Lingerie Pricing & the Impact of MAP, Materials, and Bra Fitters

Hello Everyone,

My recent collaboration with Bluestockings Boutique on small business ownership inspired me to explore one of the core elements of our discussion:  the price of lingerie and how consumers perceive it.  Do a quick search on Google (or your search engine of choice) for core bra styles from major lingerie brands like Panache, Natori, and Affinitas, and you may be surprised at how challenging it is to find discount pricing anymore.  If the bra is black, beige, white, or a newly released fashion color, it is probably listed at full price, and if it’s not, wait a few days.  Eventually, someone will report the infraction, and the item will quickly return to its original Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP).  But why have retailers all across the US finally agreed to uphold the same pricing schema despite years of competing for consumer dollars based on low cost?  Simple.  Manufacturers have grown tired of watching their carefully designed, high quality products be associated with low prices and discounts.  Unlike many avenues of retail, intimate apparel remains fairly exempt from what’s known as inflationary pricing—a practice where the retailers and/or manufacturers inflate the price of a product beyond its true worth to allow for constant discounting and price-based competition. As a result, the suggested retail price on most items has been determined by the manufacturer to be a fair evaluation of the design process, fabrics, manufacturing, and associated retail expenses like rent, utilities, and the cost of a professional fitter.  In short, there’s no wiggle room for lowering that price and maintaining a successful profit, particularly for boutique retailers.  Enter the advent of MAP Agreements.

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MAP stands for Minimum Advertised Price and typically refers to a policy whether written or implied that you will not advertise products sold to you (the retailer) by a manufacturer for less than their set retail price (MSRP). If you violate the policy, manufacturers reserve the right to withhold current orders or, in some cases, completely sever ties with your business.  Because of large online stores undercutting retailers with rock bottom prices, particularly discount mecca Amazon, many well-known companies implemented MAP programs to preserve not only the minuscule margins retailers operate within but also to protect the reputation of the brand itself. The majority of intimates companies in the marketplace are not only established in the industry but also focus on providing quality items to customers, both in terms of the materials used and the thoughtfulness of the designs. As such, they do not want to be associated with brands known for slashing prices or offering deep discounts, usually marked by an inferior quality or a poor fit.

Under MAP agreements, a manufacturer cannot dictate the selling price of a bra but rather puts limitations on what can be advertised, whether online, through print ads, or even over the radio. The distinction is subtle and essentially holds that a retailer can price an item with an MSRP of $78 in the store for $69 but cannot advertise the discount anywhere else other than within the store itself. One of the advantages of the program is that if all retailers follow the MAP, the consumer dialog shifts from lower prices to the value of the fitting and shopping experience, giving boutiques a greater advantage than competitors whose sole draw was pricing.

Under the aforementioned distinction, the MAP legalities do not prevent a retailer from continuing forward with lower prices in-store only; however, quality bras cost more for a reason.  The final retail price of the bra has an inherent value representative of the materials, the craftsmanship, the research and development, the overhead of owning a storefront, and last but not least, the time and knowledge of the fitter assisting you. In fact, manufacturers benefit from professional fitters as much as their customers.  Bra fitters can often quickly pinpoint which bras will work for customers and can offer sizing guidance to ensure brands and their products are given a fair representation.  Scrolling through online reviews of popular styles reveals how often a bra is returned simply because of a sizing or shape issue, usually leading to a mediocre or sometimes negative review of an otherwise fantastic product.

Negative reviews of products on Amazon that could have been alleviated by the help of a fitter.
Negative reviews of products on Amazon that could have been alleviated by the help of a fitter.

Bra fitters are also some of the best brand advocates, offering customers extensive knowledge of other products carried within the line as well as how those products fit, feel, and wear over time.  In addition to informing customers of their experiences, they also send that feedback to manufacturers to help them phase out less successful designs and even to inspire newer, better ones.  Boutique owners and fitters deal directly with customers every day, and because of that experience, they are uniquely positioned to help the lingerie world as a whole become more inclusive, to offer better products, and to respond quickly to consumer demand.

However, because most fittings are marketed as “free,” customers sometimes forget they were provided a valuable service by a trained professional.  The “lowest price” business model transitioned an industry centered largely on a valuable service associated with high quality items to being one where consumers no longer feel they can trust the retail price as being a fair representation and will seek out discounts instead—a shift leaving many small businesses unable to compete in the marketplace.  Generally, larger retailers can reduce prices on goods because they buy in substantial bulk which garners wholesale discounts and their overhead is typically lower.  Amazon, for example, crawls the web searching for low prices and then undercuts them further, often using its booming Prime business to entice customers with further discounts and free shipping.  For something like bras, the portion of the price which represents the in-store experience can be removed or reduced by online-only sellers to increase sales volume. To their credit, some people are extremely savvy to the world of bra fitting and require less help finding the right size and style, but others genuinely need the one-on-one consultation of an expert fitter and/or the ability to try the bra on before purchasing.

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Boutique owners have even begun advocating for a nominal fee for fittings transferable to store credit in order to preserve the value of the fitter’s time as well as to deter show-rooming—when customers take advantage of being able to try on products in the store and then order online without purchasing.  Despite the inherent value in a fitting, the inclusion of “free” has left many people assuming a bra fitting does not cost the retailer anything.  Bra fitters often go through extensive training to learn how to properly fit a person and to find the right size and style for their clients.  Many are the owners themselves who have also put in time going to trade shows, working with sales representatives, and researching the styles to ensure the products they offer are the best quality with a good reputation for fitting well and lasting longer.  “I like to remind people that working with a fitter and being able to try the bra on before buying is certainly worth paying retail rather than scouring the Internet to buy the bra for $10 cheaper,” says one anonymous store owner.

The Rise of Materials Cost

MAPs are not the only culprit in price hikes across manufacturers. In some cases, bras have simply become more expensive to produce. In 2012, the Elomi Hermione (now Amelia) debuted at a $69 price point. In less than six months, the price rose to $73. When it was tweaked and re-released as Amelia, it jumped again to $78. Other bras whose prices have changed or are changing include the Parfait Charlotte ($38 to $44 or $48 depending on the print), Fantasie Rebecca ($69 to $74), Panache Jasmine ($62 to $67), Wacoal Red Carpet Strapless ($60 to $65), and so on. It’s happening across the industry as materials costs rise and as brands continue to take a more thoughtful approach to designing.  As little as five years ago, the fuller-bust market, for example, offered nowhere near as many options as it does today, and in fact, many companies have continued to improve the styles they offer in response to fitter and consumer feedback.  Panache, for example, has listened to customer complaints to tweak earlier designs, improving the shape and comfort for the modern consumer.  All of the additional design time and materials costs contribute to a general price increase for later variations which also adds to the wholesale and retail cost accordingly.  Blogger Sweet Nothings recently collaborated on a two part interview (read Part 1 and Part 2 here) with new full-bust designer Kim Hamilton to discuss the unique challenges and hidden costs behind bra designs, particularly in higher cup sizes.  “In GG+ bras, there are higher costs due to choosing more suitable fabrics, having them laminated to the relevant stabilizing linings, higher gauge underwires, stronger elastic shoulder straps and powernet for the wings, even the hooks and eyes cost a few cents more when you move from 2 hooks to 3 hooks on the back,” notes Kim.  When evaluating the cost of a bra, it’s important to remember that all of these small changes or improvements add up over time, and for every extra dollar added to the cost for the manufacturer, more are added for wholesale and retail to cover everyone’s expenses.

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In our store, frequently customers ask us to find options under $40, particularly in the fuller-bust market, and when we’ve complied as best we can, the bras fail to sell.  It’s always the bras in the $60+ range that customers love, casually remarking how they “would have to pick the more expensive bras.”  Other retailers notice the same thing, especially those offering higher end lines like Prima Donna, Simone Perele, and Empriente which use top quality materials for decadent designs with superior fits.  Clients do not pick the most expensive bras simply because they are the most expensive. They pick those bras because they are an all-around better bra. The higher price tag is not inflated to exploit the consumer but rather to represent how much time the company put into creating a fabulous design fully realized by the best quality materials.  We all have our unique budgets as well as areas where we can or cannot spend additional money, but it’s important to distinguish between the value of the product itself and its value to you.  For example, I have never been one to pay for professional manicures or pedicures, but having been located next to an amazing nail salon since opening, I know the time and experience which goes into that kind of service completely justifies the price.

Why Paying Full Price Helps You Long Term

Budgetary restrictions aside, paying full-price on intimate apparel actually benefits the consumer long term.  For retailers, the more sales the business earns, the more likely the doors remain open to continue serving customers.  Many small business owners I know, myself included, either work additional part-time jobs or take freelance work in order to make ends meet in their personal lives.  Passion for the business can only carry store owners so far before eventually they move onto a less stressful, better paying job.  Kat Migliore, owner of Luxury in NC’s gorgeous Outer Banks explains “When you only purchase on sale, it becomes less profit to pay our ‘salary’ or hire help for any needs we may have to serve you better. In my case, I depend greatly on your repeat business. If I help you find the most comfortable bra you have ever worn, and you seek outside sources to purchase the same item again, it is difficult for me to survive in order to continue helping other women.”  By supporting the business, which means paying full price, consumers keep their favorite stores in business, giving them continued access to a wider range of products and services.  Profits also fuel expansion efforts for retailers which can include bringing in new lines and merchandise, hiring and training more staff to assist customers, and ultimately opening multiple locations to better serve a larger area.

Originally from a Bumper Sticker
Originally from a Bumper Sticker

The Fuller Figured Chest writer Holly Jackson has often advocated using your dollars as a “voting” method to support manufacturers, designs, and colors that customers wish to see more of on the marketplace.  The items which sell at full price are the ones most likely to either remain core staples of a boutique or to be repurchased in newer fashion iterations.  If a bra takes too long to sell or needs to be discounted too often, retailers are less likely to buy them again, which includes size clusters.  If a retailer finds they are always selling certain band or cup size combinations at a discount or infrequently, they may decide not to carry them in the future.  Financially, it is easier for a retailer to only carry the sizes with the highest turnover to streamline a store’s budget.   Kat Migliore empathizes with consumers but acknowledges the challenges faced by retailers especially ones catering to expansive size ranges: “I know we all like to get a deal or find something on sale, however this is very challenging for the sustainability of a boutique, especially one that offers educated and well executed bra fittings with a large range of sizes that are otherwise hard to find. Keep in mind, these sizes are hard to find because they are slower, if ever, sold sizes at larger retailers. This can lead to a specialty shop holding on to inventory much longer than it should in order to have those unusual sizes in as many choices as they can on hand for the customer who has trouble finding her size.”  

While full price sales directly impact the retailer, they also have a long reaching effect on the manufacturer too.  Intuitively, if a product does not sell for a retailer, then they will stop ordering it from the manufacturer.  Your consumer vote not only applies to the local shop but also the manufacturer’s design team and business as a whole.  The less a retailer orders from a manufacturer or of a certain style, the more likely those styles will be cut or reduced in future collections.  In some cases, entire lines or brands are discontinued.  In fact, Quinne Myers of the Lingerie Addict wrote a phenomenal post on how seemingly successful lingerie lines close all the time.

The MAP Contribution in an Imperfect World

The newly advocated MAP Policies are helping to level the playing field between boutiques, both online and in-store, and the discount pricing based businesses.  By removing the element of price comparison, consumers have more incentive to continue supporting small businesses rather than search for the lowest price.  However, while MAP agreements are becoming more standard in the lingerie world, they are still easily subverted by determined companies, including the manufacturers themselves.  Brandy Ornelas of 4 Real Intimate Apparel in Las Vegas sums up the issue succinctly:  “The downfalls to MAP pricing is that many manufactures are now selling online themselves at that MAP price . . . While they might follow their own pricing structures, they don’t have the same overhead as a boutique so that MAP price really only benefits the manufacturer, not the boutiques.” One of the trending topics among lingerie stores recently has been seeking out manufacturers who do not sell direct to consumer and who offer unique products not found everywhere.  Fit Fully Yours, a Canadian-based lingerie company, is fiercely protective of the value of its products and the relationship they have with retailers, leading many boutiques to transition from industry leaders to an advocate of small businesses.

A successful MAP program in action
An example of an enforced MAP policy

Violations of MAP policies can also become widespread with some businesses going so far as to use false names to sell discount merchandise without impacting their original company.  In certain cases, the inability to sell at a discount hurts boutiques too.  Not every product produced by a manufacturer fits well or lasts long term, and if you are required to keep every advertised price above a certain level, it may make it impossible to sell that inventory.  Some MAP policies have even become so restrictive that they prohibit retailers for selling products on any third part software like Ebay or Amazon, forcing boutiques to question whether the policy is really worth implementing.

“I get the idea behind MAP,” continues Brandy.  “It’s to create a brand experience and make sure that prices don’t erode.  High end products want to stay high end . . .  [but] I think that should be our decision. Our expenses are different than a manufacturers . . . Some retailers have such high rental expense that they have to sell above MSRP to cover the added expense. That creates another challenge whereas the customer expects items to cost the same everywhere. Then you have the close-out issue where the manufacture will offer a discount to the consumer for an item that is on closeout but maybe I bought at full price and I’m not be able to offer an additional discount. Customers are growing to expect the same deals from boutiques that they could get from the manufacturer direct.”

The Bottom Line

MAP or no MAP, at the end of the day, all small businesses are still at the mercy of consumer loyalty, and no amount of legislating price will change that every business must actively work to cultivate and maintain good relationships with customers.  “And that is really our true to heart mission: to really help women in their correct size, no matter what the situation,” says Kat.  Small businesses bring all of us wonderful opportunities whether it is a store which carries plus-sizes or fuller-cups to those which champion indie brands and new labels to something unique like Jeanna’s Bluestockings Boutique, a specialty retailer focusing on the LGBTQUIA+ community and ethically made products. Small businesses enrich our lives in so many ways, and it is my idealistic hope that together we can remind consumers that there is more to the shopping experience than finding the lowest price.

What are your thoughts on lingerie pricing and the new emphasis on standardized industry pricing?

Erica

 

 

Lingerie Pricing & the Impact of MAP, Materials, and Bra Fitters
Erica
Erica is a lover all things lingerie and is passionate about helping people find the bra which fits and flatters. Side passions include reading, writing, hiking, dairy-free food, walking her Jack Russell terrorists, and dying her hair everything from black to red.

23 thoughts on “Lingerie Pricing & the Impact of MAP, Materials, and Bra Fitters

  • April 8, 2016 at 3:33 pm
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    It’s truly not that I disagree with anything said here. Its just as GG+ customer its expensive to pay now almost $70 a bra especially when this isn’t an LBD where you just need 1 to complete your wardrobe. I would advocate for at least 4 (now have double digits and its all Erica’s fault and I love her for it), and they definitely much higher quality (not to mention better fit) than what I used to get, but the sticker shock gets me every time especially since like shoes even if they fit you don’t know if its love until you wear it a few times. Makes an expensive gamble on a limited budget. I don’t really know what the answer is, but I do know I drive an hour each way to shop with at Erica’s store because my options are limited but before Erica I didn’t even know I had options and she has gone above and beyond to take care of me and I don’t know what I would do with out her store.

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    • Erica
      April 8, 2016 at 3:49 pm
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      First, you brightened my day. <3 That's not something that can be undersold in anyway as I know the commitment you guys have to the store, and it is really is customers like you who keep me focused on moving forward. So thank you for that. 🙂 Secondly, those are all some excellent points, particularly those faced by the GG+ market which usually needs to pay the most for bras. I think this is an intersection where customers and boutiques can work together through the use of special programs. Most boutiques I know try to find ways of working with customers, especially those on really tight budgets through any number of ways including lay-a-way, referral discounts, loyalty programs, matching set discounts, and so on. My goal here was really to show how the pricing works and what kind of additional factors interplay since I think some people do believe the clothing industry (including intimates) is operating on a substantial mark-up. For example, I just got a catalog in for a chain store that was *already* advertising 30% off their upcoming collection if you shopped early. 30% off???? Before the collection even releases???? It's that kind of schema that makes people, myself included, not trust the original retail price at all. I'd rather be honest with consumers about the value of the bra rather than mark-up a $60 bra to $75 just so I can advertise 25% off and not lose my margin. Thank you, as always, for commenting and for your support in general!

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      • April 11, 2016 at 12:34 am
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        Thing that can particularly suck about being in the GG+ market is that some of us, specifically me, are still growing and have to repurchase bras every 2-5 months. It adds up to quite a lot of money after a while when you need at least a minimum of 4 bras and have to get new ones every few months at around $70. I’m not trying to gripe at you and I’m thankful that you provided an explanation as to why it costs so much, it really it great to know why and understand that everyone has to get paid for what they’ve contributed the making of the bra and that you and other professional bra fitters should also have a fair share for your services. It just sucks that it costs so much. I kinda wish that if we had to buy them kinda in bulk like that it may be possible to get a discount, perhaps a medium sized discount(?), to make sure it doesn’t break the bank when we purchase them so often like this.

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        • Erica
          April 12, 2016 at 4:35 pm
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          Hi Shelby! If you’re in size limbo, I tend to suggest not overbuying anything. I try to recommend making due with two bras to start and then replacing those as needed. Shopping sales is certainly worth looking at too, but you can also look for gently used bras on Bratabase too. I know that’s not a perfect solution, but if you’re finding that it’s breaking your budget because your size fluctuations do not allow you to really get the wear you deserve out of the bra, this would be a better way to go. You can also explain the situation to a local boutique too. Most of us keep detailed records on customers, and if I know I have someone who will buy a sale bra or a special order that didn’t pan out, I often give them first crack at the discount. It could be helpful in saving some money until your size stabilizes. I hope this helps! <3

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  • April 8, 2016 at 4:05 pm
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    I don’t mind paying full price for quality product. While I am a sale shopper for some items, price shopping bras has never been a fruitful strategy. I never have luck chasing price, I’m so often chasing style and size that price is an afterthought. I’m often so thrilled to find my size before it’s out of stock that I buy immediately. I *do* get irritated when I pay full price, and then then the item is on sale half-price the next week. So, if MAP pricing for lingerie prevents me from paying more than my fellow shoppers, by reducing my anger at feeling like I’m being penalized once again for my bra or clothing size, I guess I perceive a positive.

    While I fully sympathize with the costs business owners incur funding a storefront, employees, product, etc. I must say that in-store bra fittings, as they are currently, are not something I’m wiling to pay for. I absolutely believe a fitter should be compensated for time and expertise; however, I’ve only been to one retailer that stocks enough of my size to make an in-store fitting worth paying for. – Bravissimo. Most often my experience is to encounter a retailer who stocks ZERO items in my size, employing a fitter who insists on trying to shove me in the wrong size or style. I would be willing to pay for time with a fitter who works more like a personal shopper, and can source styles from various retailers *in my size range*.

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    • Erica
      April 8, 2016 at 4:36 pm
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      As always, you have great insights! 🙂 “I *do* get irritated when I pay full price, and then then the item is on sale half-price the next week.” MAP does help with this a lot actually because it tends to keep things pretty consistent across the board. Typically, the policy applies to core items (so you’re basic colors) and “new” fashion. Usually “new fashion” incorporates the entire current season. For example, Panache does not want to see any discounts on their fall fashion items until Spring fashion starts to release. They like for there to be several months where those fashion items remain at the MSRP before retailers start using discounts to phase them out. Unless the retailer runs an encompassing event like “20% off everything” which is technically allowed under many MAP guides, you’re not likely to come in one week and find the bra at full price and come in the next to find it a deep discount.

      “Most often my experience is to encounter a retailer who stocks ZERO items in my size, employing a fitter who insists on trying to shove me in the wrong size or style.” Bad fitters aside, which to me are not a good business practice anyway, the lack of a certain size *is* something to consider, in my opinion, for any retailer considering a service charge for the fitting itself. It’s one of the reasons I have no intentions of charging for my time, simply because as a store we can only carry so much stock in so many sizes. We also can’t be everything to everyone either, so I know there are some customers we will never be able to really help. Some stores will refund or not charge the fee if that is the case, but I prefer, at least for the time being, to keep the fittings as a service we offer our customers. Of course, we have also not been taken advantage of as much as other boutiques.

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  • April 8, 2016 at 9:50 pm
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    When replacing my Panache Sports, my habit had previously been to price shop online — often starting with Amazon and/or Ebay. While I want to support small businesses wherever I can, I’ll be honest. My income is such that I save up and budget for each bra that I purchase, and sometimes the personal practicality of needing or wanting to save money overrules my principles.

    The last time I went to purchase this bra, to my surprise, Amazon was advertising it at the MSRP. It didn’t take me long to decide that if I was going to pay full price for the bra, I wasn’t going to purchase it from Amazon — and I immediately went to check the online stores of the independent bra boutiques I know. (As it happened, one such independent store had older fashion colors in my size and on clearance, so that was a time principles and practicality met a good compromise.)

    Not being able to count on cheap Amazon prices does mean that I have to budget more carefully (and more in advance) for bras. But the bottom line is that, for me, a minimum advertised price motivates me to give that money to a small business rather than a corporate monolith.

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    • Erica
      April 9, 2016 at 3:04 pm
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      Thanks for commenting, Tori! I totally respect a budget and would never want to imply otherwise. 🙂 When I was chatting with Lingerie Addict on Twitter yesterday, I mentioned that everyone has a budget for what they can spend, and boutiques appreciate that too. There’s often cool programs or specials going on too. Your experience with the sports bra and Amazon is actually something I wanted to reference more toward the end. Jeanna from Bluestockings, for example, has Curvy Kate on sale for 50% which is cheaper than Amazon, but because of Amazon’s presence, people may not think to look some place else for a better deal. I know we have some stuff cheaper in store or on the website than Amazon too, so it’s important to remember, even if you need to score an item on sale, that there other places to shop for that too. For me, my big budget is shoes. Since I started working at the shop, my feet have taken a beating so I really need supportive footwear and I budget those in for the year plus inserts too. Of course, shoes are a little harder to shop for in a boutique here but I do try to go to a brick-and-mortar store if I can just to keep the money local.

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  • April 9, 2016 at 8:14 am
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    Erica – this post is genius. I think your second career should be business writing! I have no interest in business writing and you make it fascinating. (Admittedly, I like the subject matter.) I’m one of those people who buys in local boutiques (to do this in Canada is exceedingly expensive, much more so than in the US). I also buy the high-end lines. Empreinte is my fave (though the sizing is limited given the way they scale their designs). I’ve been known to spend 350 bucks on a set (which comes to over 400 when you add tax). I am not a lady of luxury, fwiw. I value the product and the service of the boutique experience. However, I also buy online – and I’m good at it – which means I do score bras (mostly midrange) at very good prices – though how this works does concern me. What would cost me all in @100 bucks in store (a Cleo or Freya bra) costs me half that online – often including the matching undies (which I always wear). I find the internet is a good venue to try new brands but I generally buy the high end at a store because it’s my priority to make sure I can try it on first (and have a great customer experience). One thing I firmly believe – if I go to a boutique, and I intend to buy the bra that a great fitter has worked with me to find, I buy it from her. I DO NOT go home and find it more cheaply online. In my opinion, that is stealing the fitter’s skill and service and it’s not ok.

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    • Erica
      April 9, 2016 at 3:11 pm
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      Aww, thank you, K-Line! 🙂 I hear nothing but good things about Empreinte and wish I could carry something like that in the store. Just like I keep looking at Harlow & Fox and wishing that would be a good fit here. When I responded to Tori, I mentioned that I totally get that some people cannot buy all the time from a boutique which is okay too. We all have budgets, and some boutiques are geared less toward mid-range brands anyway, making it hard to really get a good rotation without breaking the bank. I just wanted people to understand that this isn’t the industry where everyone has a killer mark-up and is actually being exploitative of customers. I do not buy a lot of clothes or shoes, and it’s not uncommon for me to work with a wardrobe that fits in a carry-on bag but what I do buy, I want to be a good quality. It’s hard for me to find things which fit, so when I do, dang it they better last! There is nothing more frustrating to me when I pay full price (or even the “sale price”) on something that’s supposed to be good quality only to find it really was never worth that original price. I stopped shopping at Banana Republic altogether for this reason as I could never trust if what I was getting was really even worth the perennial 30% off price, much less the full price. With intimates, most companies are giving you their lowest price on what they think the bra is worth, and boutiques typically honor that, which is something I wanted to showcase with the post. I’m just glad people found it interesting and enjoyed the different take! 🙂

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      • April 10, 2016 at 12:46 pm
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        Another brilliant piece, Erica!
        I also drive over an hour (each way!) to A Sophisticated Pair for proper fittings and size trials. As my size is rarely carried in stores and boutiques, finding bras that really fit and support my small back and large bust has been a challenge. Erica has gone above and beyond what I could have ever imagined in terms of customer service and satisfaction. I fully credit her for helping me find (and continue to find) high quality bras that fit, as well as alternative wardrobe ideas for large bust/small back. I look online for brands/ideas/patterns, and will always order through the store.

        I’ve also convinced my mom and a few friends to join me for the trip out to Burlington, turning a bra store visit into a “Ladies Day Out” extravaganza. We leave the store with beautiful, well-fitting lingerie, and then treat ourselves to lunch/dinner in Mebane. If time allows, there are a number of great antique stores in the area as well. If you’re local/regional, consider planning a Ladies Day and checking out the local businesses in the area– after you leave A Sophisticated Pair, of course.

        FWIW- I’d love to see Harlow and Fox in the store. I keep drooling over Sweet Nothings’ photos and reviews!

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        • Erica
          April 12, 2016 at 3:38 pm
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          Thanks for commenting, Sam! 🙂 It’s been such a pleasure meeting and working with you and your family and friends. You guys always brighten up the store when you visit! Plus, it’s great to have someone to try out new products and see what works/doesn’t work. There are some other great places in the area too, so I always try encourage long distance customers to make a day of the trip and explore. Tanger isn’t that far of course, but you’re right that there are some other lovely locations in the area too.

          Harlow & Fox is just stunning. I keep toying with the idea of buying something from their lounging collection as a personal present, but . . . yeah, dogs . . . and cats. I may try sister sizing into a bra though. I love that there are these beautiful, luxury brands for fuller-bust, particularly those using high quality materials like silk. One day, one day!

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  • April 9, 2016 at 4:34 pm
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    Very thought provoking post. You know, I was just thinking about this issue the other day. After I mentioned in a review that I had purchased a bra for less than 1/2 its retail price, on amazon, I thought about the issue of ‘price vulturing’ afterward, specifically with your store in mind. I do buy most bras on amazon, eBay, or UK discount retailers like Belle Lingerie. I’m comfortable with that approach specifically because I am not getting the benefit of a fitting or of trying on in person. The main reason I began putting all of my reviews in a blog was because bra reviews on amazon & sites like HerRoom are virtually useless, as you demonstrate. Without a point of reference for the reviewer’s knowledge level, they are no help at all to an informed consumer. So I wanted to build what I hope might be a resource for people who, like myself, have no access to specialty boutiques & are forced to shop online, with not-very-helpful reviews & no possibility of ever trying anything on in person.

    However, I do value a great fitter – in theory, as I’ve sadly never encountered one in person. But if I had the option of being within 100 miles of a fantastic boutique such as yours, with stellar fitting knowledge, I would go out of my way to support it. The personal service and knowledge, and the trouble it would save of not returning and guessing blind on sizing, would be well worth it to me to pay full price. As would the satisfaction of supporting a local business. I personally would actually lose sleep if I took full advantage of your skills….& then purchased from amazon. I can understand why folks might subsequently stock up online, but I’m appalled that anyone would not at least make the initial purchase from the store that gave them full fitting service. Just, wow.

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    • Erica
      April 9, 2016 at 5:33 pm
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      Hi Alicia! I agree a lot of the reviews really are no help. I tend to data mine a lot of online stores for information when I am deciding whether to carry a bra, but it’s hard to weed through the “Okay, this is a legitimate issue” reviews from the “This may be size/fit related” ones. And that’s for me as a fitter! So I know that people with less experience are frazzled and upset by the process. Blog reviews are really one of my go-to sources if I can find something because most bloggers are posting pictures and have basic bra fitting knowledge themselves too, making their comments more valuable. I really appreciate anyone who takes the time to write and do them because it really helpful to all of us out there, including fitters and store owners! Thank you for adding your thoughts into the mix as well! I love that everyone has really been able to open up about why they shop certain ways and talk about this issue. Our readers are THE BEST!

      Reply
  • April 10, 2016 at 8:00 pm
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    You always write such thought-provoking posts, Erica. Bargain-hunting is in my DNA, so for me, this sort of thing can be hard to hear. I’ve grappled for years with the idea of “voting with my wallet” and putting my money where my mouth is. Unfortunately, I’ve never been in a position where I could justify the full retail price of bras at the volume that I buy them. I could do it if I streamlined my buying to key items, but of course that’s easier said than done for a shopaholic.

    One thing that I think is worth noting is that a lot of boutiques don’t just charge a $60 MSRP; they often charge much more. For instance, when I first got fitted properly I bought a basic Fantasie bra, similar to the Belle, for $130. I’m guessing that was well above the MSRP. I’m so gun-shy about winding up in a store where I can’t afford anything, and I get so nervous imagining that I’m risking wasting their time, and it’s so hard to guess how much things will cost at a shop, that I stay out of boutiques and small shops entirely nowadays. Unfortunately, I don’t think i’m the only one.

    Since I’ve never been paid what’s commonly referred to as a “living wage,” even when working full-time in “normal” jobs, I do have to seek out my bras at a discount. Sometimes I shop sales, but mostly I buy factory seconds and floor samples on eBay. For me, I think that’s good ethical compromise because those products don’t hurt small businesses’ bottom lines as much. I’m eternally grateful for the services provided by good boutiqes that follow good fitting practices, and as soon as I can afford it, I’ll make it a priority to buy from shops like yours again.

    Reply
    • Erica
      April 12, 2016 at 3:55 pm
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      You’re back to blogging! <3 Yay! I clicked on the link and was so excited to see a new post. 🙂 Anyway, budgets are always going to be something people need to be mindful of, and to be honest, boutiques do need customers who will shop sales too. It's not really a criticism of anyone who does this but more of an explanation as to why things are priced they way are and how that impacts the overall boutique pricing structure I extensively use coupons for grocery shopping, and I often only buy clothes on sale (although that also in part because I can't trust companies anymore . . . I'm looking at you Banana Republic). We all have areas where we find compromises to work, and it sounds like you found the right mix for your budget and for your needs. 🙂

      That said, I find it unacceptable for a boutique to mark up a bra that much. I know some stores will add an extra couple dollars onto certain bras to cover some of the expenses, so the $45 bra may become $50, but to double the retail price almost is crazy. If a bra was designed to retail for $70, the customer who pays $130 is going to have a higher expectation of fit and quality that the $70 product may not live up to . . . which only reflects poorly on the brand, the fitter, and the boutique. Sometimes I wonder about the manufacturer's pricing myself. The Adelaide and Keira from Goddess are really worth a little more than what they charge for them. Keira is supposed to be $44 but would still be aptly priced at $50. However, in their Elomi line, the Bijou and Amelia, in my opinion, are a bit over priced. Bijou is plagued by a persistent defect we've come to find out where the cup tears near the straps. For a bra that's supposed to be $70, that's a unacceptable. We typically price the bra lower in the store for this reason. I am sure that there are other factors at work here, but I do think a manufacturer has a responsibility to create an ethical price for their products too.

      Reply
  • April 10, 2016 at 11:06 pm
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    Erica, as a guy that sees lingerie as an art form, I absolutely agree with you.

    BTW, as an earlier commenter noted, you really ought to get into business writing. Your articles are also works of art.

    Reply
    • Erica
      April 12, 2016 at 4:01 pm
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      Thank you, Tom! 🙂 That was very sweet of you and thank you for commenting!

      Reply
  • April 13, 2016 at 3:14 pm
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    First of all your article is very well written in outlining all the facts while still making it easy to follow to those that are operating outside of the lingerie/bra industry.
    I agree that companies should keep MAP pricing as it sets the bar at an even level for all players. When you think about it yes paying a certain price for a G+ bra is never a fun thing however the cost that goes into manufacturing these is more than a smaller cup size. Stronger fabrics are needed, a stronger wire and more than often a tweak to the style. In this day is age we all want something better,faster and cheaper it is simply our society and this mantra hasn’t forgotten about the bra and lingerie industry. It is not only larger cup bras that normally have a bigger price tag its also “plus size ” clothing, yet again these require as per the manufactures more fabric etc which correlates into a higher manufacturing cost. Also to a single store owner just the rising cost of these bra’s are hard enough to keep up with let alone having customers come in with their smart phones showing the same bra online at a significantly cheaper price and demanding that the store owner price match. I personally feel that the MAP programs will offer more stability in the single owner lingerie stores/boutiques as it offers a somewhat piece of mind. I know costs are rising on everything every where and the last thing people want to do is spend more money as something that stays hidden for most of the time, but can you really top the face to face and great service that a majority of bra boutiques and fitters offer ? I personally would rather save the $20 or whatever it may be and not shop online but go into the nearest bra fitters and get properly fitted, rather than roll a dice and chance a bra that i purchased online not fitting and having to deal with the hassle that comes with returning an online bra purchase.

    Reply
    • Erica
      April 14, 2016 at 5:23 pm
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      Hi Char! You are definitely correct that size expansions and higher cup sizes do increase the overall cost of the bra. Sculptresse, for example, has a new version of their Cleo Marcie available called the Deedee. Marcie has a new retail price of $55 or $56 (can’t recall which offhand) but Deedee is more like $69. The reason for the price increase is the original Marcie was a 28-38D-J bra whereas Deedee is now a 36-46DD-H bra. The addition of the higher bands, particularly with the higher cups, necessitated a total redevelopment to ensure adequate support, thus impacting the final cost. I know sometimes it’s hard to see why the bras cost the way they do but with more companies moving toward ethical manufacturing that also means a higher general price tag. MAP tries to help keep those prices consistent, which is a good effort. Like you, I hate trying to return online purchases (and I go to the post office everyday!) and would rather pick it up in person if I can. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  • April 15, 2016 at 11:59 pm
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    I agree with everyone who’s said how well written and accessible this post is. I’ve never run my own company, and I appreciate how open you’ve been about why you make the business decisions that you do.

    I hope that if/when pricing gets more standardized, more of us consumers will look to independent retailers when shopping. If we’re lucky enough to have access to one — I just spent a week on vacation visiting a friend who lives in a beautiful state that’s also a total bra desert, and it made me realize how spoiled I am, living in walking distance of an inclusive, body positive lingerie boutique.

    You also make a good point about the bargains to be had from people like you and Jeanna at Bluestockings! I can relate to having to keep to a budget, but Amazon dominates the landscape so much that it’s good to be made aware that they’re not the only source of deals.

    Reply
    • Erica
      April 23, 2016 at 12:07 pm
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      Thanks for commenting, Sarah! I wish we’d see a return to the older ways where things were marked at what they worth because I think it would give an opportunity for more boutique (not just bras) to rise up. I was lamenting the other day about clothes and how it feels like there are not choices but to go to these large chain stores. I love finding that special boutique where the owner has a real eye for great clothes and is not just stocking the same basic thing as everyone else. I especially love thrift stores who follow that unique approach.

      Reply
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