Stretched Thin: Lululemon Profits Suffer after PR Disasters
December 18, 2013
December 18, 2013
It’s been a tough year for athletic wear company Lululemon. It started in March, when thousands of pants were recalled after it was revealed that the material was inadvertently see-through. In the aftermath, Lululemon produced a press release that stated the defect was partially due to women wearing the incorrect size and suggested they get fit by in-store “educators.” Later that summer, it came to light that Lululemon stocks larger sizes less frequently and displays them in inconvenient locations in stores, in addition to only stocking up to size twelve (for reference, the average American woman is a size 14).
Then, when Lululemon Founder and former CEO Chip Wilson was asked about the quality issues in a November interview with Bloomberg Insider, he responded that “some women’s bodies just don’t work for the pants.”
Now the negative attention has come back to bite Lululemon as CFO John Currie admitted on Thursday: the company’s PR struggles have negatively affected business. So what are the end-of-year takeaways from this? And can the company recover?
Most importantly, like we’ve said time and time again, know and listen to your audience. Over the years, Lululemon has cultivated a strong brand that emphasizes inner peace, self-acceptance, and athleticism. Thus Wilson’s disparaging comments and the company’s sizing policies are even more incongruent with the image Lululemon holds – and with its customers’ ideals.
Additionally, recognize your mistakes and respond genuinely to criticism. Wilson apologized for the Bloomberg interview – sort of. Rather than apologizing for the harm caused to his company, Wilson needed an apology that showed his understanding of consumers’ critiques.
Going forward, Lululemon will have to demonstrate true willingness to amend its ways if they want to win back their fan base. Wilson has resigned as chairman, which is a positive and necessary first step, but they’ll have to do more. A statement, acknowledging the mistakes Lululemon made this year and outlining their plans going forward in a way that highlights commitment to change, would be effective.
But it’s likely, given the expanse of negative coverage, they’ll have to go beyond that. Like Abercrombie & Fitch (who suffered their own PR disasters this year), Lululemon should begin an initiative that illustrates genuine commitment to their ideals of self-love and fitness. Maybe a photo campaign to show health and happiness at every size?