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Is La Senza right to target younger customers?

As La Senza sets its sights on a younger customer in order to drive growth, Ruth Faulkner questions the move to focus on what is already a competitive market.

A specialist lingerie retailer should be just that, a specialist. Therefore, I was slightly surprised to learn of La Senza’s decision to scale back its solution and basic lingerie product offer in favour of more young fashion styles, targeted at a younger customer.

It is reminiscent of what La Senza tried to do back in late 2007/early 2008 under former chief executive Rose Foster. A move which, as the brand slipped into administration at the end of 2011, clearly didn’t work.

At the end of 2007 La Senza launched a new shop fit with a black and pink fascia, designed to resemble a girl’s apartment. The emphasis then was on creating a fun atmosphere for a younger customer – very similar to what business director Sharon Horth said the brand had tried to do with its refitted shops over the last year.

This has also been reflected in changes to the product offer – the retailer has reduced its cup sizes and cut back on the amount of basic and solution product it sells. Instead, it is pushing forward with more fashionable lingerie in a range of brighter colours.

I can’t help feeling that going down the fashion route will mean that La Senza ends up competing with the likes of H&M and Primark for customers, when they can’t compete on price.

The young fashion customer who wears smaller cup-sized bras is already well catered for by the high street. Those who wear larger cup-size bras and need a range of solution lingerie product are not.

Horth said that La Senza wouldn’t compete with sister brand Victoria’s Secret, which is now in the UK, because they are targeting a different age group. She believes that Victoria’s Secret is aimed at an older customer although I am not sure the hordes of girls in their late teens and early 20s making their way round Victoria’s Secret flagship on New Bond Street would agree.

According to Horth, since the changes have been made, the average basket size has increased by 18%, meaning that customers are buying more. The changes are therefore, clearly working. However, I think it is foolish to go too far down this route.

There are customers out there who look to specialist lingerie retailers to provide specialist product and so La Senza could do well to capitalise on some of this spend as well. I only hope La Senza has learnt from what went wrong last time and doesn’t fall foul of the same mistakes again.

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