We went shopping at Victoria's Secret and Aerie, and 4 key differences revealed why one is winning while the other is flailing

Advertisement
We went shopping at Victoria's Secret and Aerie, and 4 key differences revealed why one is winning while the other is flailing

Aerie

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Aerie is known for not retouching the photos it uses in ads.

  • The women's underwear market is going through a period of rapid change in the United States. Longtime industry leader Victoria's Secret is increasingly finding itself under pressure as new brands enter the market and chip away at its market share.
  • Its parent company, L Brands, reported fourth-quarter earnings last month and announced that dozens of Victoria's Secret stores would close this year.
  • Meanwhile, American Eagle's Aerie brand has achieved explosive growth and is opening stores.
  • We visited Victoria's Secret and Aerie to see how the shopping experience compared.

Victoria's Secret is the longtime leader of the underwear market in the United States, but it is increasingly coming under pressure as new brands enter the market and chip away at its market share.

This includes American Eagle's Aerie, which, since 2014, has doubled down on body-positive marketing in an effort to appeal to a new generation of shoppers.

Advertisement

We visited Victoria's Secret and Aerie to see how the shopping experience compared at these stores. Here's what we found:

Exclusive FREE Slide Deck: Future of Retail:AI by Business Insider Intelligence

{{}}

The Victoria's Secret store we visited is located in Downtown Manhattan, New York, in the World Trade Center Westfield mall. The mall, which opened in 2016, is classified as a Class A mall, which is determined by its tenants' sales per square foot.

The Victoria's Secret store we visited is located in Downtown Manhattan, New York, in the World Trade Center Westfield mall. The mall, which opened in 2016, is classified as a Class A mall, which is determined by its tenants' sales per square foot.

The reviews are extremely positive online. "Probably one of the best Victoria's Secret stores I have ever been [to]," one shopper wrote on Yelp.

"The customer service here is spectacular," another said.

For this reason, we were expecting a shinier version of a typical Victoria's Secret store.

First impression: Victoria's Secret

First impression: Victoria's Secret

Our first impression was good — the store was well organized and the inventory was neatly laid out.

It wouldn't take much for this to descend into chaos, though. Piles of inventory are a recipe for disaster in busier times.

Advertisement

The Aerie store that we visited is located in one of New York's busiest shopping neighborhoods, Soho. It is a standalone location that opened in 2018.

The Aerie store that we visited is located in one of New York's busiest shopping neighborhoods, Soho. It is a standalone location that opened in 2018.

First impression: Aerie

First impression: Aerie

Our first impression was also good. The store was light and bright, and inventory was neatly displayed in a similar way to Victoria's Secret. Panties were stacked up on tables.

Advertisement

Store design and layout: Victoria's Secret

Store design and layout: Victoria's Secret

The space was definitely modern, and it did feel a lot brighter than some of the brand's other stores. However, it still had Victoria's Secret's signature dark lighting and black painted walls.

Analysts have criticized this design scheme.

Analysts have criticized this design scheme.

"Its overt sexuality ... and its dark and moody stores are completely out of step with the mood of most modern consumers," Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, wrote in a note to clients in November.

Advertisement

Store design and layout: Aerie

Store design and layout: Aerie

While Aerie's store is slightly newer, it felt considerably more modern than Victoria's Secret because of the brighter lighting.

In-store ads: Aerie

In-store ads: Aerie

Aerie has made women's empowerment and body positivity the focal part of its marketing campaign. Analysts say this tone is behind its explosive success.

Earlier this month, American Eagle reported a 23% increase in same-store sales for Aerie during the fourth quarter, marking the brand's 17th consecutive quarter of double-digit positive growth.

Advertisement

Empowerment messages were scattered all around the store.

Empowerment messages were scattered all around the store.

#AerieReal, a campaign the brand launched in 2014 to stop retouching its images, had a prominent place in the store.

#AerieReal, a campaign the brand launched in 2014 to stop retouching its images, had a prominent place in the store.
Advertisement

In-store ads: Victoria's Secret

In-store ads: Victoria's Secret

Meanwhile, at Victoria's Secret, there was a host of racy images in-store.

They were in almost every nook and cranny, in fact.

They were in almost every nook and cranny, in fact.

Brand marketing has become one of the most controversial areas of Victoria Secret's business, and it has frequently been criticized for its over-sexualized in-store ads and racy runway shows, especially in the wake of #MeToo.

L Brands CFO Stuart Burgdoerfer said that the brand is addressing this.

"We are taking a fresh, hard look at everything," he said in the company's most recent earnings call. "Everything is on the table."

Advertisement

Product: Victoria's Secret

Product: Victoria's Secret

The focus is certainly on "sexy" here.

This is well-evidenced in the two brand's displays of push-up bras.

This is well-evidenced in the two brand's displays of push-up bras.
Advertisement

The displays were very different. Neon colors and racy silhouettes are the norm at Victoria's Secret.

The displays were very different. Neon colors and racy silhouettes are the norm at Victoria's Secret.

At Aerie, neither the product nor the marketing was remotely racy.

At Aerie, neither the product nor the marketing was remotely racy.
Advertisement