Abercrombie’s new approach…about time, or too late?

Abercrombie and Fitch is apparently taking a page from its “fast fashion” competitors (Forever 21, Zara, and so forth), in order to move its product development in a faster and cheaper direction. The hope is that A&F can deliver more timely trend merchandise to its stores, at a better value. There is no question that its share has suffered over the past few years, while its senior management has steadfastly refused to make these sorts of moves. Recently, RetailWire panelists discussed whether these tactics will affect A&F’s brand image. Here’s my response:

Brand image? What brand image? A&F is caught in the middle (never a good place to be), between more nimble competitors like Forever 21 on the one hand and more upmarket stores like J. Crew. Abercrombie’s image was built on edgy marketing tactics that lost their luster years ago…the catalog photos and the shirtless male employees. Now a lot of these moves look gimmicky.

The most important thing A&F can do now is to change its sourcing and product development model. Making big bets months in advance on a trend like plaids — and then turning out to be wrong — leaves Abercrombie in a losing position vs. its “fast fashion” competitors. We’ll see whether the company culture can adapt to the new business model.

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