EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Lovehoney

Lovehoney was named the UK’s Favourite Lingerie Retailer by the UK Lingerie Awards last month. Despite having expanded into lingerie just two years ago, the online retailer, best known for selling sex toys, was recognised by the public as the best in the business, stocking numerous provocative brands such as Bluebella, and its own label, Lovehoney Lingerie, which made £2 million in revenue in its first year. Apparel category manager Gemma Pestel reveals the secret to Lovehoney’s success.

How do you feel about being named the UK’s Favourite Lingerie Retailer?
Incredibly excited, obviously! It’s really, really brilliant. I went to the UK Lingerie Awards two years ago with Leg Avenue and I said to my colleague at the time, “wouldn’t it be amazing to win one of these one day?”. To actually come away with one, two years later, is fantastic. We’re really pleased. Also, as we have so many fantastic customers and great reviews, it’s great to be able to say that the award was voted for by the public.

You’ve concentrated more and more on lingerie in the past two years. Why have you chosen to go down this route?
It’s a growing market. Traditionally, Lovehoney has been known for sex toys, but we identified that sexy lingerie was an area for potential growth, so we’ve invested time and money and this is what’s come of it. It’s been really fast-paced and a brilliant success.

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How much does lingerie contribute to your total revenue?
Lingerie makes up between 20% and 25% of our total revenue and this varies depending on the time of year. So it takes up a bigger share around Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Our lingerie sales were up 43% on
December last year and generally we are up 47% year on year. So that’s the kind of growth we are looking at. The company itself is doing really well.

How have you achieved such growth?
We have thousands of products on our website and every product has its own unique description and great customer reviews. We really value that kind of thing – providing the customer with all the information they need to make an informed choice. So I think that’s what sets us apart from our competitors in terms of what we offer online. We’ve only ever been online, which means we have more experience than many retailers. We’ve been doing online for 13 years, so that’s where our strengths lie. We are very good at what we do.

Who are your biggest competitors in terms of lingerie e-tailers?
I would have to say Ann Summers and Boux Avenue, which offers a couple of similar offers to us, like the three for £12 knickers. Ann Summers is our main competitor.

What are the major changes you have seen in online retail since Lovehoney first launched?
I think buying lingerie and sex toys online has become more acceptable. People feel more comfortable shopping online and there is a lot more trust. Ten years ago, you’d think to yourself ‘am I buying from a trusted website?’, or ‘am I going to be getting everything I ordered?’ and ‘how can I send it back?’ People are just used to it now.

What are the main retail trends you have seen in the last year?
People are buying more frequently because they are able to choose multiple products and they can return things really easily. Also, images are becoming more and more important. Good photography is crucial and that’s what we’ve focused on at Lovehoney. Previously, we had to rely on our third-party suppliers for all of our photography and it meant that when you looked on the website you would see different styles with different lighting, but with our own stuff we can really pinpoint what works and what doesn’t. That has helped us grow as a company.

How is your own brand, Lovehoney Lingerie, performing?
It’s our current best seller and it’s set to grow quite significantly in the next financial year. We have lots of plans for Lovehoney Lingerie and we’re looking forward to seeing what we can achieve with it. Our plans are all a bit hush, hush at the moment, but I can tell you that we are bringing some new colours and fabrics in. We’re focusing on next Christmas now and we’ve got some great products at key prices, so we are going to make sure they are accessible for everybody.

How can you ensure that your customers buy perfect fitting lingerie online?
We do all kinds of fit testing before the product launches – with our own brand at least – so we know that we are offering the best fit and the truest fit possible. We also have the customer reviews, so before each product launches we send five to 10 products to our reviewers and they provide us with feedback. So they are real people with real shapes and they’ll give us feedback, whether it’s good or bad, and we’ll learn from that. Once someone buys a product they have the opportunity to return it within 365 days, so they always have that option.

Do you have plans to stock more brands this year?
We’ll be scouting out new brands at the trade shows this season. We don’t know what we’re going to find, but we’re always open to try new things. We’re on the lookout for a higher-end brand because we cater very well to the mid-range market and the lower end of the market, but not so much for the higher end, so we are going to see what’s out there.

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