Victoria’s Secret’s New Site Speaks Spanish—Sort Of

Victoria’s Secret this past fall quietly launched a Spanish-language mirror site. The lingerie merchant hopes the new site will better serve its Spanish-speaking customers in the U.S. and around the world, says Steven Goldsmith, executive vice president of Victoria’s Secret Direct Internet.

“This will help us reach an audience we already know loves the brand and products, “Goldsmith says, adding that the Spanish-language site has been well received by its Spanish-speaking customers. But he admits the site is a work in progress, and that the company plans to make improvements to it this spring.

Some experts in marketing to Hispanics say that Victoria’s Secret might start with the site’s Spanish translation. “It’s more ‘Spanglish’ than it is Spanish,” says Renato Beninatto, chief connector at international business research and consulting firm Common Sense Advisory.

Victoria’s Spanish-language site indicates that the coding was done by Website translation service MotionPoint. And MotionPoint “is like an overlay for the Website—it’s a tool that will work well on translations and content management, but not affect the shop database,” says Beninatto.

So that means the product pages are translated, but the actual products are still in English. And this can be confusing according to Nataly Kelly, Common Sense Advisory’s cultural communications strategist, who had worked in the past as a translator in a Victoria’s Secret call center.

Beninatto says Kelly told him the number-one complaint the merchant’s Spanish-speaking customers had was the knowledge of product content. Customers frequently called to return products because they made of materials the customer didn’t like or were allergic to.

And the site translations, in some places, fall flat, Beninatto says. He had four co-workers look at the site.

The first thing they all noticed was the incorrect translation of “swim” as a tab. It is translated into “nadar,” which is the verb “to swim,” as opposed to the word “playa” which would indicate something worn to the beach.
The translation of “check order status” is read in Spanish “social status,” Beninatto says.

On the plus side, Beninatto says, Victoria’s Secret’s Spanish-language site allows viewers to toggle between the English- and Spanish-language sites seamlessly, which is a good thing.

Lee Vann, CEO/ founder of Hispanic marketing consultancy Captura Group, agrees. Overall, Vann is forgiving on some of the language issues: “It’s pretty much a straight translation, and the imagery is all the same in both language sites, which should help out with some of the language barriers,” he says.

The U.S. Hispanic market is not an easy one to crack, especially when you consider that translations for Spanish-speakers in the U.S. are different for Mexican-Americans living in the Southwest, Cuban-Americans in Florida, and Puerto Ricans in the New York area.

From the business sense, Vann says MotionPoint’s simple translation makes perfect sense. “There are 20 million Spanish-speaking Hispanics online in the United States, and most of them have indicated they are comfortable buying from English-speaking sites,” he says.

One thing that may make Victoria’s Secret more multiculturally relevant is its choice of models, Vann says. He points out that the brand traditionally has used models from many different ethnic backgrounds, which could also help Victoria’s Secret gain footing both in the U.S. and in international markets.

Victoria’s Secret Cuts Circ to Curb DC Woes

Problems with its new distribution center continue to plague Victoria’s Secret Direct. Integration issues in the DC are keeping the women’s apparel merchant from meeting expected volume, and it is reducing catalog circulation to suppress demand. As a result, its sales could fall by as much as $150 million in the fourth quarter, according to officials of parent company Limited Brands.

The Reynoldsburg, OH-based DC, which opened in August, includes such bells and whistles as high-bay reserve storage capability, dynamic location picking systems, high-speed multiple staging conveyor systems, and hand-held and laser-reading scanning technology. But ramping up the facility to full capacity has taken longer than anticipated, and the business is suffering.

Sales at Victoria’s Secret Direct plunged 64% in August because of shipping delays. The division rebounded in September as revenue grew 27% and October sales rose 5%. But Limited Brands says October sales were driven by record-breaking redemptions of a $25 discount apology offer sent to customers who experienced problems due to the DC operational issues.

Tammy Roberts Myers, Limited Brands’ associate vice president of external communications, says the company has “taken steps to control demand in order to protect our customers’ experience with Victoria’s Secret Direct.” Those steps include reducing catalog and e-mail circulation; getting rid of shipping incentives; eliminating the November clearance Web window; and cutting other planned promotions and marketing related to Victoria’s Secret Direct business.

“We have not quantified our reductions externally,” Myers adds. “The duration of these changes will depend on demand and our ability to take care of our customers going forward as we make improvements in our new distribution center.”

Limited Brands posted a 48% percent drop in its third-quarter profit as interest expense ate into the retailer’s bottom line. Company officials informed investors on Nov. 20 that they recorded earnings of $12.1 million, or 3 cents a share, in the quarter ended Nov. 3, compared with $23.5 million in the same period last year. Third-quarter sales fell 9%, to $1.92 billion, compared to $2.11 billion in the same period last year. Same-store sales decreased 3%.

Limited Brands’ executive vice president and chief accounting officer Martyn Redgrave said in a Nov. 20 conference call that “the hard change over of the new integrated processes, mechanical equipment, and IP systems is taking us longer than expected to stabilize. We appear to have hit a limit in how much we can process through the new center and we need to be able to substantially increase our throughput to serve the volumes that we expect for holiday in the January semi-annual sale.”

What exactly are the problems with the new DC? “The issue is the unique combination and integration of the systems and processes we are using in the new DC, against the high unit velocity, SKU diversity, and scale in our direct business,” Myers says. “No one has done it in exactly this way on this scale with this particular mix of applications.”

Victoria’s Secret Direct Q4 Sales Up 15%

Fourth-quarter sales for Victoria’s Secret Direct, the catalog/Web division of Columbus, OH-based Limited Brands, increased 15%, to $417.4 million for the 13 weeks ended Jan. 28. Combined direct and retail sales for women’s apparel brand Victoria’s Secret reached $1.58 billion for the quarter, up 3% from the fourth quarter of fiscal 2004.

Limited Brands’ total sales for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2005 were $3.54 billion, up 6% from the previous year. Net income soared 36%, to $519.2 million, compared to $382.5 million last year. The 2005 net sales are $30.4 million higher than previously reported sales of $3.511 billion due to the recognition of “gift card breakage.”

For the year, Limited Brands’ net income was $683.3 million, down 3% from $705.4 million in 2004. Net sales increased 3%, to $9.7 billion.

Victoria’s Secret Gets Greener

Five months after San Francisco-based environmental activist organization ForestEthics launched a campaign against Victoria’s Secret, the cataloger has begun mailing clearance books printed on 100% recycled paper.

The 60-page slim-jim clearance catalogs, printed on recycled paper composed of 80% postconsumer content, hit mailboxes in early March. They come nearly a year after ForestEthics first listed the women’s apparel merchant on its catalog “blacklist” in May 2004. In October the organization zeroed in on the company as the focus of its paper campaign, says ForestEthics director of communications Kristi Chester Vance.

But the decision to print the 24 million clearance books it mails annually on recycled stock is not the result of pressure from ForestEthics, says Anthony Hebron, a spokesperson for Victoria’s Secret parent company, Columbus, OH-based Limited Brands. “Early last year when we first met with them, we told them that we were moving in that direction,” he explains. “We’re just fulfilling a commitment we already said we had made.”

Vance applauds Victoria’s Secret for taking this first step, but she says that the clearance books account for just 10% of the 395 million catalogs the company mails each year. “We’re very happy with the step taken to put the clearance catalog on this very good paper, but until they address the paper [they are using] for the 90% of the catalogs, not just the 10%, and meet the demands of the campaign, it will continue,” Vance says. ForestEthics’ campaign includes protests organized outside Victoria’s Secret stores nationwide.

The organization wants Victoria’s Secret to stop buying paper sourced from endangered Canadian and U.S. forests; to disclose a timetable to achieve 50% postconsumer recycled content in five years; to buy paper only from suppliers that have received environmental certification from the Forest Stewardship Council; and to reduce its overall paper use.

“We want Victoria’s Secret to become the poster child of environmental responsibility,” Vance says. “What we don’t want to do is make demands that are impossible to fulfill. We want them to profit and be successful.”

Hebron says that the cataloger/retailer is focusing on realistic goals. “From our standpoint, we have been good environmental stewards moving in the right direction, and we believe that people looking at this objectively see that we’re doing the right things, making sure of the feasibility and availability [of the recycled paper] rather than just saying what we’re going to do,and then not following through,” he says.

Victoria’s Secret is testing recycled stock for its nonclearance books, says Hebron, who declines to discuss the details of the tests. “We won’t release internal goals at this point,” he says. “When we’re there, then [we’ll talk about it]. Like I said, it’s action, not words.”

In addition to its limited use of recycled stock, Hebron says that the public should take note of its environmental profile as a whole. According to the company’s corporate Website, each year it recycles 8,750 tons of cardboard from its distribution centers, 714 tons of office paper, and 50,300 pounds of metal, among other recycled materials.

Last spring Hebron and two Limited executives met with ForestEthics executive director Todd Paglia and then-paper campaign director Evan Thomas Paul at a San Francisco restaurant to discuss the organization’s demands. Since that initial meeting, the Limited and ForestEthics continue to have phone meetings and exchange e-mails, communicating directly as well as through a professional mediator hired by the Limited.

On Valentine’s Day, ForestEthics hand-delivered more than 30 dozen organic roses and a life-size teddy bear to Limited headquarters. Vance says that the intention of the “gift” was to remind the company of the organization’s dissatisfaction with its practices. ForestEthics is still planning to target Victoria’s Secret stores as part of its “National Day of Action” on April 14.