Emotional Response to Abercrombie & Fitch Retail Stores

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Memorandum

Attached is a proposal regarding a change to the current emotional reactions brought on by A&F retail stores.  The proposal illustrates that emotional response is the single most neutrally regarded area of contention at A&F locations.  A lack of positive emotional response is concerning considering the nature of the clothing market, and specific demographic A&F aims to entice.  A random selection of A&F customers were asked to review their shopping experiences at a particular retail location.  Participants indicated that their emotional responses to store settings were largely neutral, needing more consumer motivation to experience emotion.  All other aspects of store layout received largely positive reviews and thus may only need secondary considerations and changes.  Considerations in regard to costs of any changes have been included in this document, as well as possibilities toward what changes may solve the current issue.  Please address and questions or concerns to my extension or to my email.

Abstract

A&F has been a large player in the designer clothing market since the company was taken over by now CEO Mike Jefferies in 1992 (Zimbalist, 2012).  Although the store opened with humble beginnings, a change in market to the designer clothing sector opened the company up to unparalleled success.  The company seeks to provide its target demographic with not only stylish clothing, but a look that emits the feelings of the preppy youths it seeks to appeal to.  Jefferies has done an excellent job of translating the connection into sales and dollars.  The company is one of the fastest growing brands in its specific section of designer wares.  A&F is one of the most well-known brands on the market, with connections to the average American and celebraties alike (Salzer, 2012).  The brand caters specifically to the prep demographic and in turn receives most of its praise and purchases from said buyers.  Although A&F is a powerhouse in its market, clothing sales vary greatly depending upon current styles and customer connection.  The surveys detailed in this proposal indicate that most customers are indecisive as to whether A&F stores elicit an emotional response.  A lack of emotional connection between such a focused organization and its target demographic is concerning to say the least.  Customers also reported that although items were generally easy to locate, there was room for improvement in the placement sector as well.

Research Methods

The central purpose of this proposal is to illustrate the need for new store based marketing plans and strategies that will elicit positive emotional responses form A&F consumers.  Information on consumer opinions about specific stores was extracted through a multi-question surveys about A&F retail outlets.  The surveys were given to twenty A&F customers of varying loyalty, asking questions about store feel as well as appearance and ease of access.  High and low frequency consumers reported that stores were only somewhat effective at creating positive emotional environments.  Although all other store aspects included in the questionnaire received positive reviews, of above sixty percent affirmative response, the area of item location was viewed as second in terms of alteration necessity.  The possibility for interconnectivity between all areas of performance is high.  

Eliciting a positive emotional response from consumers is tied to the specific stores ability to adhere to preconceived notions about the style and purpose of A&F locations.  Subpar store organization does not align with the traits of a prep styled student, whose style is focused on cleanliness and organization.  Over organization runs the risk of opposing company intentions.  Prep style is clean and laid back, meaning that a casual feel is necessary to maintain the type of environment sought by the A&F consumer demographic.  The clothing sector is a fickle market, with trends changing often for hard to predict reasons.  A&F has worked hard to build the brand recognition and style they have, so it is optimal for the company to maintain their look rather than make drastic adjustments to fit current trends.  Minor adjustments can be made to store layout and personnel in order to rectify the lack of emotional response.  Service relationships are crucial to optimal customer satisfaction and represent a solid point of attack for discussions about improvements to the status of retail locations.

Results

(Figures A-E omitted for preview. Available via download).

The information provided by the questionnaires speaks to a need for enhanced customer engagement and emotional connection to A&F shopping experiences.  Clothing is an item that is subject to high variability in regard to popularity and desirability.  Although trends change, the market is largely cyclical, making the retention of customers vital to company success.  A&F has succeeded in the past because of the strength of the brand, and the recognition it garners in popular culture.  The company is based upon an unwavering loyalty and dedication toward the specific market demographic of preppy college aged youths (Zimbalist, 2012).  Additional benefits are brought on by the demographic’s connections to popular culture and celebrity interactions (Salzer, 2012).  The lack of emotional connection shown in the surveys is concerning because it represents a distancing between the company and its core consumers.

Figure A shows a propensity for repeat customers and high brand association.  Over half of the customers that responded to the survey stated that they shop at A&F stores either often or very often.  The tendency toward repeat consumption improves the strength of the other graphs derived from the relevant information.  Customers who shop often at A&F locations are the main party of concern for company executives.  Any less than stellar responses mean that A&F is not properly connecting with its core demographic, and that is a huge issue considering the companies style.  The high brand association makes sense considering the companies outward and even internal image.  A&F strives to not only represent, but to embody the college prep style that their clothing line caters too.

Responding customers were also asked to give their opinions on the cleanliness of the specific retail location.  A&F stores scored high marks, as 75% of the questioned customers affirmed that the specific outlet was clean.  Although 20% did mention that the store was only somewhat clean, only 5% percent felt that the store was not up to personal standards of cleanliness.  A&F stores can be quite satisfied with the results considering the amount of variability that may have been involved with the question itself.  Different people are subject to different opinions about what constitutes a clean store.  There are also near random changes in store outlook depending on time of day and unforeseen circumstances.  The possibility for random negative effects on consumer perception makes 75% a solid number for representing positive customer opinions about store cleanliness.

Figure C depicts a graphical representation of customers’ opinions about store organization.  The chart is quite similar to figure B, only with slightly reduced scores in all fields.  Customers still reported generally satisfaction with store organization, as 65% stated that the store was up to personal expectations.  Both neutral and negative responses increased by 5% in comparison to those give in regard to store cleanliness.  There is an inherent connection between store organization and store cleanliness in that it is difficult to have completely unrelated results in the two fields.  A clean store generally produces a somewhat well-organized store and that connection can been seen in the similarities between the two graphs.  Nonetheless store organization did not score quite as positive marks and represented the second lowest polling category for A&F retail locations.

The connection between store organization and a customer’s ability to locate the item they are seeking is incredibly strong.  Customers’ responses when asked if they were able to locate their specific item were transformed into Figure D below.  Here customer opinions on the questions were generally positive, much like the opinions about store cleanliness and organization.  Although 70% of respondents stated that they were able to locate their item, the numbers that were not able to do so grow in comparison to those that were neutral.  15% of consumers stated that they were not able to find the item they sought, which were the most negative responses in figures B through D.  The fact that a consumer considered the store to be organized did not necessarily mean that they were able to find a specific item.  All of the past three figures or inherently intertwined and can likely be improved with similar changes. 

Figure E depicts the percentages of responding consumers that felt, or did not feel an emotional response in regard to their shopping experience at A&F.  Emotional response was the only category that did not receive a generally positive response for the questionnaire’s respondents.  The majority of consumers selected the neutral option in regard to the emotional nature of the specific store visit.  Only 35% stated that the store pushed an emotional button, with 15% soundly deciding that the store did not elicit an emotional response.  The numbers are concerning considering the positive results seen in all other relevant figures.  Emotional responsiveness is difficult to create, and in line with this idea consumers generally felt neutral about A&F retail locations (Rowen, 2012).  There is certainly the possibility for a connectedness between Figure E and the three figures that came before it.  Customers may have been expecting an exceptionally clean or well organized store and lost their spark when the store was not up to expected standards.  There is also an interesting dynamic considering Figure A.  Most of the respondents were repeat customers, meaning that consumers may continue to frequent the store regardless of emotional responsiveness.

Conclusions and Recommendations

It is clear from customer reports that emotional responsiveness is the number one area that A&F stores must improve upon in the future.  Although current consumers are still reporting high brand association and repeat shopping, it is too risky to continue without making some alterations to improve emotional connection in customers.  There is the possibility that customers will keep shopping at A&F because of the strength of the brand name, in which case costly changes may hurt the company more than help.  Nonetheless changes must be investigated, as it is likely that repeat customers have only recently felt a lack of emotional connection and are continuing to shop off of past perceptions and store experiences.

There are several options available for creating a stronger emotional connection between A&F stores and their core demographic.  The changes generally focus on personnel and revolve around various social dynamics, making cost estimates difficult.  A&F may consider altering retail locations to better mimic the prep school mecca that is company headquarters (Zimbalist, 2012).  Store organization and item location could be altered in line with the changes, improving on all aspects were A&F is less than optimal.  Like the company’s campus style home base, retail locations could be reconstructed in a collegiate style, with specific sectors for specific types of items and styles.  The increased distinction between areas would also create a stronger emotional connection between consumers and their specific style of choice.  Unfortunately, such a change would require a reorganization of the entire store, and global implementation would be incredibly costly.  Therefore, it is imperative to test any such changes on a few select locations, and to monitor results and refine company strategy from that point forward.

The other angle of approach is to adjust the emotional impact of store representatives, preferably through additional training and instruction.  A&F already surrounds itself with members of its target demographic, and many these types of people are likely current employees.  Although sharing a common style and social sector helps with emotional connection, it does not necessarily guarantee it (Rowen, 2012).  Employees at retail locations with additional training in eliciting emotional responses from consumers would bolster sales and customer loyalty.  A&F as a brand already relies heavily on brand recognition and a specific position in the clothing sector.  The company adheres closely to prescribed models for its business and styles.  Training employees to enhance their emotional productivity would increase store revenue, customer retention and brand dispersion (Zorfas, 2012).  As with store layout changes, global implementation would be very costly as each employee would need to be replaced or trained.  A&F should construct a similar testing program to examine the possible positive effects of such changes, and implement then in situations where expected benefits outweigh costs.

References

Chittenden, T. (2010). For whose eyes only? The gatekeeping of sexual images in the field of teen sexuality. Sex Education; Feb2010, Vol. 10 Issue 1, p79-90 Retrieved from Academic Search Premier

Rowen, G. (2003, December). Emotional labour, theories of emotion, and social exchange theory: Examining emotions in the context of an evolving service sector. Retrieved from http://www.tasa.org.au/docs/conferences/2003/Emotions/101103 Rowen.pdf

Riel, A. (1995). Waiting for service at the checkout: Negative emotional responses, store image and overall satisfaction. Retrieved from http://www.emeraldinsight.com

Salzer, A.. (2012).The Situation vs. the Fitchuation. Intellectual Property Litigation; Winter2012, Vol. 23 Issue 2, 40-41.

Zimbalist, K. & Jefferies, M. (2005). Time; Style & Design, Vol. 166, p76-76 

Zorfas, A. (2011, December 21). The new reality: Why retailers need to operationalize emotion. Retrieved from http://www.cmo.com/content/cmo-com/home/articles/2011/12/21/the-new-reality-why-retailers-need-to-operationalize-emotion.html