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.

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