The untold truth of Bath & Body Works

With nearly 1,700 stores in North America as well as additional locations internationally, Bath & Body Works is one of the world’s top specialty retailers. With so many different items to choose from including fragrances, skincare, body care, hair care, home fragrances and a men’s line in hundreds of different scents, it’s easy to understand why the brand dominates the market.

While you may love Bath & Body Works, you’ll be surprised to discover how much you don’t know. The brand has evolved in a completely different way than most people probably anticipated when it first became popular. But has it been all for the best? You will be amazed to discover the untold truth about Bath & Body Works. Spoiler alert: It hasn’t been all juniper and plumeria.

Bath & Body Works was created as a Body Shop knockoff

Racked reported that the Bath & Body Works line was first sold at Express clothing stores before opening up their first 1990 flagship location near Boston, Massachusetts in Cambridge. Going for a wholesome image, the brand marketed itself as a “straight from the heartland.”

But the concept wasn’t as American and pure as it sounds. The brand was essentially a rip-off of British retailer, The Body Shop. According to the same Racked article, they even copied the store’s signature green leaf logo. In fact, the packaging was so similar, The Body Shop filed a lawsuit against Bath & Body Works in 1991. They won and the company was forced to change their packaging. According to a former employee, as a result of the lawsuit, the company debuted a new gingham label. She also said that the stores were also decorated with wooden barrels to keep with their heartland theme.

The parent company of Bath & Body Works sells lots of underwear all over the world

You might not realize that the parent company of Bath & Body Works is L Brands, which currently owns famed lingerie retailer Victoria’s Secret, and the lesser known La Senza. La Senza sells intimates and lingerie at a lower price point than Victoria’s Secret. The brand originated in Canada with over 300 stores in that country in addition to many international locations. L Brands also owns Pink, which is an offshoot of Victoria’s Secret, as well as the upscale accessories boutique, Henri Bendel.

The company was founded by a mythical woman named Kate

Bath & Body Works was originally sold at The Limited, however, the two brands were rather mismatched. In an attempt to strengthen their image, Forbes reported that executives created a fictional character named Kate who personified what Bath & Body Works was trying to establish.

A former store employee divulged the origin story of the mythical founder, as it was told to her by her former manager: “Kate grew up on a farm in the Midwest and loved to make her own beauty products using the natural ingredients she found around the farm. She went to college and majored in biology so she could learn more about the beneficial properties of these natural ingredients. When she graduated, she decided to open up her own store to sell her homemade, natural beauty products. Thus [the store] was born!”

She also said that during the “Kate” era, store employees were told they should always ask themselves what Kate would do when it came to everything involving their jobs. If Kate wouldn’t have done something, they should not do it either. Stores were also decorated to resemble Kate’s house.

Bath & Body Works once carried a variety of upscale merchandise from other brands

In 2005, Bath & Body Works began to integrate a variety of external brands at the store. It began with the parent company’s acquisition of Slatkin & Co, which, Vanity Fair reported, was an upscale home fragrance line popular with celebrities including Vera Wang, Elton John, and Princess Diana.

Columbus Business First reported that 2008 was a big year for the company and they began to bring to integrate outside lines into the store. Racked stated this this included skincare from Caudalie, Murad, luxury hair care line Frederic Fekkai, as well as body care lines C.O. Bigelow and True Blue Spa. They also included Patricia Wexler’s line of skincare products. Ultimately, most of these brands were phased out completely. Just three brands from that era remain in 2017: True Blue Spa, C.O. Bigelow and Wexler.

Their scents are marketed to connect with your emotions

Racked also reported that so many Bath & Body Works scents and names are designed to tap into your emotions and associate a feeling to connect you to that product. While this obviously doesn’t apply to classic fragrances such as Cucumber Melon, Cherry Blossom and Wild Honeysuckle, it does apply to so many of the seasonal offerings, particularly the food based scents.

Take the Gingerbread Latte, Winter Candy Apple, Eucalyptus Tea, Lovely Lemon Meringue and Peach Bellini fragrances for example. They remind you of happy holiday times and delicious treats. On the other hand, scents such as Bali Blue Surf, Wakiki Beach Coconut and Fiji Pineapple Palm feel as if they were created to remind you of a dream vacation on a tropical island.

Some products are branded based on things that don’t have an actual fragrance (unless you know what wishes smell like). Examples of this include Hello Beautiful, Sweater Weather, Magic In The Air, A Thousand Wishes, and Cashmere Glow.

The company brings back old favorites for a limited period of time

Ask anyone who grew up in the 90’s and they’ll probably tell you a story about leaking Plumeria body spray all over their backpack or about that girl who always smelled like Sun-Ripened Raspberry. Over the years, Bath & Body Works discontinued many of their iconic fragrances to bring new ones in.

While those scents were gone, they were never forgotten. According to Glamour, the brand re-launched some old favorites in 2015, including Country Apple, Cucumber Melon, Juniper Breeze, Pearberry, Plumeria, and White Tea & Ginger. The idea turned out to be a good one and the following year, Glamour also announced they were bringing back more old favorites from the vault including Peony, Sun-Ripened Raspberry, Freesia, Brown Sugar and Fig, Mango Mandarin, and Cotton Blossom. These products were available as shower gels, body crèmes and body lotions as well as fine fragrance mists, which are were known as body splashes back in the day.

The store has a very lenient return policy

Bath & Body Works guarantees their products 100%, offering full refunds for absolutely every item they sell. However, several former store employees I spoke with say that many customers take advantage of this policy, much to their dismay. Even returning completely empty bottles is not entirely uncommon.

But that can sometimes be the least of the store’s problems according to a former associate, who wishes to remain anonymous: “One woman brought all these nasty, used bath poufs in. She wanted to exchange them for new ones because she [said that she] didn’t like them.” Another former employee, who also wished to remain anonymous, shared that candles are frequently returned, “People used to come in all the time with a fully burnt candle and say they wanted a refund because they didn’t like the scent.”

But, not all returns are unethical. Some are downright hilarious. A different former retail employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that some customers just aren’t the smartest, “A woman returned some body butter because it didn’t taste good on her toast. The cashier had to explain it was lotion, not actual butter.”

Bath & Body Works isn’t big on traditional advertising tactics

Sister brand Victoria’s Secret is known for their bold racy ads, featuring sexy models. However, Racked reported that Bath & Body Works has a completely different strategy. They are very low key. If you have never seen a Bath & Body Works ad, it’s for a very specific reason. The company does not think that is the best way to promote their products.

Instead of paying for advertising, the brand chooses to spend their ad budget marketing directly to their customers. Every time someone makes a purchase, their data and contact information is collected. The purpose of this is to send targeted ads via snail mail and email, as well as coupons. Knowing they are getting the best possible price keeps customers coming back to shop and profits up for L Brands.

One former employee I spoke with even divulged, “They track how many people come in to the number of sales they get.”

Retail employees generally become immune to the smell of the store

Anyone who has ever walked into a Bath & Body Works retail location knows the moment that you step through the doors, you will be immediately be hit with a distinctive and overwhelming odor, which is a combination of every single fragrance. If you’ve ever wondered how employees deal the smell, the answer might just surprise you. I spoke with Maleeka Hollaway, who worked at Bath & Body Works for a year. She said that “The scent is only overpowering for the first ten minutes or so. Once you get settled, it goes away.” She continued, “I know of plenty of people who won’t go near a Bath & Body Works store because they get immediate headaches. I, on the other hand, would cover myself in a scent as soon as I clocked in and then with another scent before I left. It’s really a personal preference kind of deal.”

When I spoke with Victoria Cameron, who was employed at the store from 2005-2010, she told me that it was inconsiderate shoppers who contributed the most to the smell, “It was the worst when customers would spray several of the concentrated room sprays, not caring how strong they are. The combined smells would stick around for hours and give the staff headaches, though I don’t remember anyone quitting as a result of the smells.”

​You rarely have to pay full price for anything

A former employee revealed in a Reddit AMA that Bath & Body Works will always give you a coupon, as long as you ask — even if you aren’t being entirely truthful. “There are always $10 off $30 coupons we can use,” she said. “If you don’t have one, all you have to do is go in, fill up your bag with $30 worth of stuff, go to someone and say you had completed a survey you thought there was a coupon but you forgot it. If they say no, say ‘oh well,’ and put the stuff down, [then] they will almost always say ‘oh okay I can give it to you this once.’ They don’t want to lose a sale.”

The Krazy Coupon Lady has found tons of coupon hacks. For example, you can use coupons on sale items, but valid coupons and sales don’t overlap most of the time. However, because there is a three days grace period on expired coupons, she explains that you can use an expired one to get a highest discount available.

Their products aren’t necessarily cruelty-free or environmentally friendly

According to a 1991 article in Adweek’s Marketing Week, at that time, Bath & Body Works was marketed as being both environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, however, that is no longer the case.

Over the years, Bath & Body Works has even sold products with harmful ingredients including Triclosan, but Consumerist stated the brand phased out this ingredient in 2014. Triclosan was ultimately banned by the FDA in 2016.

Furthermore, the company’s policy regarding animal testing has also changed. Their website states the official policy, which reads, “Bath & Body Works policy prohibits the testing of our branded products, formulations and ingredients on animals except in rare cases when required by government regulations.”

The future is smelling pretty good for Bath & Body Works

In February 2017, Bath & Body Works introduced a new line called CocoShea. The CocoShea Honey Bath & Shower Jelly was so popular that SELF reported stores were even beginning to sell out out of the product.

Launching new products every season is one of the key’s to the company’s success, according to a report from Nasdaq. This formula doesn’t look like it’s changing any time soon. So what can we expect in the future? Probably lots of new things to try, interesting fragrances and maybe even the re-introduction of some old favorites, although nothing has been officially announced yet.