The Untold Truth Of Bath & Body Works

Bath & Body Works is one of the world's top specialty retailers, with nearly 1,700 stores in North America as well as additional locations internationally. 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 "green" image, Bath & Body Works, "a division of the Limited Inc.," marketed itself as "earth friendly," according to The New York Times. But the concept reportedly wasn't original, and British retailer The Body Shop accused Bath & Body Works of copying them.

According to Racked, Bath & Body Works 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. The New York Times reported that the Limited agreed to "limiting the use of the color green" in its stores and to " give its newest stores a countrified 'farmer's market' look, in contrast to the Body Shop's modern styling." According to a former employee, as a result of the lawsuit, Bath & Body Works debuted a new label featuring a sunburst, and stores were decorated with gingham and wooden barrels to support a "heartland" theme.

Bath & Body Works was founded by a mythical woman named Kate

Bath & Body Works was originally sold at Express. 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 that 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.

Bath & Body Works scents are marketed to connect with your emotions

Racked 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.

Bath & Body Works brings back old favorites for a limited period of time

Ask anyone who grew up in the '90s 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 relaunched 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.

Bath & Body Works has a very lenient return policy

Bath & Body Works guarantees their products 100 percent, offering full refunds for absolutely every item they sell. However, several former store employees The List spoke with said that many customers have taken 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 wished 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, saying, "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 wished 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 person said. "The cashier had to explain it was lotion, not actual butter."

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

Racked reported that Bath & Body Works has a completely different strategy to sell its products than many retailers, even some of its sister brands. 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 The List spoke with even divulged, "They track how many people come in to the number of sales they get."

Bath & Body Works 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 the store sells. If you've ever wondered how employees deal with the smell, the answer might just surprise you.

The List spoke with Maleeka Hollaway, who worked at Bath & Body Works for a year. She said, "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 The List spoke with Victoria Cameron, who was employed at the store from 2005 to 2010, she shared that inconsiderate shoppers 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," she said. '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 at Bath & Body Works

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-day grace period on expired coupons, she explained that you can use an expired one to get the highest discount available.

Bath & Body Works products weren't always environmentally-friendly

According to a 1991 article in Adweek's Marketing Week, Bath & Body Works was then marketed as being both environmentally friendly and cruelty-free. However, based on later articles, that hasn't always been the case. Over the years, Bath & Body Works has 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 (via NPR).

Furthermore, the company's policy regarding animal testing has also changed. In the FAQ section Bath & Body Work's website, the company stated, "Bath & Body Works does not test any of our products, formulations or ingredients on animals. Period. All of our personal care products are produced in North America, Europe and South Korea."

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 owns famed lingerie retailer Victoria's Secret and used to own the lesser known La Senza (via Business Insider), which also sold intimates and lingerie. 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.

While Victoria's Secret is one of the biggest underwear juggernauts out there, the retailer announced in 2020 that they would be closing 250 stores in the United States and Canada, according to Today. The brand cited slumping sales as a culprit, as they declined 46 percent during the financial quarter that ended on May 2, 2020 (via CNBC Markets). Victoria's Secret has been widely criticized for promoting unrealistic beauty standards, as noted by Time, and had been "struggling to stay relevant."

Bath & Body Works closed dozens of locations in 2020

In May 2020, Bath & Body Works announced that they'd planned to close 50 stores in the United States. There just wasn't a huge demand for lotions, body scrubs, perfumes, and candles when public health was at the forefront of people's minds, according to Today. And, like many retailers in spring 2020, the stores were forced to temporarily close, preventing in-person sales.

However, that's not to say that the company is doing poorly — far from it. In fact, the scented soap purveyor announced that they plan to open an additional 26 stores around the country, putting the number of Bath & Body Works locations just over the 1,700 mark in the United States and Canada. Additionally, online sales of soap and hand sanitizer have surged — to the tune of 85 percent over the year prior, as noted by CNN Business — and will likely continue to do so, giving the brand an anchor in the market.

Different regions have different favorite Bath & Body Works scents

If you're a fan of Bath & Body Works, there's a good chance you have a favorite fragrance (or three). But did you know that there are some regional patterns when it comes to loving specific scents? Thanks to Refinery 29, which took the time to break down how popular nine Bath & Body Works fragrances are received by state, now you know.

Rose is widely popular in a variety of locales, from several states in the northeast all the way out to Colorado and Utah. In the Stars is decidedly well-loved in the Midwest and Sweet Pea is a big hit in Puerto Rico. Land-locked West Virginia loves At The Beach while Wyoming has a sweet spot for Pink Passion Fruit & Banana Flower — think some folks might be in need of a tropical vacation? That may also be the case for fans of Black Coconut Sands, which is big in Montana, Idaho, and Oregon. Additionally, A Thousand Wishes is loved from east to west, and One in a Million is popular all over the place. Where does your favorite scent reign?

Bath & Body Works is a global brand

According to Today, Bath & Body Works has well over a thousand locations across the United States and Canada. But those aren't the only brick and mortar locations where you can shop for their products as they also have several locations scattered throughout the world, according to the retailer's website.

If you're in Europe, you can stop by a Bath & Body Works in Poland, Italy, Russia, or Turkey. It looks like the brand is even more popular in the Middle East, as they have stores in a handful of countries from Jordan to Saudi Arabia to Kuwait. If you're traveling to Latin America, you can shop at Bath & Body Works stores in nine countries, and in Asia you'll find seven locations, including in Singapore, Thailand, and India. Finally, if you're in the land down under, fear not! There are Bath & Body Works outposts in Australia.

Bath & Body Works spoke out about racism

In the latter half of spring 2020, people all over the world took to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, according to CNN World. A variety of corporations also spoke out against racial injustice, including Bath & Body Works. "Hate and intolerance of any kind have no place in our society, and they are not acceptable at L Brands," company CEO Andrew Meslow wrote in a Facebook post for associates. "I know you share my commitment to living our values, and I encourage you to use this as an opportunity to come together, be kinder and listen with even more curiosity, vulnerability and understanding."

Meslow also charged employees of Bath & Body Works to make the world a safer place for all people. "Each of us must reflect and ask ourselves the difficult question of what we are doing to condemn prejudice and promote inclusion," he added.

The future is smelling pretty good for Bath & Body Works

With all that's been going on in the world, some retailers, like J.C. Penney, have had to file for bankruptcy, as noted by USA Today. Other brands have had to shutter their stores entirely, which was the case for Pier 1, according to CNN. With shifting priorities and the rise of online shopping, the way the market operates has changed from only a couple decades ago.

But as far as Bath & Body Works is concerned, the future is looking bright (and smelling like flowers and sunshine), thanks to a little bit of savvy and a sprinkling of luck. For as long as self care is in style, the brand will always have a willing market ready to purchase the fragrances that help them relax and unwind. And with a never-ending supply of new products being debuted on their website, it's clear the retailer has no plans to slow down anytime soon.