Victoria's Secret Uncovers Gender Buying Differences

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It's no secret that many men are ill at ease shopping at Victoria's Secret, but is the lingerie retailer capitalizing on their discomfort?

According to a former Victoria's Secret sales associate interviewed by Business Insider, sales employees at a Chicago-area store have been trained to guide men, who are generally out of their element, to the most expensive items in the store. "The general feeling about men is that they would buy anything in order to get out of the store as quickly as possible," the anonymous worker told the publication. "That means they would spend more money."

The story would understandably leave many men wondering if they'd been unwittingly guided to buy high-priced items the last time they bought intimate apparel for the women in their lives. However, it's possible the sales associate had a fundamental misinterpretation of how men and women shop.

As it turns out, men don't quickly buy things because they're embarrassed, but because that's how they prefer shopping. A 2007 study by Wharton University, "He Buys, She Shops," found that loyalty for men was driven by just two factors: helpfulness of the employee and the ability to check out quickly. Women, on the other hand, become loyal through a "range of operational, consultative, and emotional factors," such as politeness and being familiar with a store.

Actual sales, according to Editd, a big data analytics company for the apparel industry, emphasize the differences between men and women during the Valentine's Day period. In February 2013, the average price of a sold-out garment, which represents the highest demand, was $28. During a normal month, the average was $34, according to data pulled by Editd's senior fashion and retail market analyst Kate Smith. The presence of male shoppers appears to be driving down the price.

"Traditionally, the male shopper is a more price-savvy and cautious buyer," says Smith, who herself once worked for a lingerie company. "If anything, men are being more cautious in their Valentine's gifting purchases than female customers are on their own purchases."

Male customers, in addition to driving down the price, also gravitate toward different items than women do. During last Valentine's Day season, "there was a noticeable increase in the number of black lace and sheer items selling out. Pink, red, and mauve lace also did well. Florals and bright colors didn't see as many sellouts as at other times of the year," Smith reports. Sexier shapes also did well. "Thongs saw an increase in demand, while French knicker and Brazilian shapes were also popular."

Retailers might do best by stocking up on sexier items while paying attention to the larger trends at hand.

The biggest influence on last year's Valentine's Day lingerie buying wasn't the influx of men purchasing lingerie, but the growing trend of bondage. "The effect that the popularity of risque novel 50 Shades of Grey has had on the lingerie industry has been profound," Smith states. "We're now seeing basques, long-line shapes, sheer features, and nods to bondage across the breadth of the industry. We don't expect this to change for the lingerie market in 2014. As retailers develop new fabrics and construction techniques for this relatively new story, we'll see the demand propelled by the newness."

Overall, lingerie sellouts were up 24 percent last February, making this a high-volume category to which retailers and marketers should turn their attention during the holiday period. And when it comes to tempting male customers, Editd's data shows that if you want a man to buy a sheer black piece of lingerie, it might be better to point him toward a promotion instead of a display filled with the most expensive items.

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