J. Crew – the former go-to brand for prepster basics that underwent a fashion-focused makeover under the watch of creative director Jenna Lyons and subsequently fell out of favor when its loyal customers began to shun its pricey, ill-fitting new wares – is struggling. The past two years in particular took the form of a long series of disappointing quarters for the American retailer, and thus far, 2017 is not proving much better. Total revenues and sales have continued to slip (for the fourth quarter and fiscal year ended January 28, total revenues declined 3 percent, to $2.4 billion), even as the brand has worked to reconnect with its roots in hopes of luring back some of its formerly loyal fans.
In this way, the brand is not alone. American retail, in general, is suffering, in part due to the overabundance of discounting and brick-and-mortar networks (thanks to the boom in the 1990s and early 2000s), paired with ever-slowing foot traffic at malls and an large-scale shift to e-commerce not only for shopping but for fashion inspiration, as well.
J. Crew's CEO Mickey Drexler has blamed a "challenging traffic environment,” for the retailer's lack of success. However, as noted by analysts, the J. Crew's latest results follow years of sluggish demand. In light of sluggish sales, Drexler promised that the company is focusing on "exciting new merchandising and marketing initiatives that are expected to enhance customer loyalty and extend brand reach."
What exactly does that consist of? Well, as part of its turnaround plan, J. Crew announced in August that it will sell a limited collection of women’s clothing in Nordstrom stores and website. The retailer has also moved to focus on its more viable Madewell brand, which GlobalData’s Retail Managing Director Neil Saunders has described as “healthy.”
The brand is also banking (at least in part) on new a holiday in an effort to regain favor amongst shoppers. That’s right: On March 31, J. Crew will be celebrating its own made-up holiday, National Stripes Day, in which it will shill everything from striped dressed and tops to socks and sneakers. The brand is urging its social media followers to wear stripes, shop its stripes, and use the hashtag, #NationalStripesDay.
Friday’s “holiday” is certainly demonstrative of the larger efforts that traditional, mall-centric retailers are putting forth in hopes of coping with the onslaught staged by their fast fashion counterparts, which have stolen market share with dirt-cheap garments and accessories, and their ultra-fast turn-over of goods. As for whether such one-off marketing ploys will aid the J. Crews of the world in the long run, it seems unlikely, particularly given the increasingly dire financial outlook for traditional retailers.
While J. Crew has seized some control of its expenses and its discounting (which deeply cuts into its profit margins), it still needs more than a hashtag and a holiday to return to stability.