Hollister VS Abercrombie Branding and User Experience.

Abercrombie an Fitch VS Hollister
I make no excuses for the fact I love Abercrombie and Fitch and more recently, Hollister. For those of you who are not familiar with either store, they are essentially the same company just selling slightly different style clothes, Hollister claims to be “laid back Californian style”.

Whilst walking around my local Hollister store, and having had the experience of Abercrombie and Fitch on 5th Avenue NY last year and London recently, I thought it was interesting to look at their branding and the user experience of their stores. Abercrombie sell their clothes for an average of 1/3 more than Hollister and as I started to dig deeper into the brand I started to find noticeable differences to how the quality of Abercrombie next to Hollister would be perceived regardless of the fact there doesn’t seem to be any difference in the quality of their clothes.

Abercrombie opts for a neat Serif font with secondary fonts in Sans Serif, Hollister opts for the complete reverse. Serif fonts always seem to me to carry a certain quality of a brand, used properly of course. San-Serif are normally seen in brands we deem more fun or personable, such as “eBay” to use just one example. Hollister opts for simple brown paper bags and corrugated cardboard style tags whereas Abercrombie goes for bags with fabric handles and raised ribbed grey paper on boxes and clothes tags.

The colours used in both brands are always limited, as with any good brand. Abercrombie opts for dark greys, crisp whites and a contrasting red, while Hollister sticks to it’s more earthy look of brown, dark red and a pale powder blue. Looking at the two comparatively I’m sure many of you would instantly be able to guess which had the higher price tag purely down to what you are seeing with the branding.

The user experience of actually going into one of these stores is terrible but somehow a pleasure all at the same time. If you are not lured by the smell of the store in the first place, you would be hard pressed to actually find one if you didn’t know it was there, you will rarely see a big shop front emblazoned with their logo, for either store. Instead both opt for subtle small signage that could easily be missed by passing traffic.

Once you are actually in, good luck in trying to find what you’re looking for. There is no order to anything except jeans, male clothes are mixed with female clothes, it’s almost completely dark bar a few dimmers on the edges of the shelves (don’t touch them, they hurt) , you’ll be dodging beautiful people dancing to blaring music and generally feel completely lost. You turn a corner to enter another unorganised section only to be met by a plant and an armchair blocking your way, it’s like being in a maze, a dark maze with beautiful smelling clothes all around you. You see mannequins dressed amazingly and shout to an assistant if they have “ONE OF THESE IN A SMALL” with accompanying British ‘shouting sign language’, inevitably the answer always comes back “No we don’t have those now, they were last season” to cue more frustration of trying to find something similar amongst the piles of clothes that you can’t see properly. NB. I actually got a sweater to the checkout last weekend convinced it was blue only to find it was brown. The clothes are sized in American aside from a few items which are thankfully XS, S, M, L but generally you’ll also be battling with converting 1,3,5,7,9 to your standard UK size.

The whole user experience is generally quite frustrating and you can see everyone around you thinking the same thing, yet we all walk around picking up clothes and spending money (lots of it at that) amongst this terrible customer interface, why? I’m not sure. Maybe you feel like you’ve invested lots of effort and time into finding something and you’d get lost trying to put it back anyway so you might as well buy it? I have no idea, everything about these two physical stores shouldn’t work but yet they do.

The online stores, by comparison, are neatly laid out, the UI is kind of intuitive bar the english/american translation of clothes making you pause to think for a bit, one of the worse thing they are guilty of is using a lot of inline frames for content which makes using it on an iPhone a no go.

This might seem like a bit of an odd post for me, and in a way, it probably is – but I thought the comparison in the branding, the price difference and the world of contrast to their online stores was worth exploring.

Can you think of any other brands that go against everything we know and yet somehow work?

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  • Dan

    I actually went past the Hollister store in Sheffield yesterday and avoided going in like the plague. You see, I’d been in there before and found it to be one of the most awful shopping experiences of my life. You can’t tell what colour the clothes are, you bump into things and you can’t tell who or where the damn staff are.

    From the outside it’s not much better. The place looks like a restaurant. I actually approached it for the first time with the intention of picking up a menu to find out what kind of food they served.

    To be honest I think, for the most part people like it because they think they should. It’s “cool” right? Kind of “They’re all doing it in LA”… right? Not so much.

    My comparison would be Apple. Their stores are okay but the products are an enigma. They’re ferociously expensive, comparitively under-spec and actively divert people from the current standard but they’re a massive success for, in the main, the same reason Hollister stores are. It’s as much an association to the brand as it is the brand itself despite the gaping flaws which, on their own, would bury a company. And that, it seems counts for a lot.

    • Sarah

      It’s interesting isn’t it, you’ve just described the experience I suspect most people would have going into a Hollister store. I personally love their clothes but would lean more towards ordering on the internet than having the ‘store’ experience.

      Gotta disagree with you on the Apple thing though, I don’t think their products are under spec, it’s like comparing apples with cheese! 🙂

      • Dan

        No, it’s like comparing computers with other computers. They’re even built sing the same parts now that Apple use Intel. When you look at the tech specs of, say a MacBook pro and a similarly priced windows laptop, the windows laptop will eat the MBP alive, spec wise.

        Even the windows alternative with rivalling build quality; some high end Sony Vaio machines, offer substantially more power for substantially less money.

        True story, I once speced up an iMac and clicked to double the RAM from 4GB to 8GB to see the price jump by £800. The same memory from Crucial: £40… delivered.

        Bonkers, no?

    • Chris

      I could not have put it better myself. Overhyped, overpriced and over here.

  • The differences between in-store and online user experiences shouldn’t be surprising, especially considering they are both purposefully engineered to engage customers in specific manners.

    An online store must be easy to navigate because the user is not present. The purpose of an online store is to create a seamless customer experience that allows a shopper to get in and out in the shortest time possible. The more complicated the online experience is the more likely the user will click away out of frustration. Merchandise needs to be easy to find and the checkout process must be painless. I think it is also safe to say that online shoppers probably know ahead of time what they want to purchase and this compounds the importance of a seamless experience.

    On the other hand, retail stores are designed to retain customers. The longer a customer is in a store, the more likely they will purchase something. The layout of the racks and sections in a clothing store are specifically designed to create confusion and force a customer to search for the product they came in to look for. A confusing layout also provides salespeople with the perfect opportunity to ambush you and suggest other items. Retail stores are designed for casual browsing and are not meant to help people find what they need, but rather what they didn’t know they needed when they walked in.

    In-store and online retail are two entirely different animals and if I were to judge the effectiveness of the retail store by this comment … “yet we all walk around picking up clothes and spending money (lots of it at that)”… well, case closed.

  • Andy Wickes

    How funny? I only just had the conversation with my girlfriend the other day about our (separate) visits to the Abercrombie Store in New York, and simultaneously we both said ‘God, wasn’t it awful?!’ Dark, loud, hot and generally chaotic. I’m sure, deliberately so you just grab armfuls of clothes, pay and get out. I get the feeling that Jack Wills / Aubin and Wills would do the same if only they weren’t aimed at a younger crows dependent on their parents paying for the clothes, and therefore the stores need to appeal a little more the older generation. Either way, I think those two brands have taken a lot of stock in their image from A+F and Hollister, certainly in their two-tiered approach. Jack Wills seems to have manufactured a brand that is steeped in british, public school history even though it isn’t, and A+F has similarly created a timeless, preppy American brand despite being younger than its youngest of staff!

  • @Dan however you didn’t factor in reliability and other things that Mac has over PC. But basically it boils down into personal preference. (I’ll agree with you on the ram however, but sometimes its because apple fills all the memory slots opposed to leaving them open. So 4 gigs may be 4, 1 gig stick opposed to one 4 gig or 2 2gigs.)

    About Hollister, I hate their stores. Its dimly lit, the music is loud & it smells like they broke a crate of cologne before they opened. If I am buying clothes I want to see what I am buying and if I am with someone I want to be able to hear them. If I don’t want to hear anything I bring my headphones for my iPhone.

    • Dan

      By reliability I take it you mean in terms of the OS, seeing as the hardware is the same these days. I suppose OSX, being UNIX based does have some reliability and security benefits. I’ll give you that.

      However with the RAM I did look into the free slots slots thing and yes, for the upgrade, Apple use a single 4GB stick which means the upgrade price would not only cover the additional stick but the replacement of the existing 2 X 2GB sticks as well. I factored this in and this still came out at Apple – £800 and Crucial approx. £60 Crazy Talk!!

  • Great comparison of these two very modern brands. I must admit, I had not heard of Hollister.

    I’ve been chuckling away at my desk about the instore A&F experiences – spot on and very funny. I’ve been to the 5th Avenue and the Savile Row store. Three big impressions for me, sorry, make that 4:

    – could not see anything (I wear glasses, but they are the correct prescription)
    – could not hear anything (music was good but deafening)
    – I felt old, very od
    – I felt distinctly out of shape (have you seen those chaps on the front door?)

    Not the best shopping experience for a very traditional 38 year old 😉

  • A few weeks ago I spent a frustrating 45 minutes in the Hollister store in Belfast, and came out if it and started ranting to my wife (who’d been spared the experience) about the poor “user experience”. Now, it turns out that there was a sale on that day (you’d never have known: not only is is impossible to detect what the shop sells from the outside, but there was nothing to suggest that a sale was taking place), but still, here’s what I found…

    * Dark. So very, very dark inside. And with an overpowering smell of “So Cal”, the fragrance each of the identikit sales assistants tries to sell to you.

    * All of the staff were from Belfast, but without fail, each of them greeted me with “Hey, what’s up?”. I mean, seriously! I know it’s an American brand, but this was in the middle of Belfast, where we greet eachother with a Jim McDonald-style “’bout ye”!!

    * There were 8 fitting rooms in the store. 5 of them were closed. For no reason. Leading to huge waits to try on the clothes.

    * On top of that, there was then another 25 minute wait to actually purchase anything. And, despite the huge queues, each of the sales assistants STILL tried to sell you the bloody fragrances!! Seriously? I’ve just spent the last 45 minutes waiting to GIVE YOU MY MONEY, so the very least you could do is to make the actual purchasing bit as quick as possible.

    I swore that I would never again darken Hollister’s doors, to be put through such a horrific shopping experience. And, of course, the irony is that, as an American brand, I was expecting the shopping experience to be second to none. But it was actually more painful that a visit to Primark with the missus (which, it has to be said, makes me want to cry every single time!!).

  • Is Hollister really that bad? Gosh… I never knew it was that terrible. I’ve never been to the store. I just shop form them online! They send me pretty good stuff.

  • One of the most disturbing things that I have found with both the Hollister stores in my local mall (Ann Arbor, MI) is that they do not hold items under a circumstance. I’m sure there is probably a reason to this, but to me it is not apparent. But the overall lack of service in both of these stores is ridiculous and reflects a very scary future of retail where customers like to be abused by the retailer (Apple?).

  • PeyoNYC

    IKEA would be a somehow similar example maybe? Offline shopping experience is awkward: you have to walk through the entire shop, whatever you want to buy. It is relatively well structured, but you have absolutely no control over your shopping experience. The online shopping experience by contrast is simple and neat.

    @Dan — this is not a I’m a Mac/I’m a PC forum 🙂 but my piece of advice would be: instead of trying to explain people why they shouldn’t buy Macs, why don’t you try to understand why they do buy them?

  • Emma

    I am 15 and i absolutely love the whole abercrombie experience! the clothes are beautiful and the shops are amazing! you go and and feel like you are on a different planet! i suppose they want to be different to all the other shops and they do this well. when i go on holiday from scotland to america i make sure i can get myself to an abercrombie shop because its all so exciting. i think the products are over priced but hey ho, mums paying:)

  • Alison

    My daughter purchased a jacket from Hollister in Belfast on Saturday. Her debit card didn’t work according to the sales assistant so she paid in cash. Guess what checked with the bank and Hollister charged her card as well. I phoned the Manager but they cannot give us the money back. I have been told I have to phone California to get them to send me the refund as they do not have a Head Office in the UK! WHAT ABOUT THAT FOR CUSTOMER CARE!!!

  • Paige

    I LOVE Hollister….Maybe i’s an American thing, but I practically live there and I plan to work there someday:)
    Btw, does anybody know what the actual Hollister font is? It look like MS Gothic, but with slight differences on the I and L….thanks:)

  • Johnny

    There’s still something about both brands that captivates people.

    I was curious about the difference between the 2. By definition, Hollister is aiming for a slightly younger crowd than A&F with a slightly lower price entry point and a decidedly more ‘beachy’ brand than the homely A&F style, yet the clothes they offer are almost identical…plaid shirts with arms too long so you have to roll up the sleeves and chests too tight so you have to get a large size just to fit into them…and then have even longer sleeves…this is common to both stores…

    The user experience of purchasing said shirts is a total nightmare – in both shops – as pointed out here and yet…unlike any clothes store i’ve ever been to…people queue up outside the shops to wait to get in. In Westfield, just before Christmas, I had the humiliation of standing with my wife outside the Holister shop with my wife praying nobody I knew saw me with my baseball hat pulled way down over my face. Why was there a queue? Nothing to do with overcrowding. In fact, inside, the shop was actually reasonably mob free unlike the rest of the shops that day. It’s all about creating the exclusive feeling of going into that dark & scented environment to part with far too much cash for seriously overvalued clothes that make you advertise the brand every time you wear them.

    And yet…as Sarah has really well documented…I’ve got clothes from both A&F and Hollister now – and not just from the sale section hidden down the back. But I’ve spent time digging out the right sizes from the heaps of clothes left lying on top of each other. I’ve begged an assistant to open a changing room for me if they could spare a moment from modeling the wares for a while. I’ve held back on the urge to reply to the ‘Hey What’s Up?’ welcome with any form of contempt at american greetings being forced upon the unfortunate folk of east london.

    Why…I’m a sucker for any experience that is in anyway different to the standard high street shopping monotomy…even if it’s infuriating & intoxicating at the same time.

    Ingenious for 1 firm to create 2 (and a half…don’t forget the kids section Abercrombie) brands that have become so popular so quickly and yet are almost indistinguishable to the casual observer

  • Noah

    Really? whenever I go in its organized and people always offer to help me. might be an atlanta thing though.

  • k

    I am actually from New York and stumbled upon this board when searching for stores in Ireland (we’re planning on moving there). I had heard that there was no Abercrombie there, so it was more of a reason TO move there (I despise the store).
    Anyway, for anyone who said the store is “new”, it isn’t. It was actually founded in 1892.

  • Stephanie

    I had an interview at the Hollister Sheffield store, and I can understand both sides. Maybe if you’re over the age of 17 you’ll find the store a little uncomfortable. But Hollister are good at what they do- which is reaching their target audience. Which is basically teenagers- not adults or older people.

    You literally cant even compare a Mac and a PC. They’re designed for two entirely different purposes. Mac’s are designed for editing, media and stuff like that, PCs for general everday use, and for business. There’s a huge reason why most corporations don’t have their software on Macs- because it wouldn’t work properly.
    My dad does software for Gleneagles and St. Andrews, so I’d like to think I have a good understanding of computers.

  • Leelou

    (I’m French.)
    I prefere Abercrombie & Fitch.
    (A&B:1892=Holli:1922)

  • Leelou

    I can’t say more because I’m only 12years old.I’m not very good at English!(but I like it!)
    Hollister copies Abercrombie & Fitch.(I think)

  • Amelia

    Funny how they say “Hey, what’s up?” where I live.. which is in Germany..

    And to answer the question, I prefer Abercrombie & Fitch. I love the smell of the clothes, the feel of the clothes.. when I put them on I feel like a whole new person! It’s great!

  • bobbo

    The only reason the two companies are like is because hollister is made by abercrombie and fitch. Also the hollister stores are actually not too bad

  • JN, California

    Out here in Calfornia, we kind of snicker at Hollister, the brand. Hollister, California is a dull inland agricultural town, a long way from the ocean. There are no Hollister stores near the good surf spots – not at Santa Cruz, not at Mavericks, not at Santa Barbara, not at Malibu, and not at Huntington Beach. Hollister stores are at malls way inland.

    It’s a brand for wannabees.

  • Chris

    Some of the clothes are the same in both stores, e.g. the girls bright colored jeans: same material, same cut, same color, A&F £18 more! Anyway, both stores are well overpriced.

  • Ishbel

    I find this whole thing very interesting. I personally love the brand, along with as mentioned in other posts Jack Wills. But from comparing the customer service received in the Abercrombie Store in Mayfair to the one in New York is a completely different experience. Customer service in London was awful and all let down by one girl who could not be bothered to do her job and look for the size i wanted, compared to the friendliness i received in the NYC store it was miles apart. I am 22 and still live in causal ware from brands like Abercrombie and Jack Wills, but Hollister over taken by young girls aged i would say 9+ Waring the brand, which completely puts me off. As for the stores i feel I am old before my time agreeing that they are dark and staff not exactly helpful when it comes to look for sizes as my boyfriend recently experienced having to waiting 15mins before the sales guy eventual realised we were still waiting for is response of no we don’t have your size. The short of it all is for me is i prefer my customer service and British brands better than the american ones.

  • I hand wash all my Hollister clothes in cold water and air dry. One of my hoodies faded in spots along the part the draw string runs through. A pair of sweat pants developed white spots after 6 months. Two plaid summer shirts went completely white at the side seams. I’m very disappointed with this. The on-line shopping experience is great. I didn’t return anything since the fading and spotting happened after 3 months.

    I’ve switched to Aeropostale. Haven’t had anything happen to any of their hoodies, tops or pants.

    Hollister jeggings and jeans also stretched too much for me after a few months. They were also washed by hand. Aeropostale has better sizing so I go with their jeans, too.