft, fine pockets that make the bra ideal for any woman.”

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Merchandising

Ideally, mastectomy lingerie should be displayed alongside regular styles, because these bras can also be worn by women who haven’t had breast cancer surgery, and, again, customers who have had surgery should not be made to feel singled out.

At the same time, post-surgery styles should be easy to find in store and should be clearly labelled as such.

“It’s important to make shoppers aware that your store caters for women who have had breast cancer, so clear signage helps, together with point-of-sale posters and counter cards advising customers that a post-mastectomy range is now available in-store,” explains White.

“If you have space in your window display, try to start the customer journey there, to give them an idea of styles and prices. In-store, we advise using the merchandising ‘rule of three’ – display three styles together to pique shoppers’ curiosity, rather than just one or two styles.”

It’s also important to continue the visual display into the fitting room, with beautiful imagery to help inspire your customers and encourage them to try different styles.

“For example, your customer may have come into the store to buy a black lacy bra, but once she sees how fresh and natural a soft-cup T-shirt bra looks, she may want to buy one of those as well,” explains White.

Fitting

The fitting stage is perhaps the most important part of the post-surgery lingerie buying process. Get this right and customers will return to your store again and again.

Before taking stock of post-surgery lingerie, retailers must ensure that their team are trained to fit mastectomy lingerie. This will equip them with the knowledge of different types of surgery, including mastectomy, breast-conserving surgery or lumpectomy, and reconstruction.

It will also make them aware of some of the post-operative issues that women can experience, such as lymphoedema and high scarring, and how they can recommend styles to help with these conditions.

Once this training is complete, lingerie retailers should ensure they can offer a welcoming environment where her privacy is respected at all times.

“If possible, offer your customer a chance to have a private fitting,” says White. “And when she arrives it’s important that she is expected – she won’t want to have to tell several people that she is here for a ‘mastectomy bra fitting’,” she advises.

“Ensure the fitting room is private, warm and welcoming, with soft lighting and a curtain or door that’s fully closable. Have a robe on hand for your customer to slip on when undressed. Display your credentials to show that you have been trained in this specialist area.”

The loss of a breast is traumatic, and many women find that after treatment their self-confidence and body image are affected, so it’s important to make customers feel comfortable and at ease.

“Asking your customer a few questions before you begin the fitting process will help you to understand her needs, giving you some pointers about which styles to recommend,” says White.

“Ask her about the styles she likes to wear – for example, non-wired or underwired, lacy or smooth cup, etc. You should also find out about her surgery type and whether she wears a breast form, as well as enquiring about any surgical issues,” she continues.

“It’s also good to know what type of hobbies or fitness activities she enjoys – she may need a sports bra or styles with maximum breathability.”

Some women may not be aware of all their options when it comes to post-surgery lingerie – for example, they may not know that it’s possible to wear a strapless or multiway bra, or that underwired styles are suitable to wear with a prosthesis.

Retailers can help guide them and, at the same time, create opportunities to interest them in a diverse range of styles that they may otherwise not have considered.

“Trust is crucial – it helps you to create a good relationship with your customer and encourage her to see you as her ‘go-to’ retailer for post-surgery lingerie,” concludes White.