Many retailers are having something of a crisis.
Partly this is because some people just can’t be bothered to go to a physical retailer anymore.
Amazon, your 24-hour Jeeves that doesn’t just provide a clean towel and bons mots, looks after so many needs that somehow a trip to a store is merely a drag.
If you have to go to the mall, or worse, some forlorn city center, which retailer gives you the creeps?
You’re mumbling Walmart, aren’t you?
Perhaps that’s the worst for you, but it isn’t the worst in the just-published American Consumer Satisfaction Index.
True, Walmart doesn’t fare wonderfully. It scores a 66 rating, which puts it at the bottom of the department and discount stores. (At the top, Nordstrom.)
Take a look, though, at the bottom of the specialty retail stores list and you’ll find one denuded entity that has a 65.
This really isn’t a good score. It’s 7 points below anyone else in that category. It’s 12 points below the sector average.
Yes, it’s only 1 point below Walmart, but, how can I put this: It’s 6 points below Sears.
Wait, I haven’t told you who it is.
Think gorgeous, topless teenage men. Think lines outside and darkness inside.
Yes, it’s Abercrombie and Fitch.
ACSI’s director of research seemed aghast when he told CNN: “Normally when we see that kind of a gap, it’s a company so large it has monopoly power, like Walmart or McDonald’s.”
He worries that Abercrombie, which isn’t that big, is in trouble.
Those who care about money and money alone agree with such an assessment.
So why is this once-lauded fashion brand an emperor with no clothes?
Well, it’s in the middle of a so-called reinvention.
It’s even put clothes back on its topless chaps. It’s also trying not to throw a vast logo into everyone’s face and onto every piece of clothing.
Stunningly, it’s even allowing young human beings who aren’t stunningly attractive to work in its stores.
This is, indeed, a revolution.
But in fashion, revolutions come and go like seasons. In seasons, in fact.
There might be something more, however.
Thin is the line between exclusive and exclusionary. It was all very well when Abercrombie at one point installed velvet ropes outside, forcing people to actually queue for its wares and dream of being inside the dark, forbidden place where the loud music was playing.
At some point, though, perhaps the hype went a little stale.
There was also the top(less)-down style of management. Former CEO Mike Jeffries was said to micromanage everything from the clothes to the length of staff fingernails.
Did no one ever consider that teens aren’t exactly consistent beings?
Keeping them interested from one month to the next isn’t exactly simple.
The last thing they want is what last year’s teens were wearing.
They moved on. Abercrombie didn’t. It still thought it was gorgeous and didn’t realize that everyone had stopped staring at it.
Now, it’s not only associated with out-of-date clothing, but with customers who get no satisfaction.
You won’t get out of that just by looking pretty.