Following on from Lingerie Insight’s ‘Lessons Learned in 2013’ feature, Sarah Blackman spoke to a panel of retail analysts about what they predict will be the biggest talking points in 2014, and what traders can do to stay on top of their game going forward.
As the world’s economic recession has continued, the state of the lingerie market has remained depressed.
The global lingerie market value in 2013 was lower than it was in 2007 and is not expected to recover for another three years, according to the latest edition of Just Style’s Lingerie: Global Markets and Trends report.
The intimate apparel industry is a tough sector to work in right now, but during a period of limited discretionary spending, underwear is, and always will be, a necessary purchase.
So what are the biggest retail trends we can expect in 2014, which will help drive sales, push growth and keep traders, from all channels, in business?
Around two fifths of consumers bought underwear online in the past 12 months. While online purchases peaked among women aged 25 to 32, a broader range of men aged 16 to 44 shopped online, according to global market research provider Mintel.
But despite online sales of apparel continuing to boom, almost three fifths of women are put off from shopping online due to not knowing if underwear will fit, with young women the most likely to see this as an issue.
“Furthermore, seven in 10 women, peaking among 16 to 24, agree that it’s better to buy in store so you can see the item before buying,” says Mintel senior fashion analyst Tamara Sender.
“In order to compete with pureplays, multichannel retailers need to focus on offering accurate fitting advice and providing a store environment in which shoppers feel comfortable trying on items before they buy,” Sender adds.
But Verdict associate retail analyst Jessica Fioriti takes a different view. She believes that the continued growth of online sales could lead to the closure of specialist lingerie stores in 2014, if they are not prepared to reach out to new customers through the web.
“The ease and convenience of the online shopping channel allows consumers to browse and showroom without the feeling of being uncomfortable when buying intimate apparel,” explains Fioriti.
“Historically, the online lingerie market has developed far more slowly than clothing due to the importance of fit. But now, with better size guides, delivery options, assistance videos and fringe availability, we expect the online lingerie market to continue to grow at a much faster pace.”
Fioriti admits that for independents, it is of primary importance that their in-store environment and range offer is right, providing popular, quality brands at competitive prices, but adds that investing in an online presence can only help specialist lingerie stores going forward.
The analyst also notes that independents can differentiate themselves from their high street competitors by translating their specialised, one-on-one customer service on the Internet.
“Excellent customer service can be provided online through click and chat-style advice and assistance on call when needed,” Fioriti adds.
Likewise, high street retailers will need to focus on competitive pricing and high levels of service to compete with the online channel, according to Euromonitor International Apparel analyst Ashma Kunde.
“In-store environments and compelling visual merchandising will also play a big role in drawing footfall,” she adds.
Lingerie specialists are expected to expand into complementary areas, including bridal lingerie, swimwear, loungewear, sportswear and health and beauty in 2014, in order to compete with high street fashion brands, which are rapidly moving into intimates, including Topshop, H&M and Forever 21.
“Also this year, Mango launched Mango Sport and Intimates,” says Kunde. “It is easy for consumers to add lingerie to their basket whilst already in-store, shopping for other items. While [these retailers] may fall short on the technical expertise of lingerie-focused brands, they have the design and price appeal, particularly for young adults,” she says.
Plus size lingerie and shapewear markets are also expected to grow as obesity levels rise and online and mail order channels become increasingly popular among plus size shoppers, due to fringe size availability and the experience of hassle-free shopping, according to Fioriti.
“However, there is much more scope to introduce more fashion-led and prettier shapewear garments, away from the classic, quite unattractive nude nylon fabrics – making [shapewear] more desirable to customers,” says Fioriti.
She believes that lingerie stores should broaden their product range and introduce more sizes, making garments more accessible, and Sender agrees.
“Mintel’s consumer research found that almost seven in 10 women would like retailers to offer a wider range of sizes in underwear,” she states.
“While the availability of bras in larger cup sizes has primarily been driven by retailers that specialise in bigger sizes, such as Bravissimo and Simply Yours, underwear brand Wonderbra now sells strapless bras that tend to be associated with smaller sizes, up to a cup size G. More mainstream underwear brands and retailers will need to stock larger sizes in order to cater for rising levels of obesity,” Sender insists.
Health and beauty products may also be sold alongside plus size lingerie and shapewear over the coming years.
“Lingerie brand Ultimo has branched out into beauty and has designed what it calls ‘shapewear in a bottle’, which is a cream to plump and enhance the bust or take away the swelling and lines,” says Fioriti.
“There is scope for more crossover and collaborations between beauty and underwear brands,” she adds.
Also in 2014, there is an expected growth in the premium sector, with high-end intimate apparel sold at competitive prices.
“Customers who may have moved away from brands during the recession, are likely to trade up again back to the premium brands that offer the best quality and value for money – likely to benefit specialists such as Calvin Klein, Stella McCartney and Elle Macpherson,” explains Fioriti.
In recession-hit Western markets, the lingerie industry has benefited from its perception as an “affordable luxury”, says Kunde. “With prices of lingerie significantly lower than shoes or handbags, particularly at the premium end, frugally-fatigued women are turning to underwear as their preferred ‘treat’ purchase.”
Shoppers may also see more exclusive collections being launched to provide a point of differentiation. In recent years, ASOS, M&S and John Lewis have teamed up with the likes of Marios Schwab, Rosie Huntington Whitely and Alice Temperley to offer customers a unique range of garments.
Fioriti advices high street stores to invest in a strong a brand portfolio, in order to compete with these major retail players.
Independents may opt to buy small premium collections that are made in the UK, allowing them to offer higher price points and set them apart from their competitors.