Victoria’s Secret is upping the ante on its store transformation plans.
The lingerie and beauty business previously revealed that it was giving its stores the ultimate makeover, complete with plus-size mannequins, new marketing materials, soft lighting, mirrors and mastectomy bras. Now the retailer is taking one step further with the VS Store of the Future, the first of which quietly opened in Chicago’s Harlem Irving Plaza mall last month.
The redesigned space — which is located at 4104 North Harlem Avenue in Norridge, Ill., a shopping center in the suburbs of Chicago — is an LEED-registered (a green rating system) storefront with an open floor plan, beauty bar, selection of gender-neutral products, updated fitting rooms, added technology and lots of soft touches, such as a muted-pink color palette, herringbone floors, brass finishes, bright lights and curved walls.
“It’s the opposite of intimidating,” Albert Gilkey, Victoria’s Secret’s senior vice president, store design and construction, told WWD in an exclusive interview. “This concept is all about femininity, openness and community.
“Some insights that we heard from the customer [was that] they wanted clear navigation, clarity of space, an exceptional fitting room experience and [updated] checkout and technology in the new space,” he continued. “So we brought down the walls. We opened it up so she could really view in and feel comfortable and confident going into our stores. [In the past], we were known for this monolithic store facade, but we wanted to warm it up — open it up. You can look into our stores [now]. You can actually see in from the front of the store and the product is key and really the focus. And everything is new: materials are new, finishes are new. It’s a much more open and welcoming environment and it’s easy for her to navigate. It was really about redefining what that lightness, that brightness, means to the customer and for the experience.”
On the surface, the store has all the components of a modernized and culturally relevant space. In fact, Greg Unis, chief executive officer of Victoria’s Secret Beauty, said the glossy black-and-white images of Victoria’s Secret’s former Angels, dark walls and skinny mannequins have been stripped from all of its 933 company-owned stores.
“We are in the midst of a grand transformation and creating a space that inspires women with products and experiences that lift and champion them,” Unis said. “That’s at the epicenter. That’s what we’re focused on.”
He added that the VS Store of the Future “is a physical experience of what we’re doing with the evolution of the brand. We wanted it to be light, airy, optimistic, authentic and creating a sense of community.”
At the Chicago VS Store of the Future, shoppers enter the 8,300-square-foot space through a single entrance, the Victoria’s Secret and Pink brands on either side, connected by a centralized beauty bar.
“Historically, what we’ve told ourselves is that she shops Pink and she shops Lingerie separately; that there are two separate customers,” said Becky Behringer, Victoria’s Secret’s executive head of stores. “But what we’re finding in this new space is that the customer shops everywhere. They want to experience the entire store and this beauty hall gives them the opportunity to do that. And it’s a really cool community vibe that happens because customers can move through Pink and Lingerie through this beauty hall and it creates such great energy. [In the past], our stores often felt intimidating for customers because it was just like a sea of bras and it was dark and it was hard to shop. Now you see these cool transactions come to life at the center of the store.”
Other details include registers (which were once tucked away in the back of stores and hard to find) now scattered throughout the store, digitized catalogues in dressing rooms, a space for buy online, pick up in store orders and larger drawers — for a larger assortment of sizes.
“The drawers have been built so that we can actually put different [larger] sizes of bras in them,” Behringer explained. “The bottom drawers are a little deeper, giving us the opportunity to add different-sized bras that we’ve added to our assortment. We didn’t have the physical capability to do that in the past because the drawers didn’t fit the larger cup sizes. The drawers are a better use of space and that provides us the agility to continue to look at our assortment and offer even more size diversity for our customers.
“We’re testing other sizes in stores and we will continue to add additional sizes,” she added.
At present, Victoria’s Secret carries up to a 38 band size in stores, 40 in select locations, and cup sizes up to a F. (G-cup sizes are available by way of the brand’s e-commerce shop.) Larger bottom drawers in the panty bar also give way for XXL panties in stores.
“A year and a half ago, we didn’t even carry XL in our stores,” Behringer said. “And now, in lingerie, sleepwear, our assortment will go up to XXL.
“One of the things we’re hearing our customers say is that they didn’t know we carried 38s before. Now that they see the [plus-size] mannequins in the store, they are more aware,” she continued. “So the mannequins are indicating to them that we have a broader assortment in sizing. And some of that is even sizes that we’ve carried for years, but they just didn’t connect to it because of the mannequins that we showed in the store [before], or the models that we used in our marketing. Our imagery really gives us the opportunity to really connect with customers that we’ve never connected with before.”
The same can be said for the use of male mannequins and a selection of gender-neutral products in Pink, which Gilkey said helps make the brand “more relevant.”
“We’re doing so much with telling that story [on social media], but we can amplify that in the store with the diverse mannequins, the extended sizes,” Gilkey said.
Meanwhile, Behringer pointed out that the store’s fitting rooms are another testing ground, with its plush pink couches and phone charging stations, which allows shoppers to sit and relax for a spell.
“It used to be that the fitting rooms were really dark and you couldn’t actually see yourself because we kept them so dark,” Behringer said. “So lightening up the fitting room has been such a powerful experience for the customer. This becomes a social hub. The activity in this space and the energy in this space, it’s almost like a party back there, because customers are having fun; they’re with the associates. They’re coming in in groups.”
Added technology in dressing rooms — such as radio frequency ID-enabled hooks connected to screens — allow shoppers to view the retailer’s full assortment in multiple languages, including sizes, colors, technical features and what’s in stock, while trying on products. It also lets consumers order from the store and shipped to their homes, as well as enables them to interact with sales associates as they please.
“Not everyone wants that kind of conversation [in a fitting room with an associate], particularly with intimate products,” Behringer said. “So she can come over here and quietly scroll through and understand what bras are in the assortment for her and the collection they’re trying to build. It puts the experience in their hands and then our associates are able to cater to the customer. This is one of those components about meeting her where she wants to be, versus just assuming that we know what she wants. That helps us create an even better omni experience for the customer.
“And we’re absolutely hearing from some of our younger customers that they love this because this is the language that they speak, this is how they communicate, oftentimes through their screens. So, it’s more comfortable for them,” she continued. “This tool is a total game-changer for us from a selling experience and a service experience.”
Behringer added that the company will continue to follow location regulations in regards to COVID-19-related safety measures, such as opening only every other fitting room and register in order to maintain at least six feet physical distance. At present, Victoria’s Secret does not have any company-wide vaccine or mask mandates, but is instead “following local regulations and obviously staying close to what the updates will be,” she said.
Victoria’s Secret began updating its store fleet earlier this year, part of the company’s larger transformation strategies, which included the Lingerie, Beauty and Pink brands spinning off into a stand-alone firm in August, separate from the Bath & Body Works brand, as well as updating the assortment, rearranging the board of directors and launching the VS Collective, with high-profile figures, such as Naomi Osaka, Eileen Gu, Megan Rapinoe, Priyanka Chopra, Bella Hadid, Paloma Elsesser and Valentina Sampaio.
Unis said the permanent store is the first of three. The other two — in Houston and Birmingham, Ala. — are scheduled to open in January.
“This is a pilot for us,” he explained. “This is the first new store format that we’ve created in several years and we wanted to make sure it was right for her before we brought it out to broader areas. We do have plans on updating our fleet and this would be the format. But we wanted to do it in a place where we could learn ourselves. We’re getting feedback [right now] and all indications tell us that she’s responding really well. But there are little things that you want to do to perfect things and then we will expand and go to broader geographies. And Chicago is a really strong market for us.”
Unis wouldn’t comment on recent revenues, only saying that the firm has been “pleased with holiday” so far. Sales topped $1.4 billion in the most recent quarter, helping the company log $75 million in net profits. In November, Victoria Secret also revised its full-year revenues guidance upward about 25 percent to between $6.7 billion and $6.8 billion, despite continued supply chain headwinds plaguing the entire retail industry.
“The malls have been busy; definitely, people are out and shopping,” Unis said. “I think people are being safe and I think people are wearing masks, but they still want to give gifts. Christmas is still happening this year.”