In recent years, the lingerie market has revealed itself as near recession-proof. In the U.S., Victoria's Secret have gone from strength to strength whilst other apparel retailers have floundered. Their 35% market share of an estimated $12 billion intimates market sees little in the way of competition.
Meanwhile, Silicon Valley's tech innovators are eyeing up the industry. A host of recent start-ups are capitalising on the opportunities data and fitting-room tech add to this size-sensitive lingerie market which traditionally struggles with online or catalogue returns and fit issues. Third Love are able to offer customers perfect fit via imaging and True & Co. are using big data to drive correct fit. Others are tapping into the under-represented market: Ampere are offering 28 sizes, Naja have launched e-commerce for affordable, stylish underwear and Adore Me, a New York start-up are mimicking a fast fashion model for lingerie, with many reactive drops throughout a season.
The UK lingerie market is mature, and all market levels are well stocked. Yet it is competitive, and there is still room for growth. This week, we'll be doing a three part report on UK lingerie, firstly looking at product, then price and timing.
10 biggest retailers
Analysing the UK market by size of offering is fascinating: Marks & Spencer, who for many is the old faithful in this category, does not rank in the top 10. Instead, with an offering 240% larger, is specialist lingerie retailer Figleaves. Their current offering spans prices of £2.40 to £180. Department retailer House of Fraser are in second place - and have maintained the size of their offering over the last two years. ASOS meanwhile, the UK's third largest stockist of lingerie grew September 2014's new arrivals by 50.3% compared to one year ago. With nearly 2,000 products currently online, their offering spans price points of £2-£145, and has a high replenishment rate of 13.9%. The rate of replenishment across the entire UK market is 12.3%, and whilst 25.4% of the market is currently on discount, the average discount rate is only 10.2%.
Interesting to note supermarket retailer George at ASDA scaling back on their new arrivals, down 32% this September from one year ago. The value lingerie market is well-served by Primark - there is perhaps the least growth available in this segment whilst the size of their manufacture allows bargain-basement prices.
Sizing needs rethinking
Analysing the UK's most-stocked lingerie brands reveals that six of the top ten offer extended sizing (or 'plus size' lingerie). Curvy Kate, the UK's fourth most-stocked brand runs cup sizes D to K, Freya in fifth place stocks up to K cup, Chantelle in sixth place runs up to 38H, Panache in seventh place carries plus sizes in cups D-K, Gossard's largest size is 38G and Naturally Close, in tenth place manufacture the 'World's largest strapless bra' at 50DD.
Two things can be drawn from this data: firstly, retailers aren't manufacturing in a broad enough size range which means fuller-cupped customers are having to turn to niche brands - this presents a real market opportunity that mass market retailers should grasp. Secondly, the data suggests attitudes towards 'plus size' lingerie should be reconsidered, that in fact it constitutes the new normal ranging of sizes. The average bra size in the UK has climbed from 34B to 34DD - brands have reacted, but there is still scope for retailers to as well.
Along with pricing correctly, selecting the right trends is critical in retail success. Recent fast selling products include sports bras (a great way to jump on both the activewear and lingerie market opportunities!), as well as triangle bra shapes at ASOS, Gap, Net-a-Porter and & Other Stories. Longline bra shapes are selling well still, in the past month popular styles have sold out at ASOS and by Carine Gilson at Net-a-Porter. Half lace cups are ver popular at brands and retailers - Freya at ASOS, Curvy Kate at Littlewoods, Monette at Net-a-Porter and Stella McCartney have all sold out of these styles. Perhaps the most directional look currently is the apex strap bras - popular with high end brands like Myla and Agent Provacteur, the look has now infiltrated the breadth of the lingerie market, with Topshop and H&M now onboard and Figleaves on their second restock across 17 sizes of the Dita Von Teese Madame X underwire bra.
H&M have clearly been paying close attention to luxury market trends - some of their most recent arrivals are very design led. Their £12.99 non-wired lace bra, has unusual capped sleeves - the sort of detail seen in Myla's ornate offering. This bodes well for the mass market, the higher the demand for trend-led pieces, the easier it is for retailers to justify price point and create ample newness with which to delight.
Our second article looks at the prices across the lingerie market, read it here.