With the Curves Expo, aka one of the biggest lingerie trade shows in the US, officially completed, many retailers have returned home to plan their purchases for the next several months, and I thought this would be the perfect time to discuss how many of us decide what to purchase. Furthermore, I hope this helps my own customers better understand the decisions I make with regard to what products are available in the store and why I believed this to be the best course of action at the time. Because the buying process is significantly more complex than one would anticipate, I have split the factors into two posts, and I am strictly focusing on bras. Lingerie, shapewear, accessories, sleepwear, clothing, and other miscellaneous products will be discussed in another post altogether.
Using Past Sales to Predict Present Fashion
Fashion items tend to be one of the more risky investments for many American retail stores, particularly if the style is new. Not only must you contend with potential fit or fabric issues, but you also have to balance the many tastes of your customer base. Not every color or print bra suits every person, and on more than one occasion, I have been conflicted about how I personally feel about a bra and how I anticipate customers will react. One helpful tool can be to examine your past sales and see which fashion styles performed well and in what colors. Although it is now becoming more maligned by industry insiders, the ubiquity of purple in the lingerie world is no coincidence. At the moment, I have both the deep wine variation of the Parfait Charlotte as well as the new ice blue colorway, and the purple outsells the blue 2 to 1. Why? I am going to conservatively estimate 35% of my customers’ favorite color is purple, and another 40% still love it even if it isn’t quite their favorite. In the past, we have purchased other purple fashion bras, and every single one has performed exceptionally. In our shop, jewel tones resonate with customers, and purple is truly the shining gem. Which prints work can also be analyzed through past sales and customer feedback. We struggle with animal prints but sell most floral designs easily.
Past sales also go a long way in helping to identify which fashion-only styles should be brought into the shop. The Elomi Valentina/Jocelyn/Lexi bra has always been popular on account of the fit and comfortable fabrics. In fact, through special order, we have seen an increase in sales overall on all of the Elomi plunge bras (that were not done in an animal print), like Betty or Tiffany. Since Elomi has yet to offer a basic Valentina/etc., I always plan to purchase a variation each year. The Panache Cleo line is another great example. We usually bring in several Cleo styles every year because the sales history is strong, and people will continue to buy what the line has to offer.
Current sales of basics can sometimes be helpful too for deciding fashion too. If a style performs well in a basic color, this can sometimes translate to quick sales in a fashion version. However, there are exceptions. Some bras sell well simply because they are basic. The Elomi Amelia is one of the top sellers for the entire store, but we have never indulged in a fashion color. In some ways, this may seem counter-intuitive. After all, if it is already performing so well, why not double your money? This is where time, experience, and a hefty dose of customer feedback can be invaluable. Since we have been carrying Amelia, Elomi has offered it in multiple fashion colors. Only a handful of people have ever requested it. People like Amelia in beige and black because it’s a quality, everyday t-shirt bra, and they save their “pretty bra” money for something with more detail and pop. They may think the upcoming Dahlia (purple again) is gorgeous, but that never translates to an actual sale. However, in other instances, people love a bra and want more color options than the basic. The Freya Deco, another best-seller, is an excellent example of this phenomenon. Deco is one of those styles people will buy in fashion colors as well as basics, which is obvious by how many variations Freya has created over the past seasons. This would be a better investment than the Amelia.
Once you have analyzed which prints, colors, and styles work best, you must still choose the size assortment, and again, past sales can help you make smarter decisions. Let’s examine the Cleo bras I mentioned. These bras sell out the fastest in G-J cups in 32-38 bands, which makes it a good idea to double up in certain sizes if I can afford it. In D and DD cups, they never sell, and E-FF, it takes the right kind of customer. As a result, I usually start my Cleo purchases at the E or F cup mark depending on my budget. Furthermore, I also know from past sales that 28 and 30 bands take the longest to sell, but I also know that since the market doesn’t always have strong contenders for this customer, it’s still worth bringing in some core sizing (usually E-GG cup) with the understanding, they may wind up in the sale drawer.
If you’re looking at a totally new fashion style, past sales can aid in the color and print department, but sizing needs to be taken more generally. Usually, companies or sales reps will tell you if a new bra is based on an existing frame, which helps immensely. One thing I commend Eveden on is the use of specific technical details in their catalogs along with descriptions like “Abi frame with shorter straps” or “based on Caitlyn with a lower front and side.” With a better idea of the origins of the new styles, past sales become a better predictor to ensure you have the right mix. In other cases, you simply don’t have that knowledge to accurately predict whether a bra will fit like something else you have sold. In those cases, I try to rely on my instinct about the brand itself. Who does this line usually work for, and what sells the best? It’s still a risky prospect, which is why I (personally) tend to go with bras I can trust.
The Price and Quality Factor
One of our manufacturers could create a bra which fits well in the most beautiful shade of purple ever in the most luxurious fabric, but if the retail price is higher than $70, more than likely, we will not be purchasing it. For us, $70 is the threshold for where we see people not wanting to spend extra money. Naturally, other boutiques will have their own unique pricing schematics too. They may have a price maximum or an ideal price range, or they may realize they have certain customer niches who will spend extra money for the right piece. For them, data mining their past sales and customer preferences can help form a cost-benefit analysis of whether a luxury or higher-priced bra is worth the equally higher investment.
Moreover, this should almost go without saying, but quality really is important. One of the reasons I like to test styles myself or use small special orders is to ensure an unknown product will meet our standards. When Panache first released the Cleo Neve molded cup bra as the successor to Jude, there were some pretty egregious design problems where the cup would curl outward toward the center no matter the size or overall fit. In their defense, they rectified the problem and allowed us to return the handful we had already ordered, but (and not to pick on Panache here), it serves as an important reminder that retailers must be vigilant about quality, even if a company has an excellent record. Finally, the quality must match the price of the bra. If the manufacturer wants a bra to retail for $70, but the quality is more on par with $50, it’s worth passing up. In some cases, the opposite can be true. I have seen several instances where a bra retails for $50 but looks and feels like a $70 style.
So as not to bore you too terribly, I feel like this is a great place to stop for the day. Tomorrow, I’ll follow-up with some more considerations retailers examine when planning a buying agenda. I have to admit that until I started writing this post, I did not realize myself how much work I am doing and how many variables I utilize to make new purchases. Inventory management is so crucial to the success of a business that it intuitively makes sense it would also be one of the areas with the most complexity.