retail-apparel

Lululemon complaints stretch beyond quality to customer service  

Nov. 1, 2013 at 5:36 PM ET

Lululemon Athletica continues to field customer complaints about the quality of some of its yoga pants, as well as how customers are being treated.
Mary Altaffer / AP
Lululemon Athletica continues to field customer complaints about the quality of some of its yoga pants, as well as how customers are being treated.

Lululemon is having some trouble putting overexposed behinds behind it.

The trendy yoga retailer, which recalled pants made of its proprietary Luon material earlier this year after customers complained they were too sheer, still faces a steady stream of complaints about thinner, more sheer fabric that snags and pills easily.

And customers aren’t just upset about the pants, which can cost $100 or more per pair. Some say the company’s attitude toward their concerns is driving them to ditch the brand for competitors.

The embarrassing flaw, which surfaced in March, and subsequent recall had a $40 million to $45 million impact on revenue, Chief Financial Officer John Currie said in September. Lululemon Athletica’s chief product officer, Sheree Waterson, left the company shortly thereafter.

On Wednesday, Lululemon introduced Tara Poseley, formerly president of Kmart Apparel, as its new chief product officer, and the company said it addressed the problem with the fabric with “newly implemented rigorous testing and quality processes.”

But customers who have taken to the Internet aren’t impressed with the results.

On its recently launched customer forum site, heylululemon.com, a thread titled “Getting a little concerned about Lulu quality!” had more than 100 comments. Users complained that newer items looked sheer, felt thinner or pilled after a short period of time, even when the company’s rather exacting laundering and care specifications were followed.

Although Lululemon staffers weighed in on the thread, users characterized the comments as unhelpful. 

“It seems like the problem is still out there and I’m not sure if it’s maker error or user error at this point,” said Jaime Katz, an analyst at Morningstar. “That quality control … is where they need to put their money where their mouth is. As long as they try to correct the missteps they’ve taken, their foundation should remain loyal.”

"Quality is of utmost importance to us and we want to offer our guests luon product that they love," Lululemon said in a statement emailed to NBCNews.com late Friday. "The information we have tells us that piling is not a widespread concern and this guest feedback is not indicative of a larger issue. If any guest is experiencing an issue with their product that they believe to be related to quality, we encourage them to visit their local store or call our Guest Education Center so we can make it right."

Some customers, though, have already moved on.

DelRae Messer, owner of a detox-weight loss company, said she used to be a huge fan.

“I’m just disappointed. … The quality was amazing,” said the 31-year-old Tampa resident.

“The only reason I would pay $80, $100 for a pair of pants is because of the quality,” said Messer, who estimated she’d spent around $20,000 on Lululemon gear over the past several years. But Messer said the pants she’d bought within the past couple of years weren’t the same. “All three wore in the same spot, and one pair was see through,” she said.

When the recall was announced in the spring, Messer said she tried to return the sheer pants, but the saleswoman told her they weren’t included in the recall even though they were very transparent, and that the spot that had worn through must have been from catching on something in her washing machine.

As for the sheerness, the saleswoman’s only advice was to “wear a longer shirt,” Messer said. “I haven’t been back since.”

Marcia Horowitz, senior executive vice president at public relations firm Rubenstein Associates Inc., said that dismissive attitude — similar to that reported by numerous online customers — could hurt Lululemon as badly as product flaws. Already, a number of customers online said they switched to buying rival workout brands like Gap-owned Athleta or Nordstrom’s Zella.

“It needs to come clean if it is having any problems with the quality of its clothing and take immediate steps to recall the products and refund the customers. The faster it acts the better,” Horowitz said via email. “The last thing it should be doing is shifting the blame onto its soon to be disloyal customers.”

Sterne Agee analyst Sam Poser said in a research note Friday that “there certainly appears to be an issue” based on “numerous posts on LULU's website discussing problems with the WunderUnder pant.” He continued, “We hope the new Chief Product Officer is as skilled as the company expects.”

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