Abercrombie & Fitch Co. on Thursday announced it will bring its new A&F store concept to Hong Kong’s largest mall, Harbour City, by December — one of six new stores of its kind to open by the end of the year. Others will open next month in Troy, MI and Atlanta. In August, such stores will open in McLean, VA; Scottsdale, AZ; and Los Angeles, according to a company press release.
The approximately 6,800 square foot Harbour City store will be based on the first A&F prototype store, a 4,860-ft “boutique” at the Polaris Fashion Mall in Columbus, OH that opened in February. The company said it is demonstrating improved customer engagement and productivity on a smaller footprint. Four of the new stores will downsize an existing location.
Each fitting room in the new design includes its own controls for light and music and a phone charging dock. Some are designed as a suite, allowing for privacy while also sharing new looks with an accompanying friend or family member, the company said. These stores have also ramped up their customer service, with associates on hand to help with online orders and more checkout opportunities throughout.
Abercrombie & Fitch's new store concept, the first in 15 years, is the teen apparel retailer's latest attempt to make good on its repeated promises to turn up the lights at its darkly-lit, heavily perfumed stores, an approach held over from the tenure of CEO Mike Jeffries, who created an exclusive ethos catering to some mythic cool kid. (The retailer isn't completely giving up its heavy perfume, but will use a “lighter, cleaner, gender-neutral fragrance” to “subtly scent” stores, the company has said.) Interiors will feature cork, bronze, galvanized steel, concrete, vegan leather, wood and marble.
At this point, Jeffries has been gone for some three years, but the retailer has been slow to find a replacement identity. The new store prototype hews more closely to Abercrombie's roots as an all-American brand that “reflects that confidence and independence of spirit as well as our own dedication to a more diverse and inclusive culture,” the company said last October, with an emphasis on more diverse and clothed models, more denim and less logo-centric clothing. (From pictures and the company’s description of its new store, the interpretation of what that means sounds upscale and masculine.)
The rebrand seeks to leverage Abercrombie’s 125-year history as a preppy American retailer, newly-minted CEO Fran Horowitz has said. But while A&F's Hollister brand sports a California surf vibe with some traction, the flagship’s changes haven’t resonated with the fickle teen demographic. Some observers question its pivot to appeal to older consumers, presumably with more money to spend, which this store redesign seems also to foster.
Abercrombie's reputation has also suffered diversity issues, with a bruising loss in 2015 at the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in an 8–1 decision that a job applicant who wore a hijab for religious reasons and was denied a job could indeed sue for discrimination. A lawsuit filed last year over a transgender employee’s firing shows that the company’s “look policy” may still be getting it in trouble. Those ongoing legal issues may have helped land Abercrombie among the least-liked brands in America, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index. The retailer has answered such news and criticism with efforts like an anti-bullying campaign and a push to talk about environmental sustainability.
At the start of the year, after a rough holiday season, the retailer laid off 150 of its 2,200 workers at its New Albany, OH headquarters. Despite its woes, the company isn't highly leveraged, which could be an attraction for the retailers said to be interested in taking over the company, and allows it time and money to pivot. Last month, the retailer said it was in preliminary discussions with interested parties regarding a sale.