Teen-Focused Retailers like Abercrombie Try to Reinvent Themselves
Byline: The Washington Post
Teen-focused retailers like Abercrombie try to reinvent themselves
By Sarah Halzack
WASHINGTON -- To visit the Abercrombie & Fitch store at the Pentagon City mall in Arlington, Va., this back-to-school shopping season is to see a retailer fighting to win back its customers. The store's windows, which for years were kept shuttered to create an air of mystery and exclusivity, are now open and feature a mannequin wearing a gauzy white camisole and skinny jeans. Inside the store, electronic beats still pulse through the speakers, but at a much lower volume than before. And to find a T-shirt with the company's famous logo, once a staple item, you'll have to walk to the back of the store.
Abercrombie & Fitch, formerly the epitome of teen cool, is fighting along with rivals American Eagle and Aeropostale to lure back the legions of teenagers who abandoned them in recent years for trendier stores.
While shopping with her mom last week, Isis Corbett of Rockville, Md., offered a grimace and an eye-roll when asked if she likes Abercrombie & Fitch.
"A lot of teenage girls wear it, so everyone else has it," Corbett, 14, said. But "you can find more unique things here," she added, gesturing to the racks of jewelry surrounding her at Forever 21, a competing retailer that offers cheaper, trendier items.
Some of the hippest retailers of the not-too-distant past are struggling to adapt to a new era in which technology makes it possible for their competitors to respond more nimbly to teens' fickle tastes. The challenge of making an up-to-the-moment, easy-on-the-wallet garment with a supply network that stretches across the globe is testing the retail industry's traditionally slower ways of churning out merchandise. Advantages are going to stores that use novel approaches to ensure that a design can be made in response to Internet buzz and then taken from a factory floor to a suburban mall in a matter of weeks.
"These young consumers are shopping by seeing what's on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter -- they're sharing on a constant basis. It's always around them," said Marcie Merriman, a consumer-engagement consultant at Ernst & Young. "So if what's in the stores is not changing as fast as what's happening around them, you're going to lose them."
Abercrombie has shortened its development cycle for new merchandise and adopted "fabric platforming" -- buying a large quantity of a single material so it can be used to create a variety of clothing pieces, maybe a crop top, or maybe a palazzo pant, depending on how trends bubble up. It is also expanding its production capabilities in the United States and South America as part of an effort to get clothes to market faster.
"They are addressing [the problems]," said Liz Dunn, a consumer analyst with Macquarie Securities. "It just remains to be seen how quickly they can get their customer back."
Some retailers have figured out the formula. Fast-fashion outposts H&M and Forever 21 have emerged as popular shopping destinations in part because they can undercut their teen-focused competitors on price, analysts said. Just as important, though, is their ability to quickly add new styles to store shelves.
Retailers that have struggled, analysts say, have also been slow to acknowledge a major change in fashion: Teens no longer want to be bedecked in the logo-emblazoned T-shirts and sweatshirts that rocketed these companies to success in the early 2000s. …