Welcome to the the Ivey HBA Retail Marketing Management blog. Retail marketing is an exciting, dynamic, important, and very visible aspect of the overall field of marketing. Throughout the year, students will be posting comments regarding contemporary retailing issues. Although this is intended to be used by Bus 4411 students, industry marketing professionals are also invited to join in if they like.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lululemon's Walking, Talking Billboards

In response to: Canadian Business Week Online, Toned and Ready: Lululemon Transitions

By: Rosalind Copp

In the Candian Business Week article, the author applauded Lululemon for their lack of traditional marketing and reliance on word of mouth. It is true, at first glance it is appears that the company has no marketing plan. They have not engaged in any traditional forms of advertising, they do not promote sales at their stores and they never have in-store promotions. They even renamed their internal marketing department, labelling it community relations. However, a company that is that successful has a clear and effective marketing plan. They want to appear removed from a traditional corporation with their yoga wear and healthy lifestyle. Traditional marketing and advertising would not fit with their brand image. Instead of pushing their products on to consumers they have made consumers come to them. Lululemon first began doing this by giving their products to people they feel represent their products the best. Yoga teachers and fitness instructors who sport their free Lululemon apparel in their classes and who advocate the products for their high quality have helped create to positive word of mouth and a buzz about the products in the yoga world. However, Lululemon cannot rely on yogis alone, their products must be appealing for those not into fitness to be as popular as they are. Thier mission is simple, let our symbol been seen as often as possible, and on as many people as possible.

By far the most influential promoters of Lululemon are the store employees. This is probably where the company invested the money they would have otherwise spent on marketing their products. Employees of Lululemon go through vigorous health training and do free yoga during their lunch hour. They are encouraged to eat healthy meals, they are not allowed to smoke and it would be a major faux-pas for an employee to ever been seen eating fast food in a food court or anywhere that they could be associated with the store and brand. Lululemon employees must embody what every Lululemon customer aspires to be, happy and healthy. Like the yoga instructors, Lululemon employees are the walking, talking billboards for the yoga products. Lululemon has relied greatly on word of mouth, and have ensured this by placing their products in the hands of the right people. As well, I would argue that any attractive girl who wears their clothing to work out in, or just for everyday use is a walking, talking billboard for Lululemon. The products themselves are created so that they accentuate specific areas of the female body and definitely are very flattering on some women. This is revolutionary for sweatpants which in the past have been unflattering and associated with laziness.

In order to truly understand the value of a pair of sweatpants that costs $90, women have to see them on someone else first. They have to see how good they look on someone else, and really want those pants (or sports bra etc) so they can look that good too. They will be willing to pay more if they can look as good as that woman they say in yoga or at the gym the other day. Women tend to check out other women more than men do, and they are way more likely to notice when another women is wearing something flattering or something they like. Advertisements alone focusing on a woman’s assets would not create a positive brand image for the company and consumers would probably be offended, but that is one of the things that people love about the pants. It would just be another advertisement where sex was used to sell something. It doesn’t fit with the brand image and it wouldn’t resonate with the consumer group Lululemon is trying to target. By having fit, healthy, attractive women sporting their clothing and working in the stores Lululemon is able to show off their products in a way an advertisement or mannequin never could.

The employees at Lululemon are not models, they are not stick-thin, they are healthy young women who give off a happy, easy-going vibe. The entire Lululemon store gives off this vibe. It is inviting and laid out in a way that’s easy to for women to browse. The store is completely wood in the inside many with fountains and bamboo trees; it feels like you are in nature, not in the mall. Finding your size is easy, the product is displayed on a mannequin on top of a shelf with each size having its on shelf below. This lets the women who know what they want able to get what they want quickly and get out. This also allows the store to make efficient use of lower shelves since women must scan down the shelves for their size. Lululemon has made full use of the otherwise forgotten wall space. For a shopper who is unsure of what they want, employees are knowledgeable in all the product areas and add a personal touch to the shopping experience by learning and writing down your name on the change room door. When employees check to see how something fits, they call you by your name, like your friend. You get a sense that employees there care, about their health, about the environment, about you.

However, again this is all part of Lululemon’s hidden but effective marketing scheme. Once you examine the store closer it becomes very apparent that everything is made to appear free-spirited and easy going but everything has a very specific place and purpose. The front of the store is where all the very bright, expensive and usually new items appear. There is no visible price, or signage telling you how much something costs as that would make the products appear of a lesser quality and the high prices would steer many people away. All the items at the front of the store are fashion items for working out, the necessities (sports bras, shorts etc) are located at the back of the store. This forces women who are also by nature impulse buyers to walk by all the bags, sweatshirts, and of course the pants in order for them to get to what they really need for working out. Interestingly, sales items are placed with similar items in the store (pants on sale with non-sale pants) instead of in one location or at the back. Also, sale tags are very small and most of the time not even noticeable on specific items. Lululemon never promotes sales, or holds a store wide sale at their retail locations nor does it promote the sale items within the store. They do not want women to browse a sale rack, they want women to buy the most expensive item possible and if they happen to fall upon a sale item then so be it, but they make it as difficult as possible to do so.

Lululemon’s latest non-marketing trick is the bags you receive when you purchase their clothing. The bags are environmentally friendly, and re-usable. They make perfect gym bags (far more fashionable than a duffle bag), and have the Lululemon symbol sprawled all over them with sayings like “live, love, do yoga” (inadvertent actual saying : “live, love, wear Lululemon”). The bags promote everything the brand stands for and they are useful. You get the feeling that you got something extra with the product you purchased. And indeed you have. Although you may have only spent $ 8 on a headband at the Lululemon, you now have also become a walking, talking billboard for the company.

No comments: