A Victoria's Secret shop in Beijing (Photo: Zhang Hongpei/GT)
U.S.-based lingerie brand Victoria's Secret is taking aim at the huge and lucrative Chinese market, holding its annual show in Shanghai this year in a move that experts said will stimulate its sales in China, although growth won't come without risks.
The 2017 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show was held on Monday night with 55 models strutting the catwalk - including seven Chinese "angels" - at an event that had been highly anticipated since it was announced a few months ago.
Although the brand said on its official Weibo account on September 1 that admission would be free by invitation only, some scalpers offered tickets on e-commerce platform taobao.com at prices ranging from 90,000 yuan (,569.54) to a staggering 300,000 yuan, media reports said.
"The show caught the public's eye with sexy models and luxury products, generating lots of free publicity for its more conventional items," Guo Yan, a professor at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
A salesperson at the Victoria's Secret store in the Joy City shopping mall in Beijing's Chaoyang district told the Global Times that sleepwear decorated with Chinese embroidery modeled at the show sold quickly on Tuesday morning.
Most of the items in the store are labeled "Made in China," according to the observation of the Global Times.
Taking advantage of the "sexy" label, Victoria's Secret is mainly targeted at affluent female elites in China's first- and second-tier cities. Unlike the mass-market strategy in the U.S., the brand is oriented to the premium or luxury positioning in China, said Neil Wang, president of Frost & Sullivan China, a global consulting firm.
Both declining sales momentum in the U.S. and the huge potential of the Chinese market sparked by consumption upgrades have contributed to the brand's newfound interest in China, experts said.
The third-quarter financial report released on November 15 by L Brand, parent of Victoria's Secret, showed that sales of Victoria's Secret in the first three quarters stood at .84 billion, down 11 percent year-on-year.
"Victoria's Secret has been focused on the North American market, and its high-level executives were long unwilling to seek broader sales," Wang said.
Only in 2010 did the company start to venture beyond its traditional North American customer base.
Meanwhile, the underwear market in China offers lucrative opportunities for many industry players.
Sales of underwear in China surged from 113.7 billion yuan to 324 billion yuan from 2009 to 2016, with an annual growth rate of about 20 percent, domestic news site sohu.com reported in August. Sales are estimated to reach 642.7 billion yuan by 2020.
"The U.S. brand's inroads in China will play an active part in changing the Chinese female's traditional concept of underwear, enabling consumers to be more positive and confident in their body," Wang remarked.
However, "an excessive emphasis on sexiness, high-end fashion or fantasy can help open the market, but it does not guarantee a sales boom," said Wang.
Experts also warned that if Chinese customers were disappointed in the fit and quality of the items, their interest in the brand would soon wane.
Zeng Mingyue, a research fellow at the Luxury China institute of the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, said that domestic underwear brands actually have some competitiveness in design and quality with a reasonable price, which helps win popularity in overseas markets.
She said some European friends around her also favor the Chinese-made bras. "For example, the Beijing-based leading lingerie brand Aimer has been dedicated to high quality and personalized design," she added.
However, "our domestic products lack some things in terms of value-added factors such as the culture or fashion. They are more focused on functionality. In this sense, Victoria's Secret is a model to learn from," Zeng noted.
Victoria's Secret has opened three flagship stores in Shanghai, the first in February, and a store in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan Province. The latest opening was in Southwest China's Chongqing on November 14, according to a document Victoria's Secret China sent to the Global Times on Tuesday.
It also has 26 concept stores selling accessories and beauty products such as perfume, shampoo and canvas bags in the Chinese mainland.