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How Victoria’s Secret, Nordstrom Came To Opposite Decisions

Written by Evan Schuman
May 21st, 2013

Sometimes, doing the right thing can mean saying no to what shoppers might think is the right thing. Victoria’s Secret (NYSE:LTD) recently found itself in the middle of a challenging issue when the daughter of a breast cancer survivor started campaigning vigorously—including helping to get 120,000 signatures on a petition—to get the apparel retailer to start offering mastectomy bras.

The truth is that Victoria’s Secret has been a longtime champion of cancer issues, having donated more than $1.6 million to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society to fund breast cancer research, education, screening and treatment. It’s also donated some $10 million (over two years) to fund cancer research at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, said ABCNews.

But the company was in the awkward position of knowing that it couldn’t do mastectomy bras in the proper way. As Victoria’s Secret put it in an E-mailed statement: “Through our research, we have learned that fitting and selling mastectomy bras—in the right way, in a way that is beneficial to women—is complicated and truly a science. As a result, we believe that the best way for us to make an impact for our customers is to continue funding cancer research.”

One Victoria’s Secret source elaborated on the process. First off, the store can’t simply sell such specialized bras. They need to be fitted and customized. The fitting alone? “A good one takes an hour to an hour-and-a-half, if the shopper is to have it fit properly,” the official said.

Then there’s the training of associates, a training that is lightyears more complex than any piece of apparel that the chain sells today. “We found that the certification process alone required more than 500 hours of fitting and training. These are considered medical devices,” the Victoria’s source said. Given that it’s a medical device, there is also lots of highly specialized paperwork, “such as billing Medicare and insurance companies. Honest to goodness, to do it right for women, we couldn’t do it in a way that would be right for them,” the source said.

Instead, Victoria’s Secret has opted to support the James Cancer Clinic at Ohio State. They have a program with boutiques right inside the medical center, shops with trained personnel to handle the fittings professionally.

Interestingly enough, the case for doing—or not doing—mastectomy bras is best illustrated by comparing Victoria’s Secret—which has opted to not do it—with the largest U.S. chain today that is doing it: Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN).


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