Abercrombie tones down sexy as re­tailer fights losses

The China Post - - LIFE - BY ANNE D’IN­NO­CEN­ZIO

Abercrombie & Fitch is say­ing good­bye to the shirt­less beef­cake mod­els who greeted cus­tomers at its doors.

The New Al­bany, Ohio-based com­pany, which op­er­ates stores un­der its name­sake brand and Hol­lis­ter, an­nounced Fri­day that store as­so­ciates will not be hired “based on body type or phys­i­cal at­trac­tive­ness” and it will no longer call them “mod­els” but “brand rep­re­sen­ta­tives.” It also said that its em­ploy­ees can be more in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic when they dress, ditch­ing its “look pol­icy,” which banned eye­liner and cer­tain hair styles among other things.

It’s also bid­ding adieu to “sex­u­al­ized” pho­tos in mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als in its stores and on its gift cards and shop­ping bags, start­ing in late July.

The moves are part of a new set of changes the re­tailer an­nounced Fri­day as it dis­tances it­self from the con­tro­ver­sial sex­u­al­ized im­age es­tab­lished by for­mer CEO Mike Jef­fries, who abruptly re­signed in De­cem­ber amid slug­gish sales. Jef­fries was at the helm more than two decades. But an­a­lysts won­der: if Abercrombie ditches the “sexy,” what new mar­ket­ing gim­mick will the re­tailer em­brace to get shop­pers back in its stores?

“Abercrombie & Fitch has to find its niche. I don’t know what that’s go­ing to be. Edgy was it,” said Ken Perkins, pres­i­dent of Re­tail Met­rics LLC, a re­tail re­search firm. “You are not go­ing to see to­tally whole­some, but I think the era has passed it by. They need to do some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

Jef­fries had rein­vented the chain from an ail­ing re­tailer of hunt­ing ap­parel to a seller of teen cloth­ing that be­came a must-have brand for young con­sumers fu­eled by racy ads and cat­a­logs and eye candy as­so­ciates that helped keep sales siz­zling. A big tra­di­tion: us­ing shirt­less mod­els for store open­ings and events.

But since the Great Re­ces­sion, the brand has stum­bled on hard times. Young shop­pers are repri­or­i­tiz­ing and spend­ing more money on gad­gets like iPhones than clothes. And when they do buy clothes, they do so dif­fer­ently than past gen­er­a­tions who found com­fort in dress­ing like their peers. To­day’s teens shun the idea of wear­ing the same out­fit as the girl or guy sit­ting next to them in chem­istry class. And many are opt­ing for in­ex­pen­sive fash­ions at H&M and other “fast fash­ion” chains, which con­stantly re­fresh their stores with the lat­est styles.

As sales slumped, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. came un­der fire for be­ing too ex­clu­sive. The out­spo­ken Jef­fries had stirred up con­tro­versy for state­ments about how Abercrombie & Fitch goes af­ter at­trac­tive kids who can fit into its clothes, alien­at­ing cus­tomers who don’t mir­ror the brand’s im­age.

The com­pany has posted 12 straight quar­ters of de­clines in rev­enue at stores open at least a year. That’s a key in­di­ca­tor of a re­tailer’s health be­cause it ex­cludes the im­pact from re­cently opened or closed stores. The com­pany’s to­tal sales and net in­come have also been on a down­ward trend over the past two years.

In the re­lease is­sued Fri­day, Abercrombie & Fitch said that it will con­tinue to fo­cus on its com­mit­ment to di­ver­sity among its sales staff. It noted that more than 50 per­cent of its store as­so­ciates are non-white. It also noted it will fo­cus on im­prov­ing cus­tomer ser­vice and will en­sure check-out lines are kept to a min­i­mum.

“Abercrombie & Fitch will re­cruit and hire the best as­so­ciates whose fo­cus will be on of­fer­ing our cus­tomers an ex­cel­lent in-store ex­pe­ri­ence,” said the let­ter sent Thurs­day to A&F re­gional man­agers and dis­trict man­agers. “We will not tol­er­ate dis­crim­i­na­tion based on body type or phys­i­cal at­trac­tive­ness and will not tol­er­ate dis­crim­i­na­tion in hir­ing based on any cat­e­gory pro­tected un­der the law.”

The changes were brought on by Chris­tos An­gelides, the pres­i­dent of Abercrombie & Fitch brand, and Fran Horowitz, pres­i­dent of Hol­lis­ter brand, both of whom joined the com­pany last year.

AP

In this Aug. 12, 2008 photo, an easy-on-the-eyes model pre­pares to greet shop­pers at Abercrombie & Fitch in New York.

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