Monday, June 9, 2014

Guest Voices! | Letter to Mike: A Very British Report – Part II...




Hi Mike,

Are you ready for part two Mike? (Reader, see Part I). I've talked about the "bricks"; it's now time to get stuck into the "clicks" side of the A&F brand. I firmly believe that A&F's biggest battle is against the devil within, ignorance is not bliss and all parts of the business need to be working in unison to achieve the greater goals of making A&F relevant again. However, I see a website that is not working in harmony with stores, and it is positively working against them with the amount of promotions, cut through prices and raft of clearance merchandise, as well as poor website management. What incentive is there to support your local A&F store? So let's tackle the first big issue and that's price of merchandise!

Back when A&F launched in the UK there was uproar at the USD to GBP conversion for merchandise, but having the "cool" image and being the first overseas store, I can fully understand from a commercial point of view why this price point was set. Fast forward seven years and things are very different in the US and the UK. A worldwide recession, steadily increasing price points, a lack of inspiring garments, a reduction in quality and garment size (seven years ago a men's large polo was the same size as a current XL polo!) – the Abercrombie cool has started to wear thin. In a rising fast fashion environment not only is the quality of the garment important, but the price is also key. A GB£60 / US$60 plain polo shirt which over the last 10 years has almost seen a 100% increase in price, and which has also shrunk in size, just doesn't represent a return for your hard earned cash. Apart from a complete lack of inspiring designs, anyone who is prepared to paid full RRP really needs their head examined.

While not all A&F products are overpriced, I really do feel that a complete review of the pricing structure is needed. Let's be honest, the cost to make a £60 / $60 polo shirt isn't that much. After all, they all come from, i.e., China: a £20 / $20 reduction on the RRP would at least bring these down to a more realistic price point. A $60+ polo shirt has to justify its price point, not only in terms of garment quality but also design and originality and not just the same-old same-old which seems to be too often the case in the current collection of polo shirts. Apart from tees, I would bring the A&F price point down by, i.e., £20 / $20 on just about everything that's current price is greater than $50 (Editor's note: all polos at, $60 (original price), in the US were on sale at $29-39 with an additional 25% off site-wide promotion at the time of the publication of this post), surely it is better to sell through products at the full RRP instead of relying on price promotions to shift merchandise..... Oh wait, this brings me nicely onto promotions!!

For those of you that do not live in the US, this isn't going to make pleasant reading (as the rest of us are lucky if we get a summer and winter sale). Well, in the US, it's a non stop party of promotions! Only mugs or if you shop in the 5th Avenue flagship store pay full price. Please let me indulge you while I elaborate regarding the multitude of offers and promotions. Here we go: dresses $29 and up, all men's and women's shorts $29 and up, all women's swimwear $12, men's $25; Memorial Day sale, whole store, yes you read that correctly, 40-60% off!! Clearance 70% off! Women's body care $5 a pop compared to £17 in the UK, that's a staggering $28!! How can this price difference be justified? So four body mists in the US for $20 of which amount of money wouldn't even buy one in the UK!

Why the hell would you pay full price with the amount of crazy sales on the US website?

Putting the Memorial Day sale to one side, I did a little bit of sales research. At the time of checking the A&F men's section of the website, a total of 676 items of men's clothing were on sale out of a total of 923 items. This is a whopping 73% of the entire men's range on sale! So how does it stack up for women's, I hear you ask, Mike. Well there were a total of 998 women's items on sale out of a total of 1353 items, so almost 74%. At least the percentages are consistent across both genders! The bottom line is, with this amount of reduced items, either sales are dire or your prices are too high in the first place, I'll let you decide, Mike, but I think I know the answer.....

What makes things even worse for the poor stores is prices online do not match up with the store prices. Now, I know some stores are excluded from some promotions and run different promotions, but let's make it simpler for the customer, let's have a clear pricing strategy that is as clear online as it is in stores: your current model is confusing and not customer friendly.

Now let's move onto clearance. I really hope that with A&F opening more outlets in the US and Europe (OK. I know we don't get a clearance section online anyway!) that the reduced clearance merchandise in-stores in the fabled back rooms can be shipped off to the outlets to make way for more current merchandise. While 70% off last winter's jumpers in the middle of May may seem like a right bargain, trust me, I would sooner see the clearance merchandise shipped off to the outlets where it belongs. In fact, Mike, I would like to see you remove the clearance section from the website totally, which at least would make the website current and, let's face it, there is enough sale merchandise without having another whole section of clearance merchandise to trawl through as well!

Now let's look at website management or lack there of sometimes. The website has improved, being able to search by size was long overdue, but there are some real fundamental flaws in the website. Let's cover off a few for you, Mike: skinny corduroy pants, located in the pants section of the UK website but the jeans section of the US website! The clue is "pants", Mike, why on earth are they in the jeans section? Misplacement of merchandise is a common theme as it happens: the ladies Floral Ball Cap sat in the men's baseball cap section of the UK website for months! It took almost two Summer/Winter sales before the men's South Notch Sweater was removed from the ladies' sweater section back to the men's section. What about the magical sale price reductions: oh, how I have laughed when certain outerwear garments have hit the sale with a whopping reduction [sarcasm] of 10p (15 cents)!! And sale items which actually go up in price when in the sale. You see, the thing is, Mike, this makes the A&F website look like it's run by a bunch of amateurs, so it does beg the question, Who checks your website and how often? Whoever it is, you should be asking them for a refund as they are taking you to the cleaners! After all, we are taking about an international brand with turnover revenue in excess of $4 billion a year now.

I'm not quite finished on website management. I was surprised as everyone when A&F Ashford outlet opened last May, but I didn't realise that it opened in the Bermuda Triangle. When you go to the store locator for the UK, there is no mention of A&F Ashford outlet even though the website is set up for stores and outlets! Embarrassed to let people know you have outlets Mike? Miromar outlets in Florida is on the website so why isn't Ashford? I thought the whole point of A&F Ashford was its prime location to catch Eurostar passengers coming over to UK from Europe. Well after being open for over a year, maybe it's time to reward the store with its name and location on the website, then A&F Ashford would really hit the big time!

The word commonly being bandied about for A&F is "stale", and the 2014 men's collection certainly doesn't help. how many inspiring items can you truly say are in the Spring-Summer 2014 collection? I'm not holding out for much of an improvement in the Fall-Winter collection!! But I do see signs of progress in the women's collection. Mike, the arrogance of A&F can no longer be ignored: it's time to get smarter, recognise your failings, and be seen to do something about them and bring all areas of the business together to work cohesively for the good of all brands. There is so much untapped potential that seems really basic retail business sense to me. Mike, I appreciate change takes time and Rome wasn't built in a day, but 21st century fashion retail is just as ruthless. With A&F's 122th anniversary here, it's time for a bit of humility from within. Change is good, and change is what drives us to make things better: I want to believe this will also be the case for all of the A&F brands in the near future.

As always, Mike, I will be keeping a close eye on future developments.

Abercrombie & Fitch sales, shorts, US,

Abercrombie & Fitch sales, swim, US,

Abercrombie & Fitch sales, dresses, US,

Abercrombie & Fitch clearance, addition reductions, US,

Abercrombie & Fitch 40-60% sale (these are not uncommon), US,

A&F store locator, missing is Ashford outlet albeit designated
to show outlets as well,

Abercrombie & Fitch men's shirts on sale, UK,

Written content composed by Peter M. as Guest Voices contribution at The Sitch on Fitch.

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