102-This Leader’s Trap Comes to a Quick End

In February of 2009, we wrote a blog about Abercrombie and Fitch in a Leader’s Trap (see the blog, “A High End Retailer in a Leader’s Trap”). In that blog, we observed that Abercrombie and Fitch refused to discount its products in the marketplace, despite the fact that American Eagle Outfitters and Aeropostale, two of its main competitors, were offering lower prices. We noted that Abercrombie’s market share was falling, while Aeropostale’s was clearly on the rise. We predicted that Abercrombie would have to come out of its Leader’s Trap soon by changing its pricing policy.

Abercrombie has surrendered.

The company reported a larger than expected first quarter loss and said that it planned to lower prices to boost sales. It admitted that this price reduction is a 180 degree change from its previous strategy of keeping prices high through the recession (see the Perspective, “Who has Pricing Power?” on StrategyStreet.com).

Earlier in the year, Abercrombie had argued that price-cutting would increase sales but would destroy its high-end image and the company’s future pricing power (see Video #4: The Risk of Slow Demand Growth on StrategyStreet.com). Competitors saw otherwise. They took advantage of Abercrombie’s high prices. The predictable result is that shoppers deserted the teen retailer for other retailers offering lower prices. Abercrombie then faced an inventory pile-up and a fall-off in sales.

Once customers begin deserting a company because of its high prices, the company’s Leader’s Trap will always come to an end (see Video #42: Leader’s Trap on StrategyStreet.com). When it does end, the company will have lost market share and margin. Some of the market share loss is likely to be long lasting.

Posted 5/21/09

Update:

After clashing with one another and suffering grievously in the process, Abercrombie, Aeropostale, and American Eagle have diverged from one another, though all face continuing intense competition.

Abercrombie went through a tough period of closing stores from 2010 through 2018. It began to rebrand itself, moving away from It’s former sexualized advertising and stressing more customer service. It now operates 729 stores worldwide focusing on a market segment of 21+ years. Today it is a near luxury brand selling high quality and high-priced fashions.

Aeropostale went through bankruptcy in 2016. It was unable to move away from its pricing strategy of constant discounting. It emerged from bankruptcy after a bid from former vendors and private equity companies. By 2019 it had over 1000 worldwide stores targeting a consumer in the age range of 14 to 17.

American Eagle Outfitters today is classified as a “retro/vintage” retail chain focused on consumers around the age of 20.

All 3 companies maintain a solid online presence. Abercrombie and American Eagle enjoyed something over 13 million online visits in February 2022, with American Eagle leading Abercrombie with 5.38 pages per visit to Abercrombie’s 4.95. Aeropostale trailed both of these competitors by a wide margin.

While the 3 companies are less engaged with one another than they were 10 years ago, they all face intense competition from the newer, fast fashion competitors such as Zara, H & M and Forever 21.

THE SOURCES FOR STRATEGYSTREET.COM: For over 30 years we observed the evolution of more than 100 industries, many hostile.  We put their facts into frameworks applicable to all industries and found patterns.  Strategystreet.com describes the inductive results of these thousands of observations and their patterns.