Wednesday, January 27, 2010

J.Crew News: Success & Lessons Learned

"Thanks!" to Cass & Erinn, who let us know there is a follow-up article (refer to the "J.Crew News: The Cult Of J.Crew" post) about J.Crew's success over at WalletPop (click here).
J.Crew's Success Story & the Six Retailers that Should Learn From It
By Megan Angelo

January 21, 2010

In the recession that has robbed retailers of profits and growth, J.Crew has somehow managed to shine -- in the latest third quarter, the store's revenue was up 14%. According to a recent article in Forbes Woman, J.Crew's success can be boiled down to one simple secret: it makes clothes women actually want to buy.

You can almost hear the rest of the fashion world sneering in unison: Oh, is that what we're supposed to be doing? And to think we were concentrating on clothes women don't want to buy!

Yes, the statement is a bit oversimplified. But it sums up J.Crew's specific efforts to win customers and keep them interested. Some less fortunate retailers could learn a thing or two from the company's tactics. Retailers such as ...

The tactic: Giving the brand a face

Who needs it: New York & Company
The Forbes Woman story applauds the way J.Crew brought its design director, Jenna Lyons, to the forefront of its marketing. Just as a fashion director might curate the best looks of the month in a fashion magazine, Jenna pulls the loveliest and most flattering items in each of the company's collections and compiles them into "Jenna's Picks," which are highlighted in the retailer's print catalog and email blasts. Mall staple New York & Company always seems to have an affordable mix of this-minute pieces (like this trench) and versatile basics (like this vest) on hand, and they could certainly use a brand ambassador to show customers how to pull them all together.

The tactic: Price-point versions

Who needs it: Gap and its sister stores

One counter-intuitive but genius idea: J.Crew often offers near-identical items at starkly different price points. Meaning: if this luscious deco sequined tank is just out of the question, you can buy this similar one for more than $300 less. Not every store can pull this off -- but how about a group of stores? Gap Inc. has already combined the e-commerce platforms of its brands (Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy and Athleta). A link to the cheaper Gap take on a $98 Banana sweater could only enhance the shopping experience.

The tactic: Reinvent -- then reinvent again

Who needs it: Polo Ralph Lauren

J.Crew once peddled flat, serious looks that clung to the basic tenets of Preppy-dom. Then they started paying attention to fashion. Polo Ralph Lauren badly needs to take a look at this page of the playbook. While the retail behemoth spends plenty of creative effort on its high-end lines, its mass-retail collections stick to the same logos and motifs year after year. Come on guys, there are only so many ways to make stripes look new.

The tactic: Regular fun injections

Who needs it: Eileen Fisher

One of the things J.Crew's loyal clients love most? Color. The company nails the fun factor by imbuing its looks with rich golds, airy pistachios and irresistible corals, to name a few. Eileen Fisher has the corner market on wear-it-forever basics, but it could certainly stand to lose its phobia of the rainbow and put black on the back burner for a while.

The tactic: Consistent sizing

Who needs it: Gap and Free People

J.Crew's customers love to shop online because they trust that every size 8 the store churns out is the same as the size 8 before it. If Gap wants to get in on that Internet success, it should take a closer look at its sizing rubrics -- its much-hyped premium denim runs a size or two smaller than its standard jeans. And Free People's sizes are all over the map, making fitting rooms a real necessity.

The tactic: Fabulous final sales

Who needs it: Everyone!

This wasn't in the Forbes Woman article -- but is the proud home to what may be the finest sales online. The markdowns are generous and constant, the inventory is plentiful, the layout is easy to navigate. And if there's one thing women love more than clothes they actually want to buy, it's getting them at a sweet discount.
What are your thoughts on the article? Do you agree or disagree with any of the points made?


  1. Is she kidding about consistent sizing and "fabulous" final sales? lol

  2. Sounds like a jcrew insider wrote this. Way to toot your own horn, jcrew.

  3. Interesting about the Gap's jeans and the sizing. I tryed on a premium pair before Christmas and couldn't even get them past my knees. I couldn't get out of the store fast enough!

  4. I thought of the same when I read "consistent sizing." Obviously the person who wrote the article DOESN'T SHOP at Jcrew. LOL

  5. I can see most of them but I will stand in defense of Ralph Lauren. I love their Blue Collection, their oxford shirts, jackets, polos and rugbys are of impeccable quality. After endless washings, their mens rugbys and polos are still amazing.

    I give credit to J. Crew's styling though and find a lot of it fun :)

  6. Consistent sizing? Seriously? I wear a 0 in the boyfriend chinos, a 2 in the fav. fit chinos, and 4 in their skirts, and anywhere from a 27-29 in their denim depending on the cut. And as far as tops, I'm anywhere from a 0-4 depending on the style. And then every season I have to re-firgure out what sizes I am because J Crew changes its sizing as frequently as the most people change their socks! And it's even worse as I'm not close enough to a B&M to try anything on. I have to pay their outrageous shipping just to try on and then again to ship back. It costs me about $20 in shipping both ways every time just to discover that in fact, sizing is not quite as consistant as one would hope.
    And also, If J Crew has consistant sizing then why do I see so many questions about how things fit? TTS? Size up? Size down? If I'm a size 2, shouldn't I be a size 2 accross the board?
    Consistant sizing. What a joke!

  7. Yeah, when I read it I think you've got to be kidding me. Color (what, putty, beige, and gray?) & sizing (yeah right). The things that bug me most. Though she is right about Ralph Lauren -- boring, boring, boring.

  8. I second everyone's comments:
    FS is dreafful and sizing is{very} inconsistent . Article clearly writen by someone who has no clue what J Crew is all about!

  9. lol @j.crew sizing.
    i'm too scared to buy anything at the final sales since you can't return it. i'm a true size 0, but a j.crew size 0 is no longer fit me. my roomie is 5'8" size 4,6 and she can fit into a j.crew 0 just fine. that shows how ridic their sizing is.

  10. The writer was drinking a little too much Crewlade when she wrote that article. Totally disagree.

    The sizing at JC is inconsistant, and from what I have seen of the Spring items it has not improved any. The GAP new line of jeans have improved alot the denim is thicker than the JC Matchsticks, the sizing is about the same.

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  12. consistent sizing and "fabulous" final sales?????? Really???? As for the comments about Ralph Lauren, I have been buying a lot from them lately, specially their Blue and Black labels, at heavily discounted prices, and they are of impeccable quality and very stylish. Ralph Lauren has much better sales than JCrew, IMHO, and the items from this line (and even from the lower priced Lauren line) are better made than Crew's.

  13. LOL casual crew! Exactly my thought: the writer was drinking a big ole Crewlade Cocktail!
    Interesting article!

  14. Consistent sizing and the dreaded Final Sale? Thanks for the early morning laugh!

  15. Sounds like the OLD JCREW. It used to COLORFUL and the SIZING was consistent from about 2001-2007 but no longer. This whole article made me chuckle. And, since JCrew is now more "fashionable" their quality has gone done hill.

  16. Tee hee. This made me giggle. I agree that consistent sizing and the "fabulous" final sales are a joke. Their regular sales are pretty good (when we can get a good promo, of course).

    However, J.Crew MUST be doing something right. Regardless of the amount of complaints on here and on their facebook page (esp. about shipping costs) it doesn't look like it's affecting their sales much. Sure, some people are spending less, but it's hard to completely let go of the Crew!

  17. Yes, I am spending less. I mean how many ruffled pewter colored sweaters or silk camis dry clean only can one person own? I think their profits are from younger, new people discovering the brand and don't care if the clothing lasts only a few wears or one season. I know I got my last few rewards cards--last 3 or so-- and ther are1/2 of what my others used to be and one time less than that. I have cut my JCrew spending drastically.

  18. Two words: Tee hee!

    Final sale is a nightmare, especially when a) a lot of pieces are catalog/.com only, and b) a lot of pieces go to final sale on their first markdown. If I'm gonna take a gamble on an unreturnable item, it better be less than $20.

  19. jcrew is obviously paying for glowing press. This article is a joke.

  20. I tend to disagree with the criticism of the colors here...I love J Crew's colors, and while the brilliance of them ebbs and flows, overall they offer more interesting color choices than most retail stores.

    Anyway, they must be doing something right, because they are doing well, better than many other stores. I look around but I always come back to J Crew. Except for pants......I can't stand low rise pants and that's pretty much all J Crew offers.

    For pants I go to the "boring" Lauren by Ralph Lauren brand.

  21. The article is nonsense and I take offense at the criticism of my beloved Ralph Lauren. That's one brand I can always depend on for consistent quality, fit and style.

  22. Don't get me wrong, I love J. Crew. I have a closet full of it. I am glad they're doing well. The part that made me laugh was that the final sale has "plentiful" inventory. We all know that isn't true. Some items are one-of!

  23. I agree with everyone's comments above...what a ridiculous article! And speaking of final sales (and supposedly how wonderful they are)...has the sale section updated at all during the 30% off promo? I'm ready to spend money J Crew, but you need to restock stuff in my size!!

  24. LOL! I agree with everyone here. the sizes have not been consistent at all! But I think this year is much better than last year. And everyone hates final sales! What is she talking about?

  25. At the risk of repeating what everyone just said, LOL at the consistent sizing and final sale.

    Where is this writer getting her information--the JC press people?
    Final sale wouldn't be so bad if they could solve the problems of inconsistent sizing and inaccurate depiction. As an online shopper I have to rely on the photos and lately I've had trouble with some deceptively posed and pinned items.

  26. That article sounds suspiciously like a press release submitted by the JCrew PR department. I wonder if the author is a personal friend or owes someone a favor at JCrew corporate. It is truly *complete rubbish*!

    (so fabricated and far from the truth that I was surprised to see that it was not from the National Enquirer)

  27. Based on everything else she wrote, I'm surprised the author didn't write something about "realistic and low shipping rates" -- hehe :)

  28. I've bought less from the crew lately, so I agree the turn towards lower quality fast fashion is a big fat MEH, buuuuuuuut I didn't think the article was that bad.

    I actually am consistently a JC XS/0 or nothing-- ironically the sizing inflation made it consistent for me! I think Jenna is interesting and though I may not agree with all her picks I like that they are there. I don't agree wih everything in fashion mags, but I still browse them. And I've made some great final sale purchases thanks to a little reconnaissance here and in-store.

    I don't browse other retailers as much or read as many blogs about other retailers to be able to recognize THEIR skirts, tops, coats, shoes, AND jewelry by their names! That tells me yes, JCREW is doing something right. Now if they'd only bring back the Sonia python clutch and Piazza jacket : )

  29. They forgot to mention the "charge a premium for shipping" strategy that probably adds to the revenue. :P

  30. Lol, appgal. ... I thought the Forbes woman article was sloppy and ridiculous, but this so-called article is just nonsense. I love how the people who put together these pieces conveniently forget the cost-cutting moves j.crew made last year, like slashing jobs and freezing contributions. Hmm, methinks that might tie into profit.

    As nearly everyone else has said, J.Crew used to do so many things right - now they're just playing Emperor's New Clothes...

  31. Come on! Every time I look at Ann Taylor Loft or Gap or BR, I'm always disappointed in the crummy fabrics, wacko fit, and puckery stitching. Not to mention ATL's 3-color palate of the season.

    There isn't a catalog out there, and hardly a magazine, that has the styling panache of the crew. . .

  32. Hardy freaking har har! Consistant sizing and final sales... yeah right.

    The thing is, I agree about the colors. Although I have a mania for grey sweaters that cannot be contained, I also have a bright, cheerful rainbow of cardis that are 90% JC. True, there wasn't as many additions color wise from this past season, but the warm mustard and light berry are so fab it made up in quality of colors that it lacked in quantity.

    I think it is crazy about the Gap jean sizing. I LOVE Gap bottoms, have for years. I can always find something for my whiskering/fading averse low waisted self. So far I haven't tried the premium line, but the regular line doesn't seem to waver much in sizing and often has amazing sale prices.

    I agree with the article that NY&Co needs to do something to get the brand some type of image. It's a shame that that store is looked at more like a strip mall type place when they have great prices and a wonderful sizing system. (My best friend is 6'3" and can always get pants that fit, as well as a friend that barely hits five feet!) I have no idea if the Jenna route will work but it would be worth trying. If they do, they should get someone who really would pick the "loveliest and most flattering" things rather than what seems to be a marketing ploy for slow moving items!

  33. JC,
    I hate final sale too and try to stay far, far away from it online.

  34. Haha, CheesyGoodness "love for grey sweaters that cannot be contained" So true for me too, grey and navy. I agree on the JC sweaters, I have so many colors now and still, I saw one color at the B&M (of the scarce stock they had) and don't know the color but waiting to see if it is of the spring rollout so I can order it in my size. No matter how many I have, I can still want another JC color.

    As for Ralph Lauren, not only do I like them but my husband thinks the "Pony" has magic powers. He says if he has any polo pony shirt on, it's automatically regarded as upscale and he prefers RL above all others because of the quality.

  35. I agree that J Crew has great colors--that's one area I feel they beat everyone else hands-down. Great variety, flattering tones, and lots of pretty shades you won't find elsewhere.

    I also agree with the consistency in sizing, although I know some have some problems in this area. But for me, I find that I'm always the same size in skirts, shirts, and pants. That makes ordering on-line much easier.

    I would disagree about their sales, though. They're not that amazing, especially when it comes to their shoes. It's easier to find a bargain at BR, the Gap, AT, etc. Also, I think JC could do a better job with incentives--like mailing out more $25% cards or even something smaller. Stuff like that brings even more people into the store or to the website. But since they're performing so well as it is, I don't think they're motivated to change anything on this front.

  36. What a funny article! I can see the author slurping her Crewlade as she plagiarizes the press release sent over from J. Crew corporate, whilst popping in a new wad of bubble gum. In all seriousnes, just got back from a visit with a friend whose dad is a retired regional manager for the biggest department store chain in the southeast (no names please). He said all of retail is in big trouble but the stores with the best online business are doing better than the others. He said that because of our recession coupled with the Chinese labor market wanting to drive a harder bargain these days for their goods and services, many retailers have had to drop a level or two in both quality of materials used to make clothing and the quality standards in manufacturing. He said a very few retailers understand that consumers are influenced overall by percieved quality and value when making repeated purchases and they have started to turn their focus towards this rather than having "disposable clothes." Wonder which category our beloved JCrew is in?

  37. David that's really interesting. I have not thought of J. Crew being a "victim" of this exactly. I will admit, I have felt they made a very deliberate decision to downgrade the quality and maybe it's more that they've had to compromise due to costs.

    Your thought bubble of the writer slurping the Crewlade as they pop bubble gum and plagiarize the press release is classic!

  38. I find the sizing pretty consistent at JCrew. Now and again I may need to order a different size but my usual sizes fit like a glove more often than not.

    The sales aren't always great but I did manage to get the Stardust pencil skirt in store for $48 about a week ago. Thought I had missed out and was considering some on ebay that are priced higher than the original retail and then, I lucked out. Such a well-made, dressy garment, quality materials and basic style that can be worn for years. For less than half price. Now that was a good sale.

  39. David,
    Thanks for the informative post:)Considering I have the cashmere corsage flower cardigan that I believe started at $178 and the stiching holding the ribbon is coming undone in 3 places after just taking out of the packaging and trying it on.... I think I know which catergory JC is in....

  40. Okay, what exactly is this writer smoking? Consistent sizes? Great markdowns? Loves final sales? I'm sorry, but I just don't agree on these points. Not only is a size 8 always a size 8, but sometimes a size 8 in the same item is different! I always have to try on because I never know what will fit. I range in sizes from x-small to x-large in their tees, so I cannot buy without trying on. I have pencil skirts that range from 4 to 8. I can only hope for consistent sizing in the future. I do love their colors. Other retail stores that I shop will carry certain colors with each line. While JC does this too, they also offer a range of colors in certain items, which I appreciate.

  41. I agree with everyone here. Their sales for items that are truly quality are not really sale prices at all. Once in a blue moon, one will get VERY lucky and find what they are looking for at B&Ms for steep discounts but that is VERY rare.

    And their inconsistent sizing doesn't just seem to extend to clothes- their shoes have crazy sizing as well. How can one person be an 8.5 in flats, a 10 in heels, and 9 in open toe shoes??? This is nuts.

    After that statement- to then critize my beloved Gap for the one thing I LOVE about them most- their jeans and their sizing -is just inexcusable! At least they have many cuts made for many DIFFERENT body types and don't peg all of their pants to same size 0 ankle width. Geez!

    I didn't realize how much this article annoyed me until I started writing this comment.

  42. I'm really glad someone brought up the COMPLETELY screwed up shoe size thing. Bear with me because I can not keep up with all the "named" styles like most of you all can. In Fall '08 collection, I got a pair of the absolutely divine bright blue peep toes, started out with 7.5, which is what I wear in most shoes,they literally fell off my feet, returned those and got a pair of 7's, still too big , ended up with 6.5's, great fit, but not since fifth grade have I worn a 6.5. So this fall, I lusted after and duly purched the rust fabric peep toes in size 7 to start. Could not even get my toes in. However, I could not resist trying again when they appeared in size 7.5 on (dreaded) final sale and I had a gift card. Well the 7.5's are so wide I walk out of them. Whose feet are these supposed Italian shoe designers using to pattern their shoe sizes, elephants? I am not kidding I think they must AT LEAST be D width. UGH! That learned me not to bite on shoes on final sale ever again! The real question though is why I don't own any UPS stock? That way when I'm going through all this repeated sizing rigamarole, I could be helping my bottom line, in an albeit convoluted way.

  43. Last winter's sales, Dec. 2008-Feb. 2009, at J.Crew were amazing and I made out like a bandit and so did other JCA's. I wish I purchased more last year during that time. This year the sales were rather lackluster. I'm not sure how they will unload all thier winter items.

    J.Crew does have really beautiful colors when they choose to do colors especially in their sweaters and cashmere. Being a pale Irish girl I avoid Jenna's makeupey nudes and dishwater grays(I'm talking about you "light pewter" how I hate that color. Hopefully we'll see more color this spring and summer compared to spring and summer 2009.

    As far as sizing they have been pretty consistant for me which makes me feel safe to order online. I don't wear J.Crew shoes...I feel they are overpriced so I couldn't speak to the crazy shoe sizing.

  44. H,
    I Love GAP jeans too. They fit me great.

  45. Ditto everyone's comments about GAP jeans, I've been loyal to that brand for years. BR is offering 40% off any regular priced item today - and it's not a final sale :)

  46. My objection to the article was the reinvention part.

    With the exception of a few standout pieces, J Crew doesn't stray much from the ruffled silk shirts, the $40 floral applique t-shirts, and the overpriced vintage-lite jewelry.

    There's a difference between reinvention and recycling. J Crew hasn't discovered it yet.

    That said, I like J Crew and I wouldn't post here if I didn't enjoy the clothes.


Dear J.Crew Aficionadas & Aficionados: Please feel free (and encouraged) to share your thoughts and opinions. :) However, please note that this is still a personal blog. So comments that are considered inappropriate (e.g. obscene, racist, homophobic, personal attacks, rude, and just plain mean) will be removed.

And now back to J.Crew! :)