I recently bought my very first clothing item from Abercrombie & Fitch (GASP!) Some of you are probably shocked because you’re offended by their sketchy marketing techniques and others of you are just offended because I’m 32 and too old to shop there. Well, no need to worry, I’m not making a habit of it. I just needed new shorts and they were clearancing their clearance items, which made the shorts (originally priced at $90!!!!) fall into the same stratosphere of normal shorts prices.
While on this adventure into uncharted waters, I noticed a few things about the shopping experience that I figured I’d share. If you haven’t noticed, stores in the mall have undergone a huge change in design over the past decade or so. They all used to look roughly the same, with the main distinctives being what products were offered inside. A very logical, left-brained approach to marketing. However the stores targeting the younger audiences have gone to a completely different model. I’ll just mention a few things here:
1) Multi-sensory experience
When you walk into an A&F (or any number of stores like it) you are greeted by a pretty overwhelming scent wafting through the air. The thought crosses your mind…maybe this is what coolness smells like, but then you realize that they have simply drenched the store in cologne (which can be purchased). You will also notice the louder than normal music, all with a kind of indie-pop flair to it (which can also be purchased). And lastly you will notice all of the huge, artistic photographs all around the store. None of which particularly feature any clothing items available in the store or in some cases, any clothing items at all. (As far as I know, these cannot be purchased, but you can get one of their sketchy catalogs at the low, low cost of your integrity.)
2) Aloof, yet cool, sales staff
No one will hover over you. No one will try to push you into trying on things you aren’t interested in. In fact, no one will probably notice you at all. In a lot of cases, your lucky if you get eye contact. At least, eye contact that’s not condescending. However, every employee on the sales floor will, without exception, look REALLY, REALLY cool. Cool enough to make you feel REALLY, REALLY not cool, which is intensified by the aloofness. It’s enough to actually make you feel left out unless you are wearing the most current clothes from the store.
3) Not marketing clothes
None of the pictures or decorations have anything to do with clothes. In fact, most of the models are hardly wearing clothes, which seems counter-effective, until you realize what’s happening. They aren’t trying to sell you a shirt. They are selling you an identity. They are selling you a life. A life where you’re always hanging out in rustic beach houses (or rustic cabins during the colder months) with really attractive friends. A life where shoes, socks and shirts are NOT required and are actually frowned upon. A life of absolute freedom, joy, super-intense cologne and wind-blown hair, where your only job looking awesome and throwing frisbees.
It’s quite brilliant really. They have tapped into some very core needs of the heart and are selling the clothes a means to an end. They are heavily marketing emotion, belonging and identity. They realize that if they can hook you with those things than they can sell you someone else’s used socks and you’d still pay a premium for them (which may actually happen at Urban Outfitters). When they sell you on your own inadequacy and your need for this new “life” than the clothes move from a want to a need and the prices become a little less shocking. You may not pay $90 for shorts, but you would pay twice that for love. And guess what…. They know that. And they have used it to redefine the clothing industry.
Isn’t it tragic that it none of that stuff actually fits in the bag.
When I got home I was pretty let down to find out that all I had was a pair of shorts and the lingering odor of coolness.