Given the fragmented state of the underwear market, retailers know first-hand how challenging it is to pinpoint optimal price points for each style.
Spotlighting EDITED's capabilities, this report unveils how merchandisers can use the power of retail analytics to nail their pricing strategies for this tricky category.
Underwear not your thing? This analysis can be applied to whatever category you manage. Get in touch with a retail expert to help you now.
• Behind elastane and polyamide, cotton is the most common textile used within underwear. With prices for the crop at a ten-year high, underwear made with 100% cotton components has risen 10% in the US, and 22% in the UK, YoY.
• Retailers have opportunities to increase bra prices to align with overall market inflation. In the US, most T-Shirt bras sold between $50-$60 over the past three months, while in the UK, balconette bras saw success at £60-£70. As bralettes continue to reign supreme, US retailers can elevate prices between $30-$40. However, pricing for this coveted style is more competitive in the UK, with the sweet spot below £20.
• US retailers may have risked underpricing or unnecessarily discounting thongs and briefs over the past three months, with more styles selling through at higher intervals - the optimal price point for these items are between $15-$20 as displayed at SKIMS, H&M and NA-KD.
• The men's underwear market reflects the general shift toward price increases noted across the industry. The price of individual boxers has inflated by 5% and 9% YoY in the US and UK, respectively. Bershka and River Island raised the prices of multipack lines, while Abercrombie & Fitch has introduced a new 12-pack at $118.
Five Overarching Trends
1. Rising cotton prices
Due to ongoing supply chain bottlenecks impacting raw materials and shipping costs, all categories have faced various inflation levels. Cotton prices are currently over 9% higher YoY, and underwear's reliance on the material has led to products containing 100% cotton components also swelling. In the US, the average advertised price of cotton underwear rose from $20.53 in 2021 to $22.64, while in the UK a 22% YoY hike is noted from £11.62 to £14.24.
2. Fast fashion has slowed investment
Over the past few years, several fast fashion players debuted lingerie ranges or expanded their underwear buys, taking market share from established businesses and forcing prices to become more competitive. While this category has grown at UNIQLO and NA-KD, underwear made up less than 4% of new arrivals at & Other Stories over the past three months vs. 11% in 2021, and has dropped from 3% to 1.5% of boohoo's mix.
3. Sustainability shifts
As sustainability becomes paramount, retailers will have to increase prices to help fund new initiatives and adequately pay their suppliers. From the end of September LIVELY increased underwear prices to source more eco-friendly fabrics. Recycled bras are also more commonplace, ballooning 266% YoY. Combined with cotton prices at a record high, retailers can no longer excuse overlooking conscious materials as a way to keep costs low.
4. Demand for comfort
While the women's underwear category has experienced an overall price increase YoY, ongoing remote work and interest in comfort styles have led to retailers raising prices for their less structured silhouettes. As previously reported, the price of sports bras at Gymshark, Lululemon and PUMA has grown between 5%-19% YoY. Wireless bras are also more expensive than last year - increasing from an average of $36.66 in 2021 to $41.31, and from £24.35 to £26.15.
5. Changing discount strategies
In the US, retailers are discounting this category more aggressively than in 2021. 37% of panties are currently advertised as reduced vs. 30% last year. They are also discounted deeper on average - up four percentage points YoY to 48%. The proportion of bras marked down has climbed from 38% to 48%, and the average reduction rate has risen from 44% to 49%. UK retailers are discounting more conservatively in comparison. More panties are reduced YoY, with 30% of styles marked down vs. 23% and an average reduction rate of 37%, up from 36%. However, the average depth on bras is pulled back from 40% in 2021 to 37%. With discount patterns fluctuating, this underscores the need to perfect pricing strategies to avoid unnecessary reductions eating into margins.
US retailers place the most emphasis on retailing bras between $10-$50. However, analyzing the majority SKU sell outs over the past three months highlights opportunities for retailers to push into higher brackets in line with market inflation. Most T-shirt bras stocked are between the $10-$20 and $30-$40 threshold, though 41% of sell outs were between 50%-60% - a sweet spot for SKIMS' Fits Everybody range. It is also an appealing bracket for balconette bras - only 15% were stocked in this range, though it made up 23% of sell outs.
Bralettes are also a safe bet to elevate price points, given their ubiquitous runway status. The majority range between $10-$20, though a higher proportion sold out at $30-$40, as demonstrated with & Other Stories soft-cup triangle bras at $39. The hype surrounding wireless styles has seen bust-boosting styles wane and prices drop. The bulk of push-up bras stocked and selling out are priced between $10-$20. However, selected luxe styles can justify a higher price point. 11% of sell out styles were $60-$70 - including Savage X Fenty's Romantic Corded Lace push-up bra, featuring curve-enhancing padded cups and rose gold-tone hardware.
Though in the UK, balconette bras retail between £10-£40, they've experienced success at both ends of the scale. 23% have sold out at £60-£70, while 15% moved at £10 and under, giving retailers the opportunity to experiment with what prices work best. The top selling style, the bralette, is more competitively priced in this region vs. the US, with customers resonating with products under £20. Analyzing sell outs proved this at Monki, where organic cotton triangle bras sold for £10 and Marks & Spencer, where it's Flexifit™ bralette sold at £12.
Like the US, there's scope to achieve higher prices for T-Shirt bras. The £40-£50 price point outstrips the weighting given to options, and brands like Calvin Klein and Savage X Fenty have enjoyed success here. Push-up styles are mainly stocked and selling out between £10-£20. However, looking at the top performing items suggests pricing shifts are warranted. A greater proportion is stocked at £30-£40, yet more sold between £20-£30, indicating demand for options at the lower interval. At 15%, the same percentage of styles sold under £10 as between £40-£50, with Matalan and H&M at the cheaper end, and Calvin Klein offering the premium prices.
Breaking down underwear styles also provides ample opportunities for smarter price adjustments. 16% of bikini cuts and 15% of briefs and thongs in stock over the past three months were priced under $5. Yet, all three of these styles have seen higher sell out percentages at deeper price points, a clear example of unnecessary margin erosion.
Instead, briefs are most successful selling between $15-$20, as noted with NA-KD's high-waist lace panties at $16.95. For thongs, the pricing sweet spot can be elevated up to $25, as per SKIMS offering thongs between $20-$22, while H&M justifies a $24.99 price point with seamless multipacks. The same proportion of boy short styles has sold between $5-$10 and $40-$45. To elevate prices, retailers can capitalize on comfort's command by investing in premium materials like Pointelle and Modal.
As with bras, underwear is also more competitively priced in the UK than in the US. Over the past three months, retailers have mainly catered to the £5-£20 price point for boy shorts and briefs. Yet, 14% and 15% of sell outs for each style have been reduced to £5 and under, suggesting retailers needed more affordable options.
While thongs had the highest SKU movement at £5-£10, where the bulk of merchandise was priced, £10-£15 sell outs outweighed the percentage of stocked options. Investment in this bracket, as seen perform at Oysho and H&M, is ideal for commanding a higher margin. Within bikini cuts, 41% of styles sold between £5-£10, dominated by UNIQLO's AIRism styles at £6-£8. These feature quick-drying and cool-touch technology, giving consumers more within their basic underwear for less.
In line with the aforementioned pricing fluctuations in the women's market, the average full price of individual boxers in the UK has inflated 9% YoY to £8.25. This is also reflected in the US, with prices climbing 5% to $20.31.
At retailer level, Bershka (UK) has raised the price of its three-pack boxers by £3 to £17.99 since 2021 despite having the same 76%/77% cotton composition. Abercrombie & Fitch occupies the exit spot in the US after introducing a new 12-pack offering last August at $118. A similar stance is noted at H&M, whose exit price has swelled to £34.99/$54.99 due to launching a ten-pack of cotton boxers. Its multipacks below £20/$30 have resonated with customers and had strong SKU movement over the past three months. UNIQLO has kept its pricing architecture the same for the past three years, positioned tightly between £5.90/$9.90-£9.90/$14.90.
Across the UK, 42% of five-pack options retail between £25-£30, followed by 26% at £15-£20. Marks & Spencer and River Island both dominate the £25-£30 bracket, offering consumers an individual unit price of £5, £3.25 lower than the average full single boxer price in the market. River Island has increased its set of five-packs by £1 to £25 since this time last year. All of Marks & Spencer's £25 five-packs feature its Cool & Fresh™ technology, while its entry £15 sets do not contain such attributes. Ensure such technical or sustainable properties are leveraged in product names and imagery to justify higher prices to consumers.
Contributions by kayla and Katharine Carter.
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