Competition in the UK lingerie market is hotting up. Part of the reason is the market is getting crowded. The arrival of US lingerie juggernaut Victoria’s Secret in 2012, hot on the heels of the launch of Theo Paphitis’ Boux Avenue, certainly turned up the dial. But it’s not just the specialists – fashion brands like Topshop and Forever 21 are getting in on the act by launching their own lines. And you can’t blame them – the UK underwear market is worth a rather tempting £1.5bn.
Competition over market share is spilling over into competition over share of voice, evidenced by the fact that advertising spend in the sector has increased by 58% year on year. Given the change in the competitive landscape, it’s never been harder to grow a brand in this sector. But any brand that’s going to succeed needs to understand these five keys trends to unlocking the UK market:
1. Understand There are Markets Within the Market
The UK lingerie market isn’t a homogenous whole but a collection of sub sectors that can be divided by product and by consumer.
For example, product wise the underwear sector ranges from ‘Practical-wear’ – a sector dominated by Marks & Spencer – through ‘Fashion Underwear’ to ‘Lingerie’. Each sector has its own market leader and its own unique consumer needs – from comfort and fit at the most practical end of the market to individuality and seduction at the ‘lingerie’ end.
Brands have found it difficult to span all these product sectors and customer segments in the UK. Consumers either tend to associate lingerie brands with practicality or adornment – hence the fragmented nature of the UK market.
2. Understand the Role Lingerie Plays in Women’s Lives
Lingerie has become less about pleasing others and more about expressing individuality and boosting confidence .
As Agent Provocateur’s creative director, Sarah Shotton, put it: "Wearing Agent Provocateur isn’t supposed to be display, it’s supposed to be a secret that gives you confidence."
3. Understand the Unique Psyche of British Women When It Comes to Lingerie Purchases
In a culture defined by self-deprecation and sarcasm, self-criticism and tall poppy syndrome, it’s hardly surprising that most UK women feel insecure when purchasing lingerie.
They want to look and feel confident and in control, but the way many of the players in the market present themselves intimidates rather than reassures. Models who represent unattainable stereotypes of perfection, and sizing ranges that exclude curvier women are all examples of how lingerie brands can appear inaccessible and exclusionary for many women.
In this respect it’s interesting to note the approach of US brand Adore Me, a brand that is bucking both trends. It uses popular social media content on the likes of YouTube and Instagram as inspiration for its advertising, and stocks all sizes 30A to 44G. It’s approach is reaping dividends in rapid growth.
4. Understand that Lingerie is Fashion and Fashion is Getting Faster
Lingerie retailers are slow at getting their designs on sale compared to the norm in fashion, but the new entrants to the market are shaking it up.
The likes of TopShop are bringing their fast turnarounds to the lingerie market and Adore Me in the US is taking a similar approach – another reason for its remarkable success. The traditional lingerie retailers are going to have to follow suit – and the evidence is they’re gearing up their supply chains to do just that.
5. Understand the Opportunity That Online Sales Present
Online sales are growing fast – John Lewis have reported online sales of underwear up 207% in the past five years, and research firm R&M predict a further 18% growth in overall online sales between now and 2019 – many times faster than the overall growth of the lingerie market. Online sales may be the key to unlocking the full potential of the lingerie market in the UK given the unique psyche of the UK shopper – online delivers the control and privacy they desire.
Whoever grows to dominate this sector will be the brand that overcomes the unique challenges of buying lingerie online. How can prospective customers virtually try the items on? How can they ensure perfect comfort and fit? How can the product be delivered discretely, and returned swiftly and discretely if the consumer so desires?
The lingerie brand that will dominate and succeed in the UK market will be :-
1. The brand that has an intimate understanding of their market segments.
2. The brand that can deliver ranges that offer comfort and fit as well as making women feel empowered.
3. The brand that understands the psyche of UK women.
4. The brand that can tailor their customer journey as appropriate.
5. The brand that can grasp the opportunity that online sales and faster fashion present.
Will it be easy? No. But there’s an opportunity to seize market dominance in a fragmented market – and that has to be worth pursuing.