Will consumers buy a new vision for Abercrombie & Fitch?

Discussion
Photo: Abercrombie & Fitch
Feb 07, 2017
George Anderson

Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) has been struggling for years. The specialty clothing retailer’s management is counting on a new store concept to help get its business turned around.

The chain will open its new format store next week at the Polaris Fashion Mall in Columbus, OH. The 4,860-square-foot store represents the first new concept for the chain in more than 15 years. The store will be one of seven new format locations that Abercrombie & Fitch will open this year.

“It is important that our stores reflect what the Abercrombie & Fitch brand is today, so we’ve created a new space for our customers that is warm, inviting, inclusive and open. We are excited for customers old and new to rediscover what is at the core of this American Heritage brand: timeless, high-quality clothing that you want to live in,” said Stacia Andersen, brand president of Abercrombie & Fitch and abercrombie kids.

The storefront will be “transparent,” according to the company, and display a sculpture of an Abercrombie & Fitch logo first used in the early 1900s. The new format features two shops-within-the-store — one for fragrances and the other dedicated to denim.

The new layout is also intended to promote Abercrombie & Fitch’s omnichannel capabilities. Associates will be trained to help shoppers place and pick up online orders in the store. “Cash wraps” will be located throughout the store to make it easier for customers to check out.

The chain describes its new fitting rooms as “havens” made up of two individual “capsules” set within a private suite. The idea is to make it easier for a customer to try on clothes and let a friend or family member see while maintaining privacy. Each suite comes with a phone charger dock as well as separate controls for lights and music.

Last week, Abercrombie & Fitch announced it had named its president and chief merchandising officer, Fran Horowitz, as its first new chief executive since longtime CEO Michael Jeffries retired in 2014.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will a new store format fix what ails Abercrombie & Fitch? What new features in the store do you think are most or least likely to resonate with the chain’s customers?

Braintrust
"I wonder if management knows what the brand used to mean and what it means now to lapsed and current shoppers."
"The debut of a new store prototype as a way of signaling a significant change in direction seems oddly outdated."
"The cohort that made it a fashionable brand has moved on; they have aged into other brands."

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16 Comments on "Will consumers buy a new vision for Abercrombie & Fitch?"


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Charles Dimov
BrainTrust

Not sure if the new format is the silver bullet, but the fact that A&F will push omnichannel will help them significantly. Online sales are climbing, so being part of the equation makes sense. Giving your instant gratification-yearning customers the option to pop in and pickup their order is key to their success. Make it comfortable, make it easy, make it quick … that’s the winning formula.
Getting them to come in for a pickup means fewer returns (they try on and only take the size that REALLY fits). Best of all — while they are in-store there is a 40 to 50 percent chance that they will buy a little extra! Best of luck to A&F … they are on the right path.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

Lucky Columbus people who can experience the new store over multiple visits! And lucky other patrons who will experience the innovations that show themselves worthy of being put into other locations. Let’s hope that impact and experience assessment happen quickly so that the opportunity costs of not exploiting innovations are minimized. And lucky are the A&F team members and suppliers who are part of making this all happen. I think of Lucy on the chocolates packing assembly line in considering that more value comes from effort spent on original design than on corrective actions, though the latter offers some relief from the pressure.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust
The factor that A&F has going for it over the other casual apparel retailers is that they actually have a brand. Now, whether or not you like/liked that brand is besides the point, because the “it” factor that separated A&F from its copy cats (American Eagle, Aeropostale) held sway for a long time. And that kind of thing doesn’t just go away. The trick for the new brand masters of A&F now is to temper that great base for a new generation, the way that Ralph Lauren has done, and bring back some of it’s sassy relevance. It’s more than just the store, but the store is a key touchpoint to hit on that road back. Will it “solve” their immediate woes? Maybe a little, but it will take time. To me, the ingredient most needed to re-accentuate for A&F is the youthful irreverence of their great brand. Think lifestyle, not just product or place Ps. Think the positioning P. Whether you’re a digital native or a child of the ’90s, NOT being like your… Read more »
Anne Howe
BrainTrust

Despite the obvious upgrade of the fitting room experience, I don’t understand why it took 15 years for any significant change to happen in the A&F store itself! An integrated omnichannel focus is table stakes, so they’d better be ready to spend significantly on store remodels all over the country.

I also wonder if management knows what the brand used to mean and what it means now to lapsed and current shoppers. Does A&F know what it may take to get consumers to re-try a brand that’s been fading for years?

And I hate to bring this up, knowing how impactful smell can be at retail, but the incredibly awful “sneeze factor” of too much and too many fragrances in the stores was a real turn off for even those of us who love innovative retail experiences!

Chuck Palmer
BrainTrust

Anne, the fragrance issue is addressed in their news release: “The store will be subtly scented with a lighter, cleaner, gender-neutral fragrance.” So they know it was an issue. I just wish they would describe what the fragrance IS rather than what it is not.

Ed Dunn
Guest
11 months 10 days ago

The two fitting rooms suites with capsules bothers me in the sense that it is not practical or efficient for A&F. Future retail tech for mall tenants requires BYOD and A&F missed the boat entirely.

Instead of wasting square footage with a capsule suite and phone charging docks, A&F and other apparel retailers could have just installed a step-and-repeat wall outside the fitting room with a selfie-docking stand (similar to selfie sticks) to share the tried-on outfit via social media to solicit instant feedback and develop a new paradigm of social media shopping.

The fitting room hospitality experience A&F presented is more suited for consultation or clientele with smaller traffic such as a boutique or tailor, not a mall anchor.

Jasmine Glasheen
Staff
Jasmine Glasheen
Contributing Editor
11 months 10 days ago

Abercrombie & Fitch was aspirational apparel for me during my teen years. It was the apparel of choice for doctors’ kids and I remember the pride I took in my one Abercrombie t-shirt I picked up for 30 percent off during one of their (incredibly rare) out-of-season sales. Like many, my interest in off-price merchandise stemmed from the social necessity for it during my adolescence.

Memory lane aside, will Abercrombie be able to appeal to woo back twenty-somethings? Since customers from their mid-twenties to mid-thirties remember Abercrombie as an aspirational brand with great denim, there is potential if, and this is a big if, Abercrombie offers the quality of merchandise touted during its heyday.

The memory of Abercrombie is still rooted in quality. If the brand’s genesis includes a return to fundamentals it’s very possible that Abercrombie could indeed become “cool again.”

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

For my generation and ilk, Abercrombie & Fitch still invokes visions of fine fly rods and Filson “oilcloth” apparel. If the brand so completely reinvented itself once, maybe it can do it again. I like the experiential nature of the fitting room experience.

Chuck Palmer
BrainTrust
The debut of a new store prototype as a way of signaling a significant change in direction seems oddly outdated. Abercrombie & Fitch surely needs to reinvent itself, but today, it’s not just about the physical store and it surely isn’t about leaning on past brand success. In the information released leading up to the store opening, I’m not seeing anything that addresses benefits to their target customers, or for that matter a fresh look at who those customers are. The store design is such a complete departure I wonder if it won’t be confusing to existing customers and ignored by potential new ones. To their credit, they have opened up the space, made dual-gender visual merchandising the key message of the storefront and used the word “omnichannel” in their PR. These all seem to be a reaction to their own past rather than the current potential customer and competition. I will be walking the store when it opens. I’ll be interested to see how the product and assortment has evolved. I hope they have… Read more »
Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Creating a great store experience with well-trained staff is certainly a step in the right direction. It sounds as though their heads are in the right place. What I don’t know is, who is their current customer? They seem to have been flailing in recent years especially with all that flap about not carrying sizes for larger women. A real turn-off to many. So I hope they have done their homework.

For my 2 cents.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Well, they’ve squeezed in every buzzword and cliché possible — including, of course “omnichannel capabilities” (though maybe guess the author did that) — but all the difference it’s going to make could probably be fitted into a cup on the front counter. Marketing concept>branding>store design, which of course gave us the old A&F we all knew — and likely hated — but all this makeover tells me is they hired a lot of consultants. Good luck, bro.

Carlos Arambula
BrainTrust

It will not fix all that ails A&F but it’s a good beginning. The A&F brand is firmly entrenched in a life stage of an audience; age instead of lifestyle.

The cohort that made it a fashionable brand has moved on; they have aged into other brands. The new generation occupying the space has different values and A&F’s failure to evolve made the fashion brand passé.

The changes should encourage trial of the brand from a new audience and if done correctly, breathe life into a tired fashion brand.

Lisa Morales Cook
Guest

I’m cheering for A&F and wish them all health and happiness. But retailers need to push a Grand Experiment to secure their futures. The highlights of this new prototype seem to be glossier versions of familiar things. Keep pushing, A&F!

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

I don’t know if the new format of a store will change what “ails” Abercrombie & Fitch. They have to get people into the store to start with. Is the store layout the real problem? I remember not that long ago when Walmart invested millions into concept stores because they heard feedback about how their stores were cluttered, aisles too close, etc. After the remodel customers liked the new look and feel … and sales stayed the same.

For Abercrombie & Fitch to succeed it may take more than a new store format.

William Passodelis
Guest
11 months 10 days ago
Not certain if this will be the right medicine. Very scary I must admit. I feel badly for A&F. Their customer, as Mr. Arambula mentioned, has grown up and moved on and now has life needs far apart from being the cool kids in high school. I have asked a few younger “kids” at times about their preferences and A&F has been met with a “ho-hum” response. But I must admit, almost all of the stores like them cause a similar reaction — I get NO excitement from them about much at all. Hollister, Aeropostale, American Eagle — the younger kids I have talked to at times have given me no great reaction to any of them. I have at times received more positive reaction about Marshalls! (Perhaps I am simply talking to out-of-step kids?) The kids I have talked with do not seem inspired or energized, or excited by clothing of any sort! So I am GLAD A&F is trying something different. Maybe they will be able to excite the current teens and college… Read more »
gordon arnold
Guest

I do not recall seeing any of the upgrades mentioned on a 21st century consumer shopping list. That includes the upscale shopping lists as well. A simpler breakdown would be to consider that consumers on any scale are better aware of what they want with priorities like availability, price and delivery more important than ever. Store ambience is of little concern except for the cleanliness and safety aspects which are a demoted priority as well. Decorum and amenities might be of value if you could charge for them but I suspect this might be a very slow turn item. Which takes us back to selling what the consumers want at a price most of them are willing to pay as a model for 21st century retail success.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I wonder if management knows what the brand used to mean and what it means now to lapsed and current shoppers."
"The debut of a new store prototype as a way of signaling a significant change in direction seems oddly outdated."
"The cohort that made it a fashionable brand has moved on; they have aged into other brands."

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