Are You a Lulu Lemming?

Lululemon reported a huge profit last quarter, which begs the question: Have customers been “brainwashed” into buying overpriced athletic gear?

Via Lululemon's Flickr page

We don’t get all CNBC on Be Well Philly, well, ever. But when I gasped as I read that Lululemon posted a $74 million profit last quarter, that it’s valued at over $10 billion, and that it does more in sales per square foot than Neiman Marcus, I figured this was worth sharing.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal probed what it dubbed Lululemon’s “secret sauce” to find out what makes the company so successful; then business commentary website Business Insider took the ball and ran with it, delving into “how Lululemon brainwashes women into spending $98 on sweatpants.” To that end, argues writer Ashley Lutz, Lululemon has built its empire on the following marketing tactic: “Put simply,” she writes, “it found a savvy way to exploit women’s deepest insecurities.”

Those would be our unfortunate penchant for comparing ourselves to other women, and our desire to do anything—and therefore, pay anything—to look good in front of our peers. Which is why, so this argument goes, so many of us are willing to fork over $98 for pants that squeeze and push and pull uncooperative derrières into yogic perfection, even if we’ve never set foot in a yoga studio (and, possibly, never plan to).

Sad? Yes. Absurd? Maybe not.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, Lululemon employs a scarcity tactic when stocking its shelves in order to ensure that almost everything sells out, without having to resort to sales. “Our guest knows that there’s a limited supply, and it creates these fanatical shoppers,” CEO Christine Day told WSJ.

Then there’s its on-the-ground approach to market research. Day supposedly spends hours a week in Lululemon stores, observing customers’ buying habits and listening to complaints. She apparently pulled the plug on a sweater line that debuted last fall after she heard repeated complaints that the sleeves were too tight.

Then there’s this bit of Big Brother intel:

Lulu also trains its workers to eavesdrop, placing the clothes-folding tables on the sales floor near the fitting rooms rather than in a back room so that workers can overhear complaints.

Kinda creepy, right?

So here’s what I’m wondering: Have you ever flinched when forking over nearly 100 bucks for a pair of pants you’ll sweat in later? Or $50 for a sports bra said to keep your girls perky while you run? Do you think there’s some truth to the notion that we women have become Lulu lemmings of sorts, willing to pay whatever it takes to keep our friends from judging us—bank account be damned? Share in the comments.

  • Jessica

    You know, for a long time I didn’t buy Lulu stuff. I only own a few items, but what I do have I LOVE. Personally, it’s not because I think it makes me look better than other brands (my butt looks the same in all my pants), but because I feel like they do a good job of things like wicking, anti-chafing, etc. I have never had a problem with their products not working like they are advertised to on the tag.

    However, I will admit that I bought a couple things from there just because I thought they were “cute” – a scarf and a sweatshirt that I do not use for workouts but just for lounging clothes.

    My personal opinion is that as long as you like it, feel comfortable in it, it works like its supposed to then you’ll get your money’s worth because you’ll wear it a lot. In the past, I’ve bought “cheaper” brands only to have them deteriorate on me after a few wears or cause issues like chafing (which is never fun).

    Do I think they could be a little cheaper? Of course. But then again, when I look at prices of the gear I wear, everything is astronomical.

  • Debra

    I wear Lululemon but I like other brands as well. It’s a savvy shopper that spreads the wealth. The same Lululemon freaks have the same robotic kids that only wear Abercrombie. Who, if you read about their sales strategies are on par with Lululemon, loud music, spraying perfume on you, limited quantities… Blah blah blah. If I’m going to spend the $100 on something it’s nice to be different and stand out from the crowd with a foreign brand or a steal from the outlets. If you can’t have an original thought then stick to what you know.

  • a former Lulu

    I am disappointed this article didn’t discuss the issues surrounds the lulu clothes and their origin in sweatshops in Cambodia. 75% markup on everything, no wonder they are able to turn the profits they are posting.

  • KT

    I don’t and wouldn’t buy any of their expensive clothes, but their non-slip yoga mat really did make a huge difference from my $25 generic one.

    Also, $50 for a strong supportive sports bra (like the article mentioned) is relatively cheap for us larger chested ladies.

  • ryan

    i agree that lulu pants are not worth the price but their tops are hands down the most comfortable and supportive athletic wear i ever owned.

  • http://herecomesgina.com Gina

    When Lululemon first came to Philly, I was definitely taken aback by the high prices, but I’ve transformed into a regular customer over the past four years. There’s a huge void of (relatively) high quality, simple workout apparel available for women. As someone who works out 6-7 times a week, I’m willing to invest in attractive workout clothes that won’t fall apart after a few washes. Only Athleta, Gap and Lululemon have lived up to that test for me.

    That said, I acknowledge that the Lululemon prices are tough to swallow when you consider the ridiculous markup on the stuff.

    And I think the “Big Brother” approach to listening to customer complaints and making changes accordingly is a savvy business strategy, not creepy.

  • Rachel Ezekiel-Fishbein

    I’m so glad you wrote this article. LuluLemon is incredibly overpriced, and for this mom of 3 who is approaching 50, not a great fit. I’ve bought a few great jackets there on sale, but generally walk out feeling discouraged about my size 8 body. I found that Lucy is much more my cup of tea, price wise and cut-wise. I’m also an Athleta fan. But my biggest find was just getting ribbed tanks for yoga at Gap.

  • Lisa

    I tried to resist the Lulu temptation for years, especially working at a gym on the Main Line… I did not want to be “that girl”. However, one of the women who takes my class absolutely swears by this athletic gear so I took the plunge, and there is really nothing like this workout gear!

    There is lighter fabric where we all sweat so I not longer have pit stains running all the way to my knees, and they are cute and fabulous to boot! I am fortunate (or unfortunate) to have a large chest, so the bras I need are always on sale anyway. It is a fabulous company, and I wish them all the best!