Fran Horowitz on the Essence of A&F’s Transformation Journey

For Fran Horowitz, chief executive officer of Abercrombie & Fitch, priority number one for transforming the image and performance of the Hollister and Abercrombie brands was resetting the mind-set of the organization.

“We moved from a place of fitting in to creating a place of belonging,” said Horowitz, speaking Tuesday at the Fordham University Gabelli School of Business’ fifth annual American Innovation Conference.

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“Instead of doing what one singular leader wanted to do, we quickly shifted to a customer-first mind-set, listening to their feedback in good and challenging times. It was necessary for the complete transformation of the company,” said Horowitz, a native New Yorker who earned her MBA taking night courses at the Gabelli School of Business while in the merchant training program at Saks Fifth Avenue.

“Three and a half years at night at Gabelli was not an easy task while driving a career, but one that certainly taught me discipline, organization and endless planning,” she said.

In her keynote address, Horowitz spelled out the building blocks behind A&F’s transformation into a leading youth specialty retailer — becoming customer obsessed, technology-driven, inclusive and diverse, an early adopter of social commerce and key partner with TikTok and Instagram.

In addition, “We developed new policies, revised our stores experience to be more welcoming, updated the fit of our garments, the size range and the styling of all our products,” she said.

“We acknowledged our storied past and moved on by having two-way conversations with our customers and our associates.…I knew these two iconic global brands could be restored and live again.”

While the success of a company involves “an amazing and fun balance of art and science, you also need to be very connected to your customer,” Horowitz said. “Back in 2014, both Hollister and Abercrombie had fallen out of touch with customers. The teams weren’t listening and weren’t adapting to the change in consumer behavior.…For the last four years, teams have strengthened the brands to become completely customer-obsessed. Our team really digs in there and spends a lot of time with the consumer. We gather over 6 million points of direct customer feedback every year through insight labs, our store base and focus groups.

“We’re on to what’s next, which is seeking innovation. The source of innovation comes from our global customers. Modernization must add value, new ways to make shopping experience easier, more personalized, and ultimately even more rewarding,” she said.

The Abercrombie brand, she explained, is focused on young Millennials with a 25-year edit point of view. “Our customer lives for the four-day weekend. The root of the brand purpose is that every day should feel as exceptional as the first day of a long weekend.”

She said when leading social networks such as Google and Meta want to innovate “they partner with Abercrombie”, and her company’s merchant and design teams use social for product inspiration, listening to what people are saying about the brand and learning about the products they are loving or not loving.

Earlier this year, the company launched a low-rise denim line just to its TikTok audience, via a secret link by way of the social platform.

At Hollister, there’s a razor focus on Gen Z and on projecting confidence and optimism through a California filter with the spirit of the endless summer, Horowitz said. Hollister customers care about an easy and fun shopping experience, yet the Hollister team not long ago identified a frustration in the buying process.

“Teen shoppers don’t hold purchasing power,” Horowitz said. So in less than six months, a mobile app solution, Share2Pay, was developed in house, through which the teens share their online Hollister shopping bag with their parents, aunt or uncle or whoever would like to pay for the purchase. Customers who used the Share2Pay for purchases placed orders almost two times the rate of other customers, Horowitz said. The point being, as Horowitz explained, is that the A&F corporation is “evolving processes much more like a tech company than a traditional company.…We hired our first chief digital and technology officer 18 months ago,” Horowitz said, referring to Samir Desai.

And through the data and analytics gathered, and the customer obsession, “We are doubling down on rich insights to make quick yet thoughtful decisions to enhance our customer experience,” Horowitz said. “There is such a huge runway here.”

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