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Abercrombie & Fitch places risky bet on responsive design in Asian expansion

Abercrombie & Fitch is making a smart move in attempting to boost sagging sales by expanding digital retail operations to Asian countries, but banking on responsive Web design for its mobile-optimized sites may not be the safest solution.

The apparel retailer, which also encompasses brands Hollister Co., Gilly Hicks and abercrombie kids, is teaming up with cloud commerce platform Demandware to roll out the sites in the hopes of entering a new market quickly with a solution that does not require extensive overhead. Abercrombie & Fitch experienced an approximate 25 percent decline in profits in 2014’s third quarter, prompting the brand to seek out international markets in a bid to raise profits.

“Right now, A&F is in transition,” said Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at Retail Systems Research, Miami, FL. “Its existing signature look is no longer appealing in the US.

“Changes are promised. So it’s a tricky proposition.  If the old signature styles take off, then A&F will have dueling design ethos.  If not, they run the risk of turning off new shoppers.”

Ms. Rosenblum is not affiliated with Abercrombie & Fitch, but agreed to comment as an expert on retail.

The brand experience
Abercrombie & Fitch, which markets itself primarily to teenagers and college students, will be using Demandware’s central platform for managing several sites. This enables the retailer’s ecommerce team to retain control of the brand experience, an aspect which is imperative to Abercrombie & Fitch.

The team will be working closely with regional contacts to adapt each site to the requirements of the location.

Abercrombie & Fitch saw a change in leadership this past December when long-term CEO Mike Jeffries retired from his position after eleven consecutive quarters of declining sales. The brand has been turning to mobile in the hopes of combatting slow profits, and beat the five-clicks-to-purchase retail average on mobile sites in 2013, with a two-step checkout process (see story).

However, turning to a mobile-optimized site boasting responsive Web design may not be the most efficient solution at entering the Asian markets more fully.

“I’m not so sure that responsive design is living up to its promise,” Ms. Rosenblum said. “Plus, like a lot of technical terms, it seems to be getting watered down.

“As a non-retail example, my company is seeking bids for our own new Web site. One company wanted an extra charge for ‘responsive design.’

“That’s a bit of an oxymoron…so my better advice is to make sure that it’s REAL responsive design.”

Adjusting marketing
Abercrombie & Fitch has been adjusting marketing tactics as of late, due to the declining interest in the once-popular brand. In the past year, the retailer has been focusing more on a target demographic of college students rather than teens by leveraging mobile loyalty programs and lower pricing strategies (see story).

The brand rolled out a customer loyalty program, A&F Club, in 2012, which promised members-only deals and free shipping on select offers. A&F Club is currently undergoing a revamping, and will be launching again in 2015.

The Abercrombie & Fitch mobile application offers user the ability to listen to special playlists, take a style quiz and shop looks on-the-go with direct access to the mobile site.

The relaunch of the A&F Club will likely be imperative for the brand, as it stands to compete with lower-priced retailers such as H&M and Forever 21 that already offer shoppers interactive content, in-app games and exclusive promotions.

“I think mobile is essential for all retailers expanding into emerging markets,” Ms. Rosenblum said. “In these markets, smart phones are far more ubiquitous than personal computers.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York