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Friday, May 6, 2011

Victoria's Secret: Wasteful, protective or cautious?

When an unworn item of clothing is returned to a store, most people would assume that it gets put back on the rails for resale. However, this is not the case at Victoria's Secret.

According to reports, the retail giant destroys much of its returned merchandise in accordance with 'company policy'. The Today show revealed how a woman in Tampa, Florida returned a pair of sweatpants, only to witness the sales assistant cut them to shreds.

Marie Wolf told the show: 'I was shocked, because, mind you, these were $70 sweatpants, and there's nothing wrong with them.' The clerk just said, "I know, but it's our policy." Ms Wolf said she addressed the issue with a store manager, then Victoria's Secret's parent company, Limited Brands, both of which confirmed the practice as standard.

While this practice may be considered appropriate for lingerie returns, many, like Ms Wolf, have slammed the destruction of other unworn garments as wasteful. An article on read: 'Clearly, there has to be a better way... Perhaps Victoria's Secret could co-operate with one of the many charities that specialize in taking surplus new merchandise off retailers' hands, removing labels plus any logos or brands, and donating it to homeless people? 'The clothing has no resale value, which serves the store's interests, and people who need it get to wear it, which serves just about everybody.

'There is no reason, other than corporate inertia, for the fashion industry to be so tolerant of waste.' Retail experts say companies fear that discarded garments will be resold on the black market for a fraction of the price, which they believe could damage the brand's image.

Doug Stephens, owner of Toronto-based consultancy Retail Prophet, explained: 'If I'm Kenneth Cole, I don't want my stuff sold down the street for $5 a unit if it sells for $85 on the rack.' But he said that the practice leaves a bad taste in customers' mouths. 'Every time a story like this crops up, consumer sentiment against the store is just overwhelming,' he said. 'People walk out and wonder, are we really so rich as a nation that we throw perfectly good stuff in the garbage?'
Victoria's Secret's policy of destroying returned clothes follows a series of scandals exposing retailers' wasteful practices. Last year H&M came under fire after New York students discovered cut-up merchandise discarded in a dumpster behind a store.

And while Target regularly donates rejected stock to charity, Macy's was forced to admit that though much returned stock goes back on sale, some items are destroyed.

This story was of particular interest to me, because a few short months ago, I did another blog, exposing many retailers who took returned lingerie (specifically panties) and swimwear and returned it to the selling stock. The media called it retailer's "dirty little secret." I was disgusted by it myself. So what is a retailor to do? I understand that the exclusivity of the line has to be protected, but I seem to remember that Victoria's Secret had a strict policy of cutting the tags off their overstock products before reselling to others. I don't understand why they couldn't apply that philosophy with some of their clothing returns. Perhaps they can repurpose them themselves and with one specific charity, such as a breast cancer association, to bolster the company's reputation, go green and still protect their interests. Is this the answer? I don't know. And I also don't know if someone would feel comfortable shopping at Victoria's Secret if they didn't have this policy in place. I wouldn't want to purchase an intimate item that may have been used.

Tell me what you think? Is their a right or wrong answer here? Are the conflicting news stories just making it harder for the company to conduct business?
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