We went to Victoria's Secret to investigate why mums of teenage girls are complaining about the brand -- and what we found was shocking

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury‘It’s basically pornography,’ a customer wrote on Victoria’s Secret’s Facebook page, referring to the advertising in stores.
  • Victoria’s Secret has three core businesses: lingerie, beauty, and its PINK label.
  • There’s a big discrepancy between these collections and the customers they are targeting. This can be off-putting to some shoppers.
  • Lingerie and beauty reported negative sales growth in the last quarter, while PINK was a relative bright spot for the brand.

There’s a big disconnect between Victoria’s Secret’s businesses, and it’s putting some customers off from shopping at the store.

The company has two main lingerie brands: Victoria’s Secret lingerie and PINK. The first claims to offer “the sexiest panties and lingerie,” and the latter, apparel and underwear for teenage girls.

This week, a mother complained on Facebook that some of Victoria’s Secret’s lingerie images shown in a store she visited in South Carolina were inappropriate for its younger shoppers at PINK.

“The images in your store at Columbiana Centre Mall in South Carolina are very distasteful and obscene. It is basically pornography that everyone (children and teens) are subjected to viewing because there is only one area to check out between PINK and Victoria’s Secret, which happens to have the most obscene photos behind the registers,” she wrote on Victoria’s Secret’s Facebook page.

This is especially concerning for the company as its PINK label has become one of its only areas of growth. In the company’s most recent earnings results, while sales in its beauty and lingerie sections were down, total sales at PINK grew in the mid-single digit range, the company said.

Victoria’s Secret has been criticised for putting off customers with its sexualized ads in the past. In 2016, one of its Facebook photos got heat for being so overtly sexual that it was borderline pornographic. Customers on Facebook were furious and called it “trashy,” Business Insider reported.

The customer who complained on Facebook has called for bigger divides in the stores.

“I’ve not been happy with the displays for a while but when the models are spread leg, pulling down panties and even bare bottom women on the walls…. it is VERY embarrassing for a family. If PINK items are targeted to teens, there needs to be a separate checkout area or these types of photos should be removed! There were lots of families in line behind me who felt the same and I hope they will voice their opinions as well!” the shopper wrote.

We visited one of its stores in New York’s Manhattan to see how the images were being used in store. Victoria’s Secret did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

The store we visited was in Westfield mall in the Financial District of Manhattan. From the outside, you immediately see how the two brands are marketed side by side.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Victoria’s Secret lingerie is at the front of the store. This photo is a typical example of the overtly sexualized displays you find in this section.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Lingerie has become a weak spot for the brand. In the most recent quarter, sales were down in this category for Victoria’s Secret.

In a separate room, we found PINK clothing and underwear, which is aimed at a younger demographic of girls aged between 14 and 22.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

PINK has seen stronger sales than the other part of the store in recent years. During the third quarter of 2017, total sales increased in the mid-single-digit range, the company said in its earnings call.

In the store we visited, the PINK section had its own cashier …

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

… and dressing room.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Although the two sections are obviously split, a couple of paces away from the teenage apparel, you’ll find the risque lingerie and advertising at Victoria’s Secret …

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

… which could be inappropriate for the younger PINK customer shopping in the store. It doesn’t exactly appeal to parents.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

The Angels have a prominent place in the store, and there’s a large screen showing videos of the runway shows. Victoria’s Secret has been criticised for this, as customers claim these rail-thin models are not suitable role models for young girls.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

The store has been slow to jump on body-positive campaigns that have proven beneficial for brands such as Aerie, a teen underwear retailer that has seen 11 consecutive quarters of same-store sales growth.

While the two brands were clearly split at this store, overall, it was a confusing shopping experience.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Victoria’s Secret did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

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