While Aeropostale and Claire’s have stumbled through bankruptcy and store closures, Bath & Body Works continues to post double-digit growth and expand into new locations.
That’s the word from The Washington Post, which points out that being a mall merchant, alone, should have spelled the company’s doom. Add to that the fact that it sells products broadly available elsewhere—often for cheaper—and you’ve got a bit of an anomaly.
Even after 30 years in business, Bath & Body Works—known for its highly scented bath gels, lotions and candles—continues to attract new customers during a time when mall visits are tapering off.
“Bath & Body Works has found a way to get everyone into its stores, teens up to baby boomers.”
Let’s look at some of the reasons Bath & Body Works is surviving—and thriving—amidst the nation’s crumbling mall landscape:
According to John Morris, Bath & Body Works has “invested heavily to transform its stores into bright, fanciful enclaves of escape.”
“When you go into a second-or third-tier mall, a lot of stores look very gloomy or down on their luck,” Neil Saunders, managing director of research firm GlobalData Retail told The Washington Post. “Bath & Body Works, though, stands out: It’s a shiny beacon that draws customers in.”
As The Balance points out, atmosphere is a direct contributor to the customer experience and the public’s opinion of a company’s brand, both of which are important elements of retail today.
“Bath & Body Works has figured out how to appeal to the masses,” says Sucharita Kodali, a Forrester analyst.
That’s important because, in this “Age of the Customer”, consumers not only have more control—they’re more empowered—but they also have higher expectations than ever before. Furthermore, they expect consistent, value-driven and relevant experiences when engaging with brands in-store.
Bath & Body Works offers reasonably-priced indulgences that attract both preteens on an allowance and 50-somethings in need of a little pick-me-up.
Heather Brechbill Swilley, senior vice president of leasing at The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, enthusiastically refers to the brand as “the darling of mall owners and operators” saying, “Bath & Body Works has always been a destination. It’s successful and relevant.”
“Your success and that of your business depends upon understanding and articulating what makes you better than everyone else,” states Inc.
Bath & Body Works understands this. “We have competition, but we don’t have a direct competitor that looks just like us and does what we do,” says the brand’s chief executive officer, Nicolas Coe. “Our brand has a very, very clear point of view.
Few of the brand’s rivals have been able to nail the company’s balance of prestige and affordability. “Bath & Body Works has become one of the only places in the mall where you can pick up an affordable gift,” asserts Kodali. “It’s this little pocket of retail that no one has successfully emulated.”
Responsibile companies are accountable for their actions and seek to positively impact not just the environment, but also consumers, employees, communities and shareholders, suggests Heart of the City.
In addition to its wholesome image and relatively small stores that are inexpensive to operate, Bath & Body Works has become a powerful brand by regularly assessing and reassessing every aspect of its business.
The brand’s stores have often been known to double as testing labs, giving executives the opportunity to experiment with new floor plans, prices and products to determine what its customers really want.
The Washington Post also points out that while stores like Victoria’s Secret are stuck in their ways and are out of touch with what consumers want, Bath & Body Works is quite the opposite: “It’s authentic, has friendly stores and is constantly challenging itself.”
According to Insight’s Association, the power of anticipation pervades all aspects of human decision-making and consumer behavior.
“Anticipation is rapidly becoming one of the most relevant, value-generating forces in marketing and brand building.”
With regards to Bath & Body Works, Morris believes that a large component in the retailer’s success can be chocked up to its constantly changing assortment of shower gels, hand creams, and candles, which can be tried out in stores.
While mainstream chains such as Walmart & Target have attempted to shore up their beauty aisles in recent years, their products just don’t quite measure up to the same level.
For college student, Abigail Burt, anticipation keeps her going back to Bath & Body Works again and again. “Every time a new scent comes out, my roommate and I are like, ‘We’ve got to try it,’” she says. “I walk in and just feel so happy.”
Burt stops in at the store each month—whether she’s spending money or not—then bypasses all the other stores, making a beeline for the exit.
As other mall stores struggle, Bath & Body Works continues to draw customers and increase sales. It doesn’t just look different from other mall stores, it feels different, too.
The bath gel, lotion and candle retailer provides consumers with a unique experience that other mall merchants can’t seem to grasp. Rather than rigid, bland storefronts, retailers need to become shopping facilitators that do more than provide a shopping venue.
To succeed, retailers need to move beyond the traditional storefront by building a helpful and engaging atmosphere that generates anticipation and offers interactive experiences that allow customers to test products before buying them.
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