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[12 comments]

J. Crew brings back swimsuit by customer request

April 11, 2014

Okay, so this is not your typical customer service story. Many, perhaps even most, consumers know the frustration of really liking a particular product only to find it's been discontinued. They may register their disappointment with store staff, but the net result is the product is gone forever.

Something of a kind happened to Jenni Avin, a freelance writer, who went public on New York Magazine's The Cut blog with a plea to J.Crew creative director Jenna Lyons to bring back the company's scoop-back tank swimsuit. The result in this case was different, however, and it was pure public relations genius.

First, Ms. Lyons read the blog and told Ms. Avin she would look into a matter. This week, J.Crew gave its answer in a two-page ad in New York Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. It pictured a handwritten note from Ms. Lyons: "Dear Ms. Avins," she wrote, "your wish is my command ... within reason. XO Jenna."

Prediction: The item that Ms. Avins describes as "simple, sexy, and sporty suit with straight, tank-top-style shoulder straps that swoop like the letter U" will be a winner for J.Crew this summer even if it isn't its best seller.

Discussion Questions:

How responsive, in general, should retailers be to product requests from shoppers? What do you think of J.Crew's response to Jenni Avin's blog?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

What grade for public relations do you give J.Crew for its response to Jenni Avin's blog post?

Comments:

J.Crew's response is a win for the customer, for fellow fans of the swimsuit, and most of all the company. The PR value is priceless, regardless of the cost of the ad space. But I'm glad J.Crew added the qualification "within reason"...it's simply not feasible to try satisfying every customer's whim in terms of styling, size and so forth. But if a retailer can make an item profitable on a mass basis, why not try to take this kind of customer-friendly step?

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Dick Seesel, Principal, Retailing In Focus LLC

Even if they only sell a few of these suits, this is a home run for J.Crew. Retailers should be responsive to consumers, within reason. Not every consumer is going to command the blog of a popular magazine, but each is important in her own way. This is listening to customers at its best.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

The short answer is, it depends on the request. The does not mean a retailers should not respond to customer requests by thanking them for the inquiry, etc. but it does mean that many, if not most, consumer requests will be denied. The reasons for saying no (politely) are many.

What J.Crew did was brilliant marketing, but before they did so, I am sure they did their research, determined there was a market for the swimsuit, and saw a great marketing opportunity. As noted it certainly didn't hurt that Ms. Avins is a fashion writer for the Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine.

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Steve Montgomery, President, b2b Solutions, LLC

What I'd like to know is how come among a wide network of friends we could all constantly rave about a certain food item at Costco...only to find that they "don't carry it" any more? Who made that decision and why? Was that a customer centric decision? Did the buyer have a different taste than all the rest of us? Why Costco, why? You can start with returning Lacey's almond and dark chocolate cookies.

Oh...and yes, that was a brilliant play by J.Crew! Right up there with "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause!"

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

This is just a wonderful example of both caring about customers - especially high-value, influential and raving fans like Ms. Lyons. It also illustrates a company being very "real" - whether it was calculated for PR value or not. J.Crew has very real and visible people leading it, starting with Mickey Drexler, and they set a high bar for retailers everywhere.

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Phil Rubin, CEO, rDialogue

1. If it makes economic sense, do it.
2. A great way to say we listen.
3. I quit doing most customer service polls because I get no response, so I have to assume no one listens.

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics

It may have meant something if Jeni Avins were simply a customer, not a member of the fashion media.

'tmlens'

It always pays to listen first for understanding.

J.Crew sounds as if they took the right steps. They listened to a customer. The next steps, likely, had to do with sourcing, financial considerations, manufacturing, and merchandising/marketing.

Ms. Avin's interest weren't the sole reason to move forward, to be sure. However, for those who have reviewed the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue in the barber chair over the years, we all can recall the knockout design of this style in the late '70s/'80s. Women loved the design, as well, based on the beach walkers at that time.

Sharp move on J.Crew's part. Next step...see if it registers to sales forecast when october rolls around.

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Roger Saunders, Managing Director, Prosper Business Development

Check your sales numbers and if it's worth it, do it! If not, explain to the customer why, and tell them to sign up customers to order the item if you revive it! Instant orders!

Kate Blake, Social Media Manager, Take Five with Kate Blake

Although retailers and CPG brands cannot respond to every single product request from consumers, I believe this example is fantastic on the retailer's part! Where possible, however, positive efforts like this can lead to true loyalty via social channels for far more than the one consumer who made the request.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive, IBM

It's certainly great PR and it made me smile. But I think this is the sort of thing that only works because it is the exception. And therefore it isn't something brands should devote a lot of time to.

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Jonathan Marek, Senior Vice President, Applied Predictive Technologies

While many retailers claim they are customer focused, few really are. The problem is it's very difficult in apparel retailing. If you don't change the line, consumers say you are not current and they only want the latest style.

The same issue applies to color as well. The problem is when a trendy item becomes a staple or basic. A staple is an item you carry all the time or year after year. This looks like a new basic or staple that will need color or pattern updates annually.

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W. Frank Dell II, CMC, President, Dellmart & Company

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