One of the things I really enjoyed about presenting “Decoding Your Data” at JCK Las Vegas was the opportunity to tell my favorite story about Victoria’s Secret. It’s a powerful tale for business owners that illustrates that you have to be willing to examine every aspect of your operation – even those things that could be considered defining aspects of your brand. And of course, it’s a story about the power of data.
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Let me set the scene here. For years – decades, even – Victoria’s Secret sold their products via direct mail. Their catalog was famous and became an American cultural touchstone for anyone who appreciated scantily clad women appearing in their mailbox on a regular basis. At its peak, in 1997, Victoria’s Secret was sending 450 million catalogs out.
Sears, once the leader in the direct mail game, stopped sending catalogs out in 1993. J.C. Penney took their place and held the top spot for about eight years. In 2011, they gave up, leaving Victoria’s Secret the largest catalog retailer in the nation.
But Stuart Burgdoerfer, CFO of Victoria’s Secret’s parent company, wasn’t sure that made sense for his company anymore. He decided to put the value of the catalog to the test. For this kind of test, it’s important to have all of the right data tracking tools in place and to understand what you want to know. Burgdoerfer had both, and went forward with an exceptionally bold test: he reduced the number of catalogs being mailed by 40%.
The result? Sales increased 15%.
A clearer answer would be hard to find. Once Victoria’s Secret leadership considered the cost of producing the catalog, the negligible impact the catalog had on sales during the testing phase, and the criticism the brand had gotten for the environmental impact associated with creating and distributing 450 million catalogs, they knew what they needed to do. The iconic Victoria’s Secret catalog would be no more.
This was in 2016. Today, Victoria’s Secret is hanging in there – pricey lingerie is a textbook example of the type of item people don’t purchase during tough economic times – and the brand’s leadership is looking to find their best way forward. We have no doubt that the proven formula they used to achieve meaningful sales growth before – examine operations and test aspects to be sure they’re delivering the best possible results – will work again. Data doesn’t lie. The insights necessary to provide today’s customer with what they truly want are there to be discovered. That was Victoria’s Secret, and now it’s yours.