Will mobile move the needle for J. Crew – this holiday and beyond?

Photo: RetailWire
Dec 06, 2017
Matthew Stern

The Black Friday and Cyber Monday spike lifted struggling shopping malls as much as other retailers. Both online and mobile spending were up as well. As we continue on toward Christmas, a once popular mall apparel brand hopes to succeed during the holidays and beyond by doubling down on digital.

J.Crew, as it continues to shutter brick-and-mortar stores, is expanding its mobile and online offerings, according to Ad Age. The company, which is slated to close 50 locations by the year’s end, has been working with Google since the summer to accelerate its mobile page speeds and integrate auto-populating shipping fields.

While such changes may seem like getting up to speed with what’s considered table stakes in today’s omnichannel retail environment, for J.Crew they represent the beginnings of an aggressive move into a more frictionless mobile and online customer experience under the company’s new CMO, Vanessa Holden. Ms. Holden has been in the role since July.

While it remains to be seen what the final face of a mobile overhaul will look like for J.Crew, some mall retailers have been quite radical in their attempts to stay alive online in the face of dwindling foot traffic. For instance, the 170-store Bebe earlier this year announced it was closing all of its physical locations and becoming a pure-play online retailer.

J.Crew has perhaps had a tougher time than the average mall retailer in recent years. The company currently struggles under a $2.1 billion debt load, according to Reuters.

In fact, former J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler sought out Amazon for the purpose of trying to secure a buyout by the company, according to Business Insider. The brand also turned down a deal with Japanese fast fashion retailer Uniqlo in 2014.

Whether technology, branding or some combination can help the chain remains to be seen.

J.Crew is also working on improving its social strategy with a new holiday initiative, according to Ad Age. The campaign, called #CastMeJCrew, invites customers to post photographs of themselves wearing J.Crew gear to compete for a chance at being cast in a future J.Crew photo shoot.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What sort of steps will J.Crew need to take with its mobile and online efforts to turn the brand around? How should similar brands work to balance their physical store and online presence?

"Having a great mobile experience is important, but the basics of retailing are even more critical. "
"J.Crew’s issues extend beyond online but require repositioning to increase brand relevance."
"With full-body 3-D scanning and other virtual fitting technologies on the rise, J. Crew has a massive opportunity to add robust custom fitting..."

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17 Comments on "Will mobile move the needle for J. Crew – this holiday and beyond?"

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Dick Seesel
J. Crew is pursuing the path of many other mall-based retailers, both department stores and specialty apparel chains. They are shedding excess square footage in weak locations, and they are developing an “omnichannel” strategy by expanding their digital footprint. These are all necessary steps for almost any retailer you can think of, not just J. Crew. What’s missing from the discussion of a “mobile overhaul”? Any acknowledgement that the merchandising continues to be the underlying problem at J. Crew. The company is more dependent than most apparel retailers on a product direction that is relevant to its customers and true… Read more »
Max Goldberg

J.Crew is taking a lot of digital steps at once in an effort to stay relevant in an ever changing retail environment. The question is, will the company be able to catch up or will it be too little, too late? Retailers need to have a strong online presence — e-commerce, social, marketing — while cultivating a desirable in-store experience. It’s not an easy task.

Charles Dimov
If J.Crew is going to jump into mobile big-time, they need to improve on some of the basics, then get their omnichannel play into gear (including online, in-store, social, mobile, voice … ). Check out their website today. They have BOPIS already active (ahead of 71 percent of the U.S. market). BUT you wouldn’t know it from going to their main page. You only find out about it at the last step of placing an order. J.Crew is a great company and fantastic retail brand. With a bit of tweaking, they could easily improve the shopper’s journey and bring in… Read more »
Bob Amster

While staying abreast of and keeping pace with mobility is necessary in order to compete on a level playing field, the basic problem with most retailers is the merchandise and/or the price. If you don’t have those right, and cannot attract your former client base, mobility and other technological wonders are not going to do it. Having too many (some underperforming) stores doesn’t help and having to carry a heavy debt load is like going for a swim with a boat anchor tied around your neck.

Neil Saunders

The issue with J. Crew is product and price, with a very generous helping of a heavy debt load on top.

Shutting stores and placing more emphasis on online and mobile might help the financials, but it won’t aid sales much. If the price and product are wrong, the channel you pick to sell through won’t move the needle.

Lee Peterson
I bet Abercrombie is so glad that the focus of poor performing/once great specialty retail is now on J. Crew rather than them. That aside, mobile is not going to help J. Crew until they fix the merchandise/fashion problems which is a major issue given the long tail of the internet and the way young people shop today. Fifteen years ago, given the strength of the aforementioned brands at the time, who would’ve predicted that Forever 21 or Zara, with their instant, fail-fast fashion, sloppy stores and bullet product turnover would’ve been the way forward? But such is the case.… Read more »
Brandon Rael
The fundamental fashion, assortment and branding issues that J. Crew has faced over the recent years will not be solved simply by an optimized mobile strategy. Certainly, a big component for any mid-priced specialty and department store retailer is to have streamlined, frictionless omnichannel BOPIS operations in place. As we all can agree, an optimized and personalized mobile/digital strategy is a critical component of this as well. However, J. Crew has struggled to retain their most loyal consumers with their struggles around getting their assortments, pricing, promotion and in-store experiences right. Also, the company has faced severe competition in the… Read more »
Art Suriano
J. Crew as with all retailers needs to give the customer a “reason” to shop them whether it be in-store or online. Traffic has been down, but there are still many customers shopping. The first question is, are customers shopping me? And the second question should be, am I doing everything I can to make the sale? For too many retailers the answer to the first question is sometimes, and the answer to the second question is no. How many unattended customers walk out of the store? How many customers didn’t find what they wanted and left? Start with addressing… Read more »
Ken Cassar

J. Crew’s online sales were up only 6 percent this Cyber Week, compared with overall e-commerce at 18 percent, surely a disappointing performance. In my own quick shop this morning, I found a number of items with very spotty size availability. Is it possible that J. Crew expected to do even worse? How else can those out-of-stocks be explained? Having a great mobile experience is important, but the basics of retailing are even more critical. Come on guys, get it together.

Stuart Jackson
J. Crew are right to focus on digital, and in many ways it’s a surprise they’ve left it until this late. Competition is tough and there’s no time to waste if you’ve ignored your digital strategy. UK shoppers tend to mirror those in the U.S., and right now they’re more confident than ever about buying online. According to PwC, in the UK since 2014 there has been a 39 percent increase in the number of consumers using their phone to make retail purchases at least once a year. But having a physical retail store still really important, and there is… Read more »
Joy Chen

J. Crew’s issues extend beyond online but require repositioning to increase brand relevance. They need to define the demographic of their consumer and provide fashion that appeals to that group. Additionally, they need to better define their unique offering and positioning vs. their sister brand, Madewell and other competitors like Uniqlo, Gap and others.

Online will help with their holiday sales, but will not solve the long-term issue which is consumer relevance.

Katherine Black
4 days 23 hours ago

Ultimately, to win a brand has to have a great value proposition for the customer. The digital improvements noted, however, are really hygiene factors that are highly unlikely to drive additional sales. If J.Crew can define the value that they will own and deliver for the customer and use digital to enable that, it could be part of a winning strategy. As others have stated, the missing piece is the value proposition — at the moment it is deal hunting which is not very sustainable.

Robert DiPietro

Digital can help but is not the answer for J. Crew. They need to better differentiate between other competitors such as H&M and Uniqlo. The merchandise isn’t unique enough to drive traffic and the amount of sales and “40 percent offs” probably aren’t helping a value proposition. In general the returns for online purchases will be higher so eventually you will have to deliver a solid in-store experience.

Cristian Grossmann
The growing pains felt after the departure of J. Crew’s former President and Executive Creative Director Jenna Lyons earlier this year certainly seem to be impacting this rocky transition to mobile. While the company’s current retail offering does maintain hints of the envelope-pushing workwear and bold branding that drove the J. Crew to prominence among young professionals over the past 15+ years, the overall brand aesthetic reads a bit muted in comparison to the neon accents and bold fashion rule-breaking that became core to J. Crew’s DNA with Lyons at the helm. To compensate for this creative transition that is… Read more »
Sterling Hawkins

There are lots of good comments here and it all boils down to having the right product. The mobile efforts are a necessary step and certainly support demand when it’s there. Mobile is the tip of the iceberg though as more and more emerging technologies are coming out from augmented reality fitting rooms to custom printed clothes. Every retailer needs to find their balance between the product and experience.

Cynthia Holcomb

No amount of “smoke and mirrors” will compensate for lack of great product in both the physical and digital worlds. J.Crew, the brand, is shorthand for classic, preppy clothes with a twist. Most everyone knows that. A brand worthy of reinvention.

Ricardo Belmar
These are all great strategic elements to modernize themselves as an omnichannel retailer, however, it still doesn’t address the fundamental problem J.Crew has had for years now — relevance of its product mix. They continue to have a merchandising problem that marketing and digital strategies are not going to fix. While their social strategy seems interesting and engaging, the question is still how this will lead to more conversions. I see lots of great elements in the strategy, but not enough proof yet in the execution. Others here have raised a good example with BOPIS — how many of their… Read more »
"Having a great mobile experience is important, but the basics of retailing are even more critical. "
"J.Crew’s issues extend beyond online but require repositioning to increase brand relevance."
"With full-body 3-D scanning and other virtual fitting technologies on the rise, J. Crew has a massive opportunity to add robust custom fitting..."

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