What to buy one of my best friends for her birthday? I’m always trying to think of something different and this year, as I had been party to her husband’s surprise arrangements of a trip to Venice, the idea of a little something to spice up their romantic nights seemed a brainwave!!!

Where to go? Buying on line is a convenient option but I wanted it for the weekend so didn’t want to run the risk of having to return it and anyway I like shopping and it’s nice to see and feel what you’re buying. Agent Provocateur and Ann Summers were the two names that came to mind but not wanting to spend too much, Ann Summers seemed the best option so off to the Trafford Centre, the most convenient place for me.

I’d forgotten that the sales were on but as soon as I saw the Ann Summers windows it was obvious that there would be some good reductions. Because of this I didn’t expect the shop to be looking at its best but my impression when I walked in was that the interior was looking rather tired and dated – I’d not been in an Ann Summers for a long while and the store’s design had not changed.

Sale signs dominated the shop and an assistant quickly approached me as I stood getting my bearings and asked if she could help. I told her what I was looking for and she showed me various options – not discussing any of the details of the ranges more just showing me where things were and which lines were in the sale. There weren’t clear signs indicating which were new/non sale stock. When I asked her a question about a particular sale line that caught my eye the assistant almost withdrew and said to have a look around and find her to ask anything further.

I selected one of the babydoll’s, although I wasn’t 100% happy that I’d made the right choice. The assistant who originally spoke to me was quick to offer to put it at the till, which she did whilst I looked around the rest of the shop.

I had a good look around – I got confused as to the difference between the Ann Summers range and the Knickerbox ones – they seemed mixed up around the shop and both types of hangers were used regardless of the relevance of the stock. The front of the shop was filled with lingerie and the back with the more risqué stock – however I discovered a lovely navy babydoll set at the back of the store facing the back wall – with some other pretty lingerie on the same fixture. I couldn’t see any reason for their position in the adult section. Much of the stock is fun and quality isn’t of primary importance. However I was disappointed that there wasn’t more choice of better made and nicer fabrics in the less exotic bra and knickers’ ranges.

I finally found a babydoll top that I liked and was approached by a second assistant who started to talk about my choice. She was really enthusiastic – told me she had one and that she’d bought the g-string to wear underneath and that it looked great. She also said that she was going to get the short style brief as they were brilliant to sleep in. Her manner was infectious and she took me back to show me where the extra items were. I couldn’t resist and so selected a pair as well.

At the counter whilst I was being served I asked the assistant about the difference between the Knickerbox and the Ann Summers brands. She told me that the Knickerbox range was the prettier range with softer colours whilst Ann Summers was bolder using satins and stronger colours. I took this to mean that the Ann Summers was more obviously sexy, whilst Knickerbox more discreet whilst still being sexy.

I left thinking that next time I was buying pretty lingerie I would visit Ann Summers to have a look at the Knickerbox range, as it wasn’t just the erotic that was in the store!

Shopper Verdict: We love Anne Summers for what it has done as a brand; making the saucy and the erotic available on the high street for all to enjoy. As a brand it has stand-out-ability and has the great brand equity of being an established retailer with real heritage, going back over thirty years under the current owners. However we think that the brand is looking a little tired and there is insufficient differentiation between the Ann Summers range and the Knickerbox range, or, put another way, we think there should be stronger retail branding for both brands, especially as American retailer Victoria’s Secret aims to take a bite out of Ann Summers as it rolls out more stores in the UK! We think Ann Summers are missing some branding tricks and we’d love to help.
For more details contact: graham@themarketcreative.com