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?