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Battle lines are drawn as lingerie feels the squeeze

The lingerie market is set for a major shake-up over the next year due to a host of new entrants.

Last week alone, online giant Amazon launched a branded lingerie offer on its UK site and lingerie retailer Bravissimo said it would create dual Bravissimo/Pepperberry fascias for 13 of its 20 stores following the launch of womenswear range Pepperberry.

Next month, former La Senza owner Theo Paphitis will debut his new chain Boux Avenue. US lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret will open its first UK stores in 2012.

Value chain Primark and the supermarkets are holding their own in the lower-priced part of the market, so these new developments are likely to be more threatening to middle-market lingerie retailers.

Feeling the pressure

Marjorie Thompson, owner of lingerie indie Chantilly in Rochdale, says she is worried by the Amazon launch. She believes the etailer has got online sales down to a “fine art” and could steal custom from indies.

Thompson, who stocks brands including Fantasie, Prima Donna and Panache - the latter of which is also now stocked on Amazon - says she will continue to order her existing brands because she wants to offer her customers a wide range of price points.

“It’s going to be difficult. Anyone who says it isn’t is mad,” she adds. “We’re in for a tough year; so many shoppers are losing their jobs and there are no full-time jobs around.”

But data from market analysts Verdict Research suggests otherwise. It predicts the lingerie market will grow 3.4% in 2011 (see box).

Verdict Research associate retail analyst Honor Westnedge says: “The market is becoming more competitive, with entrants such as Victoria’s Secret and Boux Avenue, as well as clothing specialists increasing their offer to help increase [overall] basket size, as many customers pick up [lingerie] items as impulse purchases. Value players such as Peacocks and Primark are also improving the quality of their lingerie offers, driving volumes in the market.”

She adds: “Fashion trends like body-con dresses and skirts and corseted tops have been encouraging sales of shapewear over the past few years, contributing to further growth in the market.”

Industry observers are divided over whether lingerie businesses are viable online. Figleaves, the most established player, was bought for £11.5m by N Brown last year. It had sales of £23m but was not profitable at the time.

Joy Ord, manager of lingerie indie Sadie the Bra Lady in Consett, County Durham, says: “We don’t sell a bra without fitting it. A lady could come in one afternoon and be three different sizes [dependent on brand].”

Elise Recour, designer at lingerie brand Berlei, says she was initially dubious about ordering online but has been converted. “You always have the option to send it back,” she points out.

However, Recour fears 2011 will be tough. She believes brands must focus their attention on their own online offer. Berlei will relaunch its website in April with a new fit guide, videos and tips on fitting.

Personal touch

With new players coming into the lingerie arena, the fight to retain market share will be tough. However, John Lewis lingerie buyer Helen Spencer says: “We don’t see [newcomers] as a threat. The more businesses there are in the market, the more it highlights the sector.” She adds that giving the personal touch both online and in store is key to maintaining high sales, though.

Harriet Wicks, owner of lingerie indie Barbarella in Worcester, says it is vital that indies offer something different. “Everyone wants value for money, so quality is very important at the moment. That doesn’t necessarily mean expensive but it does mean you have to invest in reliable products that perform well and suppliers that offer a good replenishment service.”

Size of lingerie market


Size of the market in 2010 - a growth of 3.6%


Predicted size of the market in 2011, a 3.4% increase

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