INTERVIEW: Very’s lingerie buyers on soaring sales and future growth plans

Very is stocking Boux Avenue lingerie for AW16.

After launching a lingerie boutique and building its brand portfolio on the back of a huge demand for fashionable underwear over the last 18 months, online fashion retailer Very has become a destination for intimate apparel. Lingerie Insight’s Sarah Clarke catches up with buyers Jen Scott and Kimberley Mather to find out more about how their hard work has led to a 28% uplift in sales.

More and more, retailers are seeing a crossover between bodywear and fashion. Selfridges witnessed this trend and reacted by opening a 37,000ft2 Body Studio, but the high street store wasn’t alone. Over the last 18 months, online retailer Very.co.uk has seen a 28% uplift in lingerie sales after responding to a huge demand for fashionable underwear.

In AW15 alone, lingerie sales jumped 24% on the previous year, indicating an unprecedented boom for the retailer.

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One of the main drivers of this growth across the lingerie industry as a whole in recent years has been the underwear-as-outerwear trend and the endorsement of lingerie by celebrities.

Seeing this as an opportunity to attract new shoppers and improve customer loyalty, Very immediately got to work.

 Fashion focused

“As a business, we’re exploding fashionability and that’s something that we have done within lingerie over the last 12 to 18 months,” says Jen Scott, head of buying for Footwear and Essentials at Shop Direct, Very’s parent company, which also operates Littlewoods and Very Exclusive.

“We have recruited a lot of new brands, so one of the biggest and most exciting for us has been Boux Avenue. Obviously, the point of bringing those guys on board is for us to explode fashionability in line with our clothing and footwear strategy. So that’s been really exciting for us,” she adds.

“We’ve also launched Bluebella, Heidi Klum Intimates, Spanx, Passionata and Ellesse for AW16, and we’ve got a few more brands on the way, such as Knickerbox.”

Very scrapped its own-label range two seasons ago with a view to expand its branded portfolio – a decision that’s
paid dividends.

“We obviously still offer ranges with our celebrities, such as Myleene Klass. Her collection performs really well and we design and source that ourselves, but in terms of our mainstream own-brand range, we decided to move away from that and invest our time in working more strategically with the brands,” explains Scott.

“We’ve massively extended the Pour Moi? range and seen some really good success with that. From 2014 to 2016, Pour Moi? grew 109%.”

The lingerie buying team has also focused on improving the customer journey in their path to purchase since launching a lingerie boutique on the Very site 12 months ago.

“Each month we’ve been learning about what the customer likes to see, how she likes to shop, which areas get the most clicks, and building on this month after month,” says Scott.

Very has found from this research that customers who previously shopped for womenswear are now shopping for lingerie at the same time.

“We’re getting a lot more cross-sales,” she says. “I think this is because the fashionability has improved a lot so they’re picking up add-on sales now. We work very closely with the womenswear teams and design teams, and those guys are really excited about the lingerie at the moment because they can accessorise a tuxedo jacket with a worn-to-be-seen bralette, for example.”

As lingerie has evolved with fashion trends, customers are also becoming more colourful with their choice of purchase, according to Scott.

“Obviously, black, white and nude is where the bulk of the demand lies, but we’re finding that more fashion colours are starting to sell,” she says.

Kimberly Mather, senior assistant buyer for lingerie, agrees, adding: “I think that even within fashion you have your core colours. So previously you would probably class a pale pink as a fashion colour, but those kind of neutral tones are starting to sell really well for us.”

“So we now class what Triumph and Playtex see as their fashion colours as core colours. The customer is starting to get a lot more adventurous now.”

The wellness trend has also triggered the growth of activewear sales at Very.

“Our sports bras have performed phenomenally well for us and we’re working on a few projects to explode that whole ‘love my body’ trend,” teases Scott.

Lingerie destination

In a few short seasons, Very has become a destination of choice for discerning lingerie shoppers and its growing popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed by major brands in the industry.

Mather, who joined Very six months ago from Marks & Spencer, comments: “Since I have been working here, brands have definitely been approaching us more. It’s a two-sided approach.

“This has meant that we can pick the right brands for our customer and for the website,” she adds.

“Miss Very is so dynamic – her age range is between 25 and 45 – but I think we have a much more peripheral market now, so the brands that we’re launching are introducing a new customer.”

Lingerie designers are becoming more aware of the strength of online retail as a whole; with its 24/7 service and unlimited stock space.

“You can sell a lot more products online than you can in store because you’re not restricted to space – the world’s our oyster,” says Mather.

“I think the brands are aware of the power of online and what we can do with it in terms of targeting specific customers based on their individual needs.”

Very is also seeing the benefits of having a mobile-responsive site, with 62% of sales coming from smartphones.

“Online shopping is so much more accessible now. You could be sat on the tube, browsing and purchasing as
you travel to work in the morning,” says Scott.

“People’s lifestyles have changed and with that I think Very has adapted to that,” adds Mather.

Future projects

Hard work has resulted in huge growth for Very’s lingerie business, but the company is not about to rest
on its laurels. According to Scott and Mather, this is only the beginning of a creative and prosperous road ahead.

“One of our values at Shop Direct is ‘Innovate’, and I’m constantly challenging the teams to be more innovative in terms of our plans.

“We’re exploring loads of opportunities now – how we can use more rich content online and how we can educate customers about the brands and what they stand for. Brands all have their own personality so we’ve been working with them to see how we can communicate that better,” says Scott.

Very is also planning to grow its fuller-bust side of the business.

“I think we are becoming quite famous for DD+ lingerie now so we want to develop that further,” explains Scott.

The retailer’s lingerie boutique doesn’t currently feature a fitting guide, but that’s something it is looking to launch in the future.

In the meantime, the business is working on educating the customer on how to find the perfect-fitting bra.

“It’s about trying to find the best way of informing our customers about which size will fit the customer within each brand. We have so many brands and each brand fits differently,” explains Mather.

“We’re doing a huge piece of work on that and we’ve got something really exciting coming up for SS17, so watch this space.”

Very is also holding a ‘Lingerie Street’ event at its head office in Liverpool, where it will present some of the new collections it has launched for AW16 to consumers.

Confirmed brands include Gossard, Panache, Bluebella, Wonderbra, Shock Absorber, Freya, Curvy Kate, Miraclesuit and Heidi Klum Intimates.

Each brand will host various activities including bake sales, lingerie giveaways and raffles, with all proceeds going to Alder Hey hospital.

“The Lingerie Street event is happening on October 13 with lots of our key brands, which is really exciting. I think it would be a great day to mark Very and lingerie on the map,” Mather enthuses.

Very’s best-selling lingerie brands include the likes of Pour Moi? and Boux Avenue, as well as trusted heritage bands, including Triumph and Wonderbra.

“Our customer is very brand loyal and she often repeat-buys into styles that she likes and brands that she trusts. She has discovered Very as a destination for those core brands as well,” explains Mather.

So what factors does Very look for in a successful lingerie brand?

“How it’s marketed is a big factor,” says Scott. “It’s a challenge online when you are launching a new lingerie brand because it’s all about educating the customer about the fit and brand personality. There’s a lot of brand loyalty within lingerie, so it can be tough for new brands – I think it takes a lot of perseverance to get it out there,” she continues.

“The best way to find out is to trial new brands and see how the customer responds. It takes a couple of seasons to embed a brand and fully get a read on whether she likes it or whether she doesn’t.”

Looking ahead to AW17, the Very lingerie team is looking for the next big innovation.

“Each season, there are so many new brands and it’s great to see who’s coming to market and what they are bringing.

“As we said earlier, the fashionability side of things is exploding for us. So the bralette trend is continuing for us, as is the demand for cut-out briefs and strappy bras. It will be interesting to go out in AW17 to see whether strapping is still a big trend or if there is something that will replace that.”

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