The ultimate lingerie shopping experience

In today’s discount-led, online world, Helen Masters, owner of Pudding Retail Lingerie Consultancy, discusses how bricks and mortar stores can attract more customers, double their sales and make a tidy profit.

Anyone who has worked in lingerie retail in the last couple of years knows that the industry landscape has changed significantly – and that change is set to continue.

It certainly feels increasingly difficult for bricks and mortar stores, especially independents, to continue to draw customers in and ultimately make an adequate profit in today’s discount-led, online world.

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As the former owner of a successful lingerie retailer and now a lingerie and intimate apparel retail consultant, I speak to lingerie retailers all the time. The biggest trend I’ve seen in recent months has been disappointing footfall. Consumers are driven by price and shopping for the best deal online, resulting in underwhelming sales in physical stores and an excess of stock to shift at a reduced margin.

So is this the future? Are we destined to see bricks and mortar stores simply decline and give way to the big department stores and online providers?

Well, no. For every struggling retailer I talk to, there is another one who is rushed off their feet serving customers, taking on new brands and pushing their business forward to embrace the online world while also reminding consumers why they need a bricks and mortar service.

So what are the factors that determine whether a lingerie retailer is in the ‘plodding on’ or the ‘running ahead’ camp? The formula is certainly changing. Until a couple of years ago, independents could firmly stick to their heritage as bricks and mortar retailers, shunning online for its lack of added-value service or simply dipping their toes in the water with a ‘shop window’ website.

But successful retailers are increasingly realising that they will be left behind if they continue to adopt this approach.

The future formula for success will be to offer the best of both worlds – the convenience of online shopping, great web offers and click and collect, together with the unrivalled personal and expert service that only lingerie independents can provide. This formula, when properly executed, can literally double or triple sales – not just today , but in the future.

We all know it, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that lingerie retail gives us the prime opportunity to wow customers with amazing service.

Statistics show that 90% of women walking in your store for the first time are not in the right bra size and the vast majority of men need a helping hand to choose the perfect gift for their partners. They are crying out for engagement, interaction, advice and the right products for you to sell to them.

The bra fitting service is of course key to delighting customers – only as a lingerie retailer do you realise the simple power of putting a woman in the right bra for the first time. What other retail interaction leads regularly to tears of joy, improved sex lives, marriage proposals (an early customer of mine, who was so delighted she invited me to the wedding) and bouquets of flowers being delivered to your store by grateful customers?

Plus, once people are exposed to the art of fitting they realise the need for every bra to be fitted.

So why are so many stores finding it so difficult to get people through the door? In my experience, the successful stores live and breathe a proactive sales and service model (and I mean really proactive – not just saying hello, asking if someone wants help and pointing out offers, but making wowing every customer your number-one focus.)

Industry statistics show that on average lingerie stores operate at a 19% conversion rate. 19% of people who walk into a store end up buying there and then. When you take into account the typical sales funnel this is understandable – and it’s pretty good compared to other sectors. But is it good enough? No!

I know from my own retail experience and from observing and working with many stores that a truly proactive sales and service model can raise conversion to at least 50% and double or triple sales.

In my experience, if there is a mountain to climb then proactive sales and service will get you 80% to the summit. Besides that, creating the ultimate retail experience and offering exclusive and superior products will get you the other 20% of the way.

And let’s not forget the all-important brand mix – as independents there’s little benefit long term in skewing your range towards volume selling, low margin products that customers can find online or in department stores.

Putting the effort into find high-performing, exclusive brands will keep customers coming back, and paying a premium. Nearly two years after closing my store, Pudding, I am still struggling to find retailers stocking the products that used to be my best sellers (either online or in store) and I have countless former customers begging for help to find those products too.

If we are to deliver the ‘best of both worlds’ proposition then we need to find our place in the online world too.

The internet offers multiple options, such as multi-branded offerings to allow you to compete at different price levels and drop shipping.

Another way to compete is to combine these tactics with the same approach online as in store – make service a priority. Checking that customers understand which size to buy, suggesting add-ons, offering to defensively price match, providing click and collect and even offering a fit by phone service are all great ways to bring new customers to the business and minimise the dreaded returns.

Lingerie retail in today’s world is tough and if you are at the bottom of the mountain it can all feel a bit overwhelming. But that need not be the case. Start small. Start with the next customer who walks past or walks in. Sales people who wave, smile, welcome , engage naturally, go out of their way to understand the customer and wow them are worth their weight in gold, and we are all capable of being those people.

The formula for driving footfall in store

• A personal shopper approach
• A wish list service encouraging customers to note down what they love so their partners can come in and buy it
• A VIP service: proactively informing customers when their
favourite brands release a new line
• Private appointments and
shopping events with lots of
goodies (courtesy of your suppliers if you negotiate well)
• Tie-ins with other retailers
• Flexible returns
• Beautiful packaging
• An expert maternity, bridal, teen and post-surgery service
• A bra fitting service
• Customer engagement
• A high-performing, exclusive brand mix
• Embracing online retail

Helen Masters is the former co-owner of Pudding Lingerie and owner of Pudding Retail Lingerie Training & Consultancy. For low-cost consultancy and a range of training courses for retailers and brands contact consulting@puddinglingerie.com, 07789921097 or visit: www.puddinglingerie.com  

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