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Alexis DeSalva is a Senior Research Analyst at Mintel. Alexis focuses on US Retail and eCommerce reports.

Last week, Victoria’s Secret was sold for a fraction of the price for which it was once valued. The decision to go private is another indication of an evolving retail landscape; however, only part of Victoria’s Secret’s problems can be attributed to changing times and stale products. Many of the retailer’s issues are an example of what happens when a brand fails to adapt.

What happened?

Victoria’s Secret, which catapulted to consumer popularity in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, became synonymous with a sex-appeal driven ad campaign featuring supermodels dressed in the lingerie the retailer was known for. As trends changed and demands increased for more inclusivity in marketing and product selection, Victoria’s Secret failed to acknowledge the need for newness. Additionally, following the #MeToo movement started in late 2017, Victoria’s Secret’s image of minimally clad women arguably dressed for someone other than themselves no longer resonated with most consumers. Eventually, Victoria’s Secret realized it, cancelling its annual fashion show from network TV in 2019, but it was too little, too late.

The sale of Victoria’s Secret also signals a behind-the-scenes change in the retail world. Leslie Wexner, the leader behind L Brands and Victoria’s Secret was once considered a retail genius. He was early to recognize consumers’ changing tastes and helped expand L Brands beyond just The Limited store to include a number of “mall” brands including Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. However, the revolutionary mindset he was once known for grew outdated, and so did Victoria’s Secret. Along with the sale of Victoria’s Secret comes Wexner’s departure, indicating the days of old retail leadership are giving way to new, sometimes female, leaders and new ways of selling clothes.

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What’s next?

Disruption is necessary for Victoria’s Secret to turnaround, but it will be difficult for consumers to disconnect the brand from its former image. Considering the popularity of activewear, which once drove demand for Victoria’s Secret sister brand PINK, there’s still an opportunity for innovation to refuel consumer interest in the retailer. Expect to see Victoria’s Secret reduce its brick-and-mortar store count in favor of maximizing digital efforts, and rebranding both its marketing and merchandise assortment.

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