This past week in Retail Marketing we discussed the science of shopping and how retailers can significantly improve the customers’ experience and loyalty and ultimately, the retailer’s bottom line. Although branding and advertising do build awareness, most buying decisions are made in the actual store – thus creating an opportunity for retailers to take advantage of customers’ buying behaviours.
Hollister Co. is found in almost every major mall in the United States and has also opened a few stores in Canada (more than 450 stores internationally). The clothing is inspired by Southern California surfing style and does not branch too far from its parent company Abercrombie and Fitch (A&F). Hollister’s clothing differs very little from A&F’s clothing, the differences being their logo (seagull vs. moose) and price (Hollister is slightly cheaper than A&F). However, the style and colours are practically the same (one says Abercrombie and the other says Hollister). So how does Hollister differentiate itself from A&F and other competitors? Hollister’s RVP is all about the experience.
If you’ve never seen a Hollister store or been in one, it’s probably because you didn’t know it was a clothing store. From the outside of the store it looks like a small beach shack from California with great attention to details – palm trees, shutters on the windows, and Muskoka chairs. Hollister has done an impeccable job of differentiating themselves from competitors and grabbing shopper’s attention because of their unique and tranquil entrance. However, after taking a few footsteps into the alluring beach hut, the calm atmosphere quickly disappears. Hollister has focused their RVP entirely on experience; however, instead of creating a relaxing beach atmosphere which would encourage a positive shopping experience, they have created one of a nightclub, which gives the shoppers a negative connotation to both the shopping experience, and the brand.
So why is the shopping experience at Hollister so negative? Our class discussions focused on the shopper differences between men and women and how to make retail environment more male and female friendly. Hollister could significantly improve the retail environment for all of their customers and thus improving their profitability by following my key recommendations.
Who are Hollister’s customers? Hollister’s primary target market is teenagers and pre-teens. However, Hollister clearly does not understand who their target market shops with – their parents! Capital One conducted a survey which revealed that 93% of teens expect their parents to join them on back to school shopping trips. As a result, Hollister needs to make their retail environment more parent friendly (specifically mom-friendly) because at the end of the day, the majority of parents will be paying for the clothing.
The number one problem with Hollister stores is the lighting – or should I say lack there of. The lighting in Hollister is so dim that it’s not uncommon to accidently walk into a fake palm tree or a table of clothes. This makes it extremely difficult for the shopper to know what clothes they are looking at, if they even like the clothes, if they have the right size, etc. As a result, there are always line ups at the change rooms in the hopes that they will have better lighting. However, the change rooms are the same as the entire store – poorly lit. I thought Hollister was trying to portray the image of Southern California surfing and beach shacks, but isn’t California sunny? This is a major flaw in Hollister’s retail environment which could be easily changed.
As mentioned in class, females need personal space while shopping, commonly tested using the “Butt Brush.” If something is brushing up against their behind, the retail environment is too crowded and uncomfortable. In Hollister stores this is always the case, generally because there is too much merchandise in a small area and palm trees are taking up a fair amount of space. Women need their personal space in a retail environment and prefer floor plans that allow for more browsing – neither of which Hollister has.
Furthermore, customers have to search through the entire store to find a mirror – they are practically non-existent, unless you go to the change room. But once again, you have to wait in line for the change room and once you can finally see the clothes in a mirror, the lighting is still dim. This leads me to believe that the return policy at Hollister must be extremely high because shoppers never know what they are buying until they either get out of the store into some decent light or until they are at home.
As well, when a shopper enters a Hollister store they are overwhelmed with the scent of their “SO CAL” cologne which is directly sprayed on the clothing and throughout the store. People can be extremely sensitive to strong smells such as perfumes and colognes. In fact, many fragrance free policies are appearing in work-place environments in both Canada and the U.S. because scents can trigger headaches, fatigue and other symptoms.
People’s senses can be extremely sensitive and Hollister has not taken this into consideration. More evidence of this is the extremely high music level in Hollister stores. A study was done to see how loud music is in malls and the damage it can do to one’s hearing. Using a hand-held decibel meter, it showed a level of 90 in Hollister which is louder than a jackhammer (jackhammers are in the high 80s). This is not only damaging to Hollister’s customers but their employees as well. Does this remind you of a peaceful, relaxing day in Southern California? No. It reminds me of a nightclub – dark, loud, strong smell and crowded.
Hollister needs to re-evaluate their retail environment and the shopping experience it offers. By changing simple items such as lighting, use of space, sound, smell and availability of mirrors, Hollister could significantly improve the shopping experience for their customers and their profitability. Hollister would no longer feel like nightclub but a California beach like atmosphere that they originally intended to create.
 Abercrombie and Fitch, Annual Report, http://library.corporate-ir.net/library/61/617/61701/items/295294/Final_AF_07ANNUAL_REPORT.pdf