Evolution of Abercrombie & Fitch
The Company was started as Abercrombie Co. by David Abercrombie in 1898. In 1904, Ezra Fitch bought a large amount of share into the company and the shop came to be known as Abercrombie & Fitch with Ezra Fitch becoming the official co-founder. The store continued its progress but the founders eventually parted their ways because of the difference in opinion. (Business Insider, 2015)
For nearly two decades, starting from late 1960s, the company struggled to make a hold in the market, then finally in 1988, it was bought by The Limited Inc., also known as L Brands. This was the period when Abercrombie & Fitch became fundamentally an apparel based company. In the present market, A&F has three different stores, each targeting a different set of consumers. Abercrombie targets the market of students between the ages of 12 to 14, Hollister Co. targets the students of high school and Abercrombie & Fitch targets the students between the ages of 19 to 22.
Change in market strategy
In 1992, Michael Jefferies took over as the company president. Jefferies made a clear strategy which allowed the Company’s sales to reach at a spectacular figure of $165 Million from $50 Million in two years of time. (FundingUniverse, n.d.). Michael Jefferies took the advantage of demographic change of the country at that time in which the population of youth was at rise. The old product of the store was replaced by casual wear products, for both men and women, of high price range.
The company made a shift in their advertising campaign by introducing an element of sexiness. These efforts were welcomed by the desired customers but were criticized by some parents. Nevertheless, the efforts and changes made by Jefferies transformed the Company into a large group with more than 1000 stores and producing $4.5 Billion in annual sales.
Criticisms of the strategy
Michael Jefferies laid down a clear strategy of targeting a particular segment of market, namely good-looking youth. On one occasion, in 2006, he said, “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” This quote of Jefferies has recently created a massive controversy for the company as comment sounds insensitive towards the other group consumers. (Infantry, 2013)
A sense of isolation has also been developed in many consumers as the company is producing products only for the desired skinny, attractive people. The company has not introduced a double extra-large size pants for women, although, the same size pants were available for men. The largest size pants for women was 10 in the store while the average size of the women of U.S. is 12. Hence this selective line-up of clothes with respect to size resulted into the isolation of a large consumer base of women. In addition to these policies, the company has suffered criticisms for its policy such as dictating the fashion norms for its employees and including racy catalogues. (McGregor, 2013) Also, criticisms from celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres regarding the policy of sizing by the company which eventually resulted into a loss of sale. (Daily Mail Repoter, 2013)
A well-defined market segment is absolutely in the interest of an apparel company but the problem with A&F seems to be atmosphere of isolation created for the other sets of consumers and restricting the potential consumers by limiting the size of clothing in store is also a policy which needs to be looked at.
One of the best solution for the company would be to add variety of sizes in their line-up so that the group of consumer, that could not use the product and was left isolated, can now use the product and hence will eventually increasing the market of Abercrombie & Fitch. Many other companies of the same background have used this strategy of adding various sizes and there seems to be no change in the brand perception of those companies. Hence it would be a good decision for the company, in terms of sales, if such a step were to be taken. Also, the company will be able to remove itself from the controversy and negative campaigning on the internet and social media.
It is worth noting that Abercrombie & Fitch is gradually moving towards the above mentioned solution. Recently, A&F announced that it would soon start producing larger size for women. Currently, the maximum size for women in A&F store is 10, the expected increase in size is by 2. Hence, it is going to be a gradual change and the primary motivation for such a change seems to be the competition provided by other companies such as Debenhams. (Peacock, 2013)
The other Perspective
The product which targets a certain section of consumers and focuses on them creates a sense of brand exclusivity. The sense of brand exclusivity is attained as it the product cannot be achieved easily by a wide range of consumers. This in-turn can increases the desirability of the product and a positive image of the product is stuck inside the future consumer’s mind. (proPRcopy, 2013) Various other brands have followed the same strategy and the popular image of them is generally positive.
A&F has done the same thing in past and generated a sense of exclusivity but certain points such as the above mentioned quote by Jefferies and the size controversy has invited negative criticisms. The company can hence follow the path on which it is already on; with certain changes in the policy which aims at not offending the population and potential consumers.
A&F has been created as a valuable brand among the thin and young population of schools and colleges. But this policy has also attracted severe criticisms as it excludes the other sets of people who cannot fulfill the criteria defined by A&F. The company has either the option of increasing the sense of inclusiveness or the option of continuing with its past strategy. In the modern times, of internet and social media, company has to be selective in its statements, advertisements and references so as not invite any further criticism and deterioration of brand image.
Business Insider. (2015, n.d. n.d.). ABERCROMBIE: How A Hunting And Fishing Store Became A Sex-Infused Teenybop Legend. Retrieved from Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/abercrombie-fitch-history-2011-4?IR=T#it-was-the-place-to-go-for-hunters-in-the-early-1900s-1
Daily Mail Repoter. (2013, May 21). Mock Abercrombie & Fitch ad featuring plus-size blogger is latest to hit back at retailer’s ‘thin and beautiful’ customer policy. Retrieved from Mail online: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2328513/Mock-Abercrombie–Fitch-ad-featuring-plus-size-blogger-latest-hit-retailers-beautiful-customer-policy.html
FundingUniverse. (n.d., n.d. n.d.). Abercrombie & Fitch Co. History. Retrieved from FUNDINGUNIVERSE: http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/abercrombie-fitch-co-history/
Infantry, A. (2013, May 16). Abercrombie & Fitch CEO responds to size controversy. Retrieved from Business: http://www.thestar.com/business/2013/05/16/abercrombie_fitch_ceo_responds_to_size_controversy.html
McGregor, J. (2013, May 22). Abercrombie & Fitch’s big, bad brand mistake. Retrieved from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-leadership/wp/2013/05/22/abercrombie-fitchs-big-bad-brand-mistake/
Peacock, L. (2013, November 9). Dear Abercrombie & Fitch, is ‘larger sizes’ all you’ve got to win women back? You’ll need to try harder than that. Retrieved from The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10437048/Dear-Abercrombie-and-Fitch-is-larger-sizes-all-youve-got-to-win-women-back-Youll-need-to-try-harder-than-that.html
proPRcopy. (2013, May 9). A lesson from Abercrombie about exclusivity in marketing. Retrieved from proPRcopy: http://www.proprcopy.com/copywriters-blog/exclusivity-in-marketing-a-lesson-from-abercrombie/