As well as being a funny guy, Howard Saunders is an English retail guru who is passionate about retail and often harps on about the disconnect between consumers’ craving for great shopping experiences and the shithouse offerings plaguing our high streets. I met Howard last year and his latest talk (aka rant) is below:

The key message here for me is that retailers need to be an expert in what they are selling. When customers are faced with too much choice and not enough curated content, they will be paralysed by the fear that they’ll buy the wrong thing. Retailers needs to be the expert. They need to reassure the customer that purchasing from them is the right thing.

[Apple store to customer]: “Don’t worry. There is but one phone. It is the iPhone.” (Howard @ 5:50)

Retailers need strong, clear values before they can be the expert in the customer’s mind. They need to know who they are as a brand, then this can play out across ranging, visual merchandising, staffing etc.

Abercrombie & Fitch have manifested their values brilliantly over the last decade. Essentially they sell street cred apparel to the cool kids – and their stores are like nightclubs with DJs, barely any light (you’ll genuinely need your phone torch) and seriously hot staff. And customers line up to get in to A&F stores. When I visited an A&F in Tokyo recently I felt totally at ease buying a beanie and bracelet (which I have not worn since) because they made me feel cool.

Also worth mentioning that A&F recently f*&^ed up royally when their CEO commented: “Candidly we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” Foolish. Subsequently a massive change.org petition circulated and the A&F share price tanked. His comments are tantamount to bullying, which everyone now knows is veeery uncool.

But as foolish as this was, I’ve got a lot more respect for A&F than many major Australian retailers, like David Jones or Myer, who give an excellent demonstration in how to be mediocre. They are generally pretty miserable places, with disinterested staff, that don’t really care about the consumer… they just sell stuff, which is not sufficient anymore.


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