Find out Why Customers Hate Abercrombie & Fitch

Dublin, Ireland
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History was made when it was revealed that Walmart was no longer the Most Hated Retail Company in the history of independent statistical measurements of customer satisfaction in the U.S.  

When the American Customer Service Index (ACSI) was released by the University of Michigan in February 2016, it was Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) that was branded with the "most hated retailer in history" title with a customer satisfaction score that was reported to be the lowest in the 22-year history of the ACSI.

 

The big question raised by this 2016 ACSI report is why customers hate Abercrombie & Fitch so very much.  ("Hate" is a strong characterization that seemingly started with a headline from Fortune magazine.  "Largely Extremely Unprecedentedly Dissatisfied" is a more accurate description of customer sentiment about Abercrombie & Fitch, evidenced by ACSI measurements. But that would be a cumbersome headline, so it's understandable why Fortune went with "hate").    

Why Customers Hate Abercrombie & Fitch

The answer to why customers "hate" Abercrombie & Fitch so much in 2016 can seemingly be answered in five words...Mike Jeffries' legacy lives on.

Is it really possible that 14 months after Mike Jeffries gave up both his plush leather CEO office chair and his seat in the Abercrombie & Fitch boardroom that the upscale teen retail company is still living out the consequences of the less-than-positive legacy that he left behind?

 Recalling a few of the most notable details about the downward spiral of Abercrombie & Fitch under Jeffries' leadership reminds us that not only is it possible, but it's also quite plausible that the Abercrombie & Fitch brand is still suffering from the collateral damage it sustained towards the end of Jeffries' reign.

In May  2013, Jeffries' supercilious remarks about non-skinny customers who didn't belong in Abercrombie & Fitch fashions piggybacked on an October 2012 revelation that the flight attendants on Jeffries' private jet were required to work wearing nothing but boxer shorts and flip flops.  The combination of these two widely reported incidents ignited an explosive global backlash from both consumers and employees that are rarely seen in the retail industry.   

Suddenly, the value of the Abercrombie & Fitch brand became inextricably associated with the exclusionary opinions and personally offensive behaviors of its Chief Executive Narcissist.  It is the ultimate irony since Jeffries was seemingly singularly focused on the fabricated value of the Abercrombie & Fitch retail brand for more than two decades.  

I asked the question back in 2009, and asked it again in the midst of this 2013 global consumer uprising against Mike Jeffries' controversial words and behaviors...  exactly where should we look to find the "value" of the Abercrombie & Fitch brand that Mike Jeffries seemingly spent his career hiding behind?  

In the final months of Jeffries tenure as CEO, we couldn't find the value of the Abercrombie brand inside its organization, since Jeffries had a 38% approval rating from former and current employees, according to Glassdoor.com.

We couldn't find the value of the brand on the Abercrombie & Fitch website, which never found its way onto the Top Internet Shopping Websites rankings in the eight years prior to the 2013 Jeffries scandal.  

We couldn't find the value of the brand in the expansion of the chain since Jeffries had led it to the top of the aggregated Store Closings list in the year that the "fat-customers-shouldn't-wear-the-Abercrombie-and-Fitch-brand" scandal. At that time, we hadn't been able to find the value of the Abercrombie & Fitch brand on its balance sheet for many years, with a steady decline in both revenue and store sales, often in the double digits.  Seemingly there was still value in the ANF stock, which had seen a YOY increase in the first half of 2013.  But if we looked harder, we discovered that in 2013 ANF stock was trading at 2006 prices.

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Today ANF stock prices are even 43% lower than they were in 2013 when the global consumer community was at the beginning of its rebellion against Mike Jeffries, and by association, the Abercrombie & Fitch global retailing organization. But that was then, and this is now, right?  Mike Jeffries has been absent from Abercrombie & Fitch's leadership ranks and daily operations for almost five quarters now, so certainly the Jeffries legacy of the past doesn't have anything to do with the Abercrombie & Fitch troubles in the present, right?   

Unfortunately for Abercrombie & Fitch, it does seem that the negative momentum from the global fallout that Jeffries' controversial quotable quotes created continues more than a year later.  Which proves that Jeffries was half right all along in his conclusion that brand image is paramount.  

It's the 50% that Jeffries got wrong about the brand equation that still seems to be haunting Abercrombie & Fitch today.  That is the part about brand image vs. brand reality.  No matter if you dedicate your entire career to fashioning a brand image with slick marketing campaigns and manipulatively crafted in-store experiences, once the reality behind those smoke-and-mirror tactics is revealed, it's the genuine truth that resonates and sticks with consumers.

To take that brand image vs. brand reality theory out of the conceptual and into the practical, I recall a conversation that I had in a coffee shop in Toowoomba, Australia not long after Mike Jeffries' last big global scandal broke, which solidified my understanding of brand image vs. brand reality and its probable long-term effect on the Abercrombie & Fitch brand.  

I was sitting in a coffee shop with a group of millennials from Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, and the U.S... which brand-builders would have identified as a perfect focus group for Abercrombie & Fitch.