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We went to a Victoria's Secret store in New York City and saw why the brand is struggling

Rebecca Harrington
Victoria's secret ANIMATION

Victoria's Secret isn't what it used to be.

In a consumer survey that Wells Fargo Securities outlined in a recent note to clients, Victoria's Secret customers said they're shopping there less because the brand feels "fake."

That's one of the problems causing weak sales for its parent company, L Brands, and it's dragged down the stock price more than 45% over the past year.

If you visit a store, it's clear why.

I became obsessed with Victoria's Secret in college, buying bras, underwear, lingerie, clothes, swimsuits, and perfume from the brand in its stores and online. I would typically buy something every two months or so. It was excessive, but I loved how fun the brand was and all the luxurious stuff I could get with tons of discounts because I shopped there so often.

For the past four years, I've had a Victoria's Secret Angel VIP credit card. But over the past two, I've noticed a deep dive in the quality of materials it uses, the number of deals I can get, and the overall variety of options it offers.

Other customers agree with me. Nearly half of Victoria's Secret shoppers in the Wells Fargo survey said they had shopped there less in the past year, with 58% saying it was because of high prices. I recently visited a Victoria's Secret store to see how the brand has changed.

I went to the Victoria's Secret in SoHo -- one of its largest stores in New York City -- when it didn't have a large enough selection at its Flatiron location.

Each section of the store features about a dozen bra types, each of which comes in a variety of colours and styles. Bras range in price from about $15 to $200.

My first impression is one of decadence -- rich, deep wood and mood lighting fill the store, inviting you to treat yourself.

As I venture in, it becomes virtually impossible to find anything. A very nice sales associate offered to help me locate specific bras, but even she had trouble tracking them down.

The problem is that there aren't any labels anywhere. To find a specific style, you have to look at the tag of each bra to see what kind it is.

I've seen signs in its stores before, but this store lacked them. The names are difficult to differentiate, too, because they're so similar. Its Dream Angels, Body by Victoria, and Very Sexy collections all fit differently.

With so many bras and panties everywhere, it is a constant battle for associates to keep the stores in order.

Victoria's Secret has expanded its expensive offerings in the past few years, offering what it advertises as more luxurious lingerie.

This tiny bustier was almost $200.

On the flip side, many discounts were advertised throughout the store. Market analysts have said the industry is in the midst of a 'bra war' thanks to mounting competition from American Eagle's Aerie brand and athleisure companies like Lululemon.

Source: Business Insider

Victoria's Secret dropped its clothing line, which I loved, but still offers some sleepwear items.

Many of the pajama pants I saw were expensive and made of super thin material. This pair was $32.

Don't even get me started on the sport collection. I cannot justify spending $60 on yoga pants or $40 on a sports bra. The Wells Fargo survey found that shoppers are five times more likely to buy sports bras from an athletic brand like Nike -- more bad news for VS.

With a few bras -- located by my sales associate -- to try, it was time for the dressing room. Opulent decorations and bountiful hooks for all your items fill the rather large rooms.

You can adjust the lights via a dimmer switch so the mood lighting for your lingerie is just right. There's also a button to summon a sales associate, who can get you different sizes or styles.

Each dressing room has a 'Try me on' T-shirt, so you can see how a bra fits under clothes. I passed.

Security tags attached to the bra clasp make it nearly impossible to try on bras. I get that Victoria's Secret wants to prevent you from stealing its bras, but it could probably find a better place to attach them.

Time to check out. The process is somewhat confusing -- people form multiple lines behind individual cashiers. I immediately regretted the slow line I chose.

As an Angel card member, I had three coupons that had been mailed to me. Unfortunately, only one gave me a discount for what I was trying to buy.

I ended up buying a 1.7 fluid-ounce perfume for $52, one bra for $34.50, and two pairs of underwear. I also got a small scented pillow for free with my purchase.

I'll probably still make one or two purchases a year at Victoria's Secret. But it's just not what it used to be.