This week, everyone is talking about lululemon’s new elevated price points, namely for their pants. It’s causing quite a lot of drama, and many people are feeling fed up with lulu entirely as a result. In my mind, there are two things contributing to the price change drama: how lululemon went about raising their pants prices and what prices lululemon is now charging.
This might take a while, so strap yourselves in.
For a little bit of background, this whole saga started several months ago when rolldown wunder unders and printed wunder unders began to creep up in price. For quite some time, the price for all wunder under crops was $72, and the price for pants was $82. With the introduction of the rolldown style that many people instantly loved, lululemon started tacking on an extra $10 for the feature. On top of that, they also started adding $10 to the price for any patterned pant. Those upcharges would stack on top of each other, so if you wanted a patterned rolldown pair, the price would shoot up to $92. These print upcharges bled over into other pants and crops styles, such as inspire crops and seasonal items.
At the time that this happened, people were pretty indignant and thought it was unfair to charge a $20 difference for items that are very similar. Many people insisted that bottoms pricing should be consistent, as it had always been before.
As I described in this week’s upload post, lululemon just debuted their new pants line. This was a pretty big overhaul, including one new fabric, several new styles, a new categorization and marketing strategy, and of course new prices. Pants pricing is now consistent within styles; there is no longer an upcharge for prints or rise. The catch is that all wunder under crops are now $88, and pants are $98, both of which are increases around 20%. The sticker shock doesn’t stop there: new styles range up to $148.
Side note: under this pricing model, printed rolldown WUs actually go down by $4. Of course lulu’s bottom line is still coming out ahead since most other styles are up by $6-$16, but it’s worth pointing out. A couple of other styles, such as the pace rival crops and beyond boundaries pants, were also slightly reduced in price.
My knee-jerk reaction was to say that lululemon is being short-sighted by making strategic decisions that clearly piss off many of their long-time fans. The price hikes seem egregious and arbitrary, which has made many customers feel frustrated, ripped off, and even betrayed. No one’s exactly feeling endeared to the brand right now. Granted, inflation and rising costs are a reality of businesses of all stripes, but surely lulu could’ve found a way to strategize price increases and keep the company healthy without enraging fans.
That said, lululemon is no stranger to bad press. They have been caught up in so many controversies over the years that it’s made me wonder if they intentionally seek controversy, perhaps driven by the old adage that “all publicity is good publicity”. Lulu has always striven to be on the leading edge, and they’ve shown they’re not too worried about pissing people off in the name of being avant garde. Perhaps they realized people would be mad but simply don’t care about that collateral.
So that begs the question: in the grand scheme of things, is it really going to hurt them? Are people really going to stop buying altogether?
It’s worth noting that lulu’s prices aren’t actually that outlandish compared to the rest of the luxury activewear market. A quick gander in the pants section of Carbon38 will quickly demonstrate that lulu’s pricing is not an anomaly. Even extra-large brands have cranked up their prices on some items, like these printed but otherwise largely basic Nike tights that sport a $150 price tag.
Lululemon was a major pioneer in this luxury activewear market. They almost single-handedly made paying hefty prices for yoga leggings seem normal and mainstream. They convinced an entire market of women that paying hand over fist for workout clothing is worth it. And now new brands have entered the market with something new to offer customers at ever-increasing price points. Ultracor’s tights hover around either side of $200. Michi’s leggings range from $125-$195. This may sound crazy to some of you, but they’re selling! It’s working! These $420 Lucas Hugh leggings sold out on Carbon38 the first time around.
In the realm of upscale workout wear, why would lulu want to be left behind? This is the house that they built. Lulu has in many ways become the BMW to other brands’ Ferrari, and while they’re still solidly in the luxury category, I can’t imagine they like being relegated to the lower end. If they want to continue being thought of as a high-end brand and as an industry leader, their prices need to reflect that, regardless of whether some of their fans see it as worth it or not.
On a similar note, I’ve seen several people lamenting that lulu is now not affordable for “regular people”. But from lulu’s perspective, I really don’t think they want to be a brand for the average Jane anyway. They want to be exclusive and aspirational. They want to be just a little bit out of reach, because that’s what makes a status symbol what it is (and let’s be honest: many people definitely see lulu as a status symbol, and I’m pretty sure lulu likes it that way).
While this may sound snooty and greedy, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that kind of exclusivity is what lulu wants. I’m not saying I condone their business choices, but I am saying let’s call a spade a spade. From their perspective, then, keeping pace with the luxury activewear market is logical from a business perspective, even if it stirs the outrage pot with a segment of their customer base. They win some, they lose some.
Personally, I have to say that I’ve gotten used to lulu regularly pulling stunts that have left me feeling frustrated. Although I still get excited about some new lulu, the brand itself hasn’t exactly had my undying affection or exclusively loyalty for a while now. So while I’m definitely rolling my eyes about the whole thing, there are a couple other reasons why I’m not flying the “omg, boycott lulu” flag.
First, higher prices incentivize me to be more selective with my purchases. As someone with a closet already full of workout clothes, that’s not a bad thing. Now that prices are higher, the standard to which I hold my gear will have to be higher, too. If we’re talking about $128 bucks on the line, I’ll definitely expect a level of performance and general satisfaction much higher than a pair that only cost me $72. If that means returning more and buying less, that is a-ok with me. It also means what I buy will (most likely) only be items I truly love and am happy with. And, I’ll be less hesitant about using their “we stand by our gear” product guarantee for things that don’t work out, since at an elevated price point, I definitely feel that I’m paying for that guarantee.
And the truth is, I’ve already paid price-hike equivalent prices in certain circumstances. I’ve spent well over retail on speed shorts on more than one occasion. You better believe people would go insane if lulu started charging $80 for speed shorts, and yet that’s a price I’ve happily paid for used shorts. They were the shorts I wanted, and they were worth it to me because I see those particular shorts as having no substitute. I’m not the only one, either. The lululemon aftermarket has repeatedly shown that when people see value in a particular item, fans will crack open their wallets and pay what it takes. For me, lulu isn’t the only brand, either. I’ll pay high prices for products from any brand that I really love and feel is worth it.
This isn’t to diminish the quality issue and pretend like everything lulu makes is wonderful. I will be the first to tell you that a lot of what they sell is not worth it. But in the bigger picture, it seems that their hit-or-miss quality standard is good enough that people are still buying. Sadly, for their shareholders and their bottom line, “good enough” is what matters.
And it’s not all bad. There are still things lulu makes that I truly have found no substitute for. While I don’t exactly worship the ground lulu walks on (to say the least), as long as they continue to deliver the occasional product that checks all my boxes for fit, quality, style, and function, I will continue to buy. I love a good deal as much as the next girl, but when it comes to the things I truly love, and the things that are truly without substitute, I will look for a way to make it happen. Does this mean I can afford to place big orders every week on upload? No, of course not, but I never have anyway.
In the end, is it irritating that lulu has pulled this price hike stunt? Of course it is. Fans have every right to feel a bit upset about that. But for me personally, when I take a step back, the effect it has on my purchasing choices are actually not that major. The prices may adjust the number of things I purchase by a little bit, but fundamentally, they don’t change my attitude. I buy what’s worth it and leave what’s not. It’s as simple as that.
Feel free to chime in if you have thoughts on the new prices or on anything I’ve written here. As always, these are just my opinions and you’re free to think I’m full of crap. :)