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Abercrombie: Tokyo or Bust

February 10, 2010

Last week, BoF reported on the debacle that is Abercrombie’s Tokyo flagship store opening. Relying on a loyal fan following, the brand hoped that to make a huge impact on the Japanese retail scene. The following is a description of what Abercrombie’s opening weekend was like:

– The entire staff is comprised of Caucasians or Japanese Americans who speak to customers in English. Most foreign retailers hire an exclusively Japanese staff who behave according to customer expectations.

– Many of the male staffers have exposed chests, which is entirely inappropriate to the Japanese consumer. I mean, it’s uncomfortable to be around half naked men anywhere, but in outwardly conservative Japan?

– The store reeks of the instantly recognizable Abercrombie fragrance. The Japanese are typically scent-averse, and prefer light or no scent at all.

– Customers have complained that they can’t see the colors of the clothing in the extremely dim store lighting

– The women’s collection is housed on the top floors of the building. However, the elevator stops on the 7th, and shoppers have to walk up flights of stairs to get to the goods. I would not be happy with that, would you?

If you think about it, most of this is what Abercrombie does in their U.S. stores and it’s what makes the brand so distinctive. But to be totally unwavering when entering a new market, is that brand arrogance, ignorance or genius?

We live in a time where consumers no longer aspire to wear or buy into a brand, but rather, they decide how that brand fits into their own lives. If you subscribe to the same philosophy, then I hope you will agree with me as I misquote Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Having suffered dramatically this last year, it might be wise for Abercrombie to heed this advice if they want to be around much longer.

Read more at BoF.

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