In late June 2020, a Facebook user shared a video that purportedly showed Victoria’s Secret bras’ tracking devices:
In a status update, an account named “Jimm Walker” wrote:
THIS IS UNREAL SO
Summer 2020 Facebook Posts About Victoria’s Secret Bra Trackers
In a short video, Walker holds tags up to the light in apparent bafflement, eventually cutting a tag and removing a piece of plastic:
Often, the post simply addressed the purported radio frequency identification (RFID) tracker in Victoria’s Secret bras. However, others naturally linked the viral rumors with concurrent QAnon #SaveOurChildren child trafficking theories:
so the person who created and runs victoria secret buys people’s souls and he has something to do with the sex trafficking going on. did you know that if you cut your tag in half, there is a chip/tracker on the inside. if you don’t want to cut your tag to see, just put it up to the light. shocked (also tell me why the trackers are ONLY in bras and lingerie?? not shirts, sweatpants, ONLY lingerie)
Circulating sex trafficking rumors in the summer of 2020 certainly drove interest in claims about RFID trackers in Victoria’s Secret bras.
However, on February 19 2020, a Reddit user shared a similar post to r/1984isreality — minus the human trafficking hysteria. In that post, the original poster (OP) included images of a similar plastic tag insert, labeled “SMARTRAC”:
At the top of the thread, a commenter identified the plastic “tracker” as an RFID tag, and added further claims:
Congratulations, you’ve found an RFID tag, which is used for asset tracking. And that’s exactly what they’re doing, tracking your “assets”, which you are to them.
Victoria’s Secret Is No Longer a Secret
On an earnings call in May 2019 the CFO of L Brands (the parent company of Victoria’s Secret) mentioned that the company is introducing RFID in its stores to improve inventory accuracy and inventory visibility. He cited this as a precursor to the company’s introduction of BOPIS. More recently, at the company’s Investor Day, the COO announced that about 1,100 of the company’s stores are slated to begin using RFID by summer 2020, with almost 350 receiving these capabilities by the end of 2019.
Victoria’s Secret and PINK are two of retail’s largest specialty apparel brands. Ascena and Gap Inc. are now the only heavyweight specialty apparel conglomerates in North America that have yet to declare an intention to roll out RFID in their stores. The world’s largest specialty brand (Zara) completed its rollout years ago, and the world’s second and third largest (H&M and Uniqlo, respectively) are already using RFID in most of their stores.
Not any different than Starbucks or other retailers tracking you sadly.
Edit: More on Victoria’s Secret and RFID tags and:
Brands hired former Tory Burch president John Mehas as Victoria Secret’s new CEO in late 2018, but none of Mehas’ strategies — including a swimwear relaunch, e-commerce upgrades, a new RFID tracking system (for tracking and analyzing purchases), and splitting Victoria’s Secret and its younger brand PINK (led by CEO Amy Hauk) more clearly — are moving the needle.
Your bra’s are in their database and depending on where they have their RFID scanners they know how many times you come back into the store and where you walk in the store and whether your visit includes more purchases or not. They can even validate if they want, when your bra walks by their store and whether you walk in or not.
Great post, and the perfect sub to ask a question like this.
If you asked Victoria’s Secret what they were doing, they would tell you that it was for inventory management, which is true, that’s even if someone in the store even knew what RFID was. But it is also used to flesh out their databases on your consumer profile, which will yes, include your bras, sizes and your walking behavior and purchase history depending on how granular they’ve installed the RFID readers in their stores.
Like if you buy it at store A, then wear it while in store B, C or D.
One of the linked comments was to a December 28 2019 thread on r/MRI, warning users of a “burn risk” due to the tags:
The other link was a Motley Fool article on August 23 2019 about Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands and the use of RFID tags to track and analyze purchases.
What Caused the Rumor to Go Viral
Although at least two Reddit posts addressed RFID tags in merchandise in late 2019 and early 2020, June and July 2020 heralded an avalanche of sex trafficking conspiracies inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic and inflated by disinformation, algorithms, and credulous readers.
Perhaps the most visible of the conspiracies involved another retailer, Wayfair, and the widespread rumor that the website was using its overpriced cabinets to secretly sell children online:
Of course that theme caught on, eventually becoming a spate of rumors that COVID-19 was a coverup for elite pedophile blood-drinking child traffickers:
From there, the lightly circulating Victoria’s Secret bra tracker rumor inevitably became mashed up with the newer iterations about and variations on COVID-19, face masks, and human trafficking.
Victoria’s Secret on RFID Technology in Garments
On July 1 2020, Victoria’s Secret addressed one of the rumors on Twitter:
Like many other retailers, this technology helps us ensure we have the right products available for our customers. We only use this technology in our back room and sales floors to help us manage inventory so that our associates can efficiently support our customers’ needs.
On July 2 2020, USA Today covered the claims, noting that “RFID technology is commonly used in retail stores for inventory purposes,” and “retailers using this technology include Victoria’s Secret, Lululemon, Macy’s, Levi’s, Nike and more, according to IMPINJ, a platform that uses RFID data to help businesses,” and explaining further:
RFID technology uses radio waves to communicate with, identify and locate objects, and is battery-free, according to IMPIJ. The technology allows retailers to see their inventory accurately.
Zara is one of many retailers that uses the technology by cycle counting inventory every six weeks to get an accurate idea of which items are selling well and which items aren’t.
In a July 2015 report, Juniper Research forecast that retailers around the world will spend $2.5 billion in loT-related hardware by 2020, which includes RFID tags and other types of sensors.
Jill Dvorak, vice president of content and retail strategy at the National Retail Federation, said in a statement to USA TODAY that reliance on digital channels has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic such as curbside and online pickups.
That reporting concluded:
We rate the claim that Victoria’s Secret is tracking its buyers as FALSE. The company uses RFID technology to track inventory and it is used by many retailers. The company has confirmed the purpose of the technology and there is no evidence to prove that Victoria’s Secret is using the chips to track customers. The technology is an apparel clothing as well, not just lingerie, as users claim.
Rumors about Victoria’s Secret bras’ trackers and RFID tags have circulated intermittently since at least 2019, and it wasn’t until the summer of 2020 that QAnon sex trafficking rumor clusters added claims that the tags also involved “sex trafficking.” As multiple news organizations have noted, a number of retailers use and have used the technology for years in order to track inventory. Although claims were rife that Victoria’s Secret RFID tags were specifically used for tracking purposes, none included a mechanism by which the technology would in any way facilitate human smuggling or trafficking.