Abercrombie CEO on New Tmall Launch & China Strategy

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. said this week it will launch its Abercrombie & Fitch and abercrombie kids brands on Alibaba Group’s Tmall.com on July 26. Tmall has carried the U.S. apparel company’s Hollister brand since 2014. CEO Fran Horowitz talked to Alizila about the brand launches and her strategies for the China market.

What made you decide to launch an Abercrombie & Fitch and abercrombie kids storefront on Tmall now?

As A&F has evolved and put the focus on creating engaging brand experiences, we are in a better position to leverage the learnings from Hollister and collaborate with Tmall to help tell our evolved brand story to both new and existing customers within the Chinese market. The A&F brand is strong in China and, through our partnership with Tmall, we have the opportunity to bring A&F to even more consumers.

Additionally, with 75 percent of Alibaba Group’s consumers under the age of 35, and about 80 percent of transactions taking place on mobile, the demographics on Alibaba’s platforms align well with our updated A&F brand’s target consumer in their twenties.

Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Fran Horowitz

Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Fran Horowitz


What kind of products will you be featuring on your Tmall store?

We will feature a full range of products across various categories, from denim and outerwear to sweaters and graphic tees. These largely coincide with what’s popular in China at the moment, including also lace and floral prints for women or camo print and polos for men. But we’ll have also seven items that are exclusively sold on Tmall. They include a mix of fleece, jogger sweatpants and knit tops.

For people in the U.S. who haven’t been to an A&F store lately or visited the website, it’s quite a surprise. The brand positioning and products look very different from what the company was known for back in the ‘90s and 2000s. Tell us what’s behind this transformation.

Abercrombie & Fitch has a 125-year-old heritage, and as we celebrate that deep history, we are returning to our roots. We continue to remain focused on quality, fit, detail and providing a unique, engaging customer experience. We have new leadership in place driving this return to our heritage and we also have research from our customers that show their affinity for the brand’s rich history and authenticity. Within our marketing and our new store design, we have incorporated the original A&F logo from 1892 and our design team takes inspiration from our product archives to weave in aspects of our heritage where it feels right.

How does your brand positioning in China differ from that of the U.S.?

China is an important and growing market for us, so we are always working to strike the right balance for our Chinese customers. We want to ensure they receive the authentic, quality product and experience that’s stitched into our brand DNA, while refining our delivery to meet their expectations. Our Chinese customers are so important to us, and we spend a lot of time listening to their opinions, so our relationship with Tmall is extremely powerful in helping us further engage with and reach more of them. Like our customers, the A&F brand never settles, and so, as the brand continues to evolve, it’s paramount that our Chinese customers are with us on the journey.

What are the biggest differences between marketing and brand-building in the U.S. vs China?

What’s so great about our Chinese customers is how fast they embraced the digital experience through channels like Tmall. It enables us to connect with our customers more broadly and in new ways, it serves as a complement to our store experience. So, having a partner like Tmall act as a local guide and help us navigate customer engagement and brand-building opportunities is invaluable.

We are always listening and learning, putting our customers at the center of our decisions. And for all of our customers around the world, convenience is so important. So we’re expanding our omnichannel capabilities here through features such as “Find in Store” and “Return to Store” and through new payment options such as AliPay.

When it comes to connecting with customers, every market engages differently. In the U.S., our customers might connect with us through Instagram or Snapchat. In China, we connect through Weibo or other social media channels. There are differences, but whether it’s Shanghai or Chicago, in every market, it really comes down to listening to our customers and finding new ways to translate that authentic A&F experience. That’s our passion, and we are learning so much from our Chinese customers. They have been fantastic—they’re talking and we’re listening.

Your work with Alibaba has been described as an omnichannel approach. How will this partnership link the online and the offline?

It is clear to us there is an important relationship between our physical stores and our digital presence. The presence of a store still acts as an important gateway to the brand, both as a physical store presence, but also as a local brand “hub” for online engagement. Our partnership with Tmall allows us to expand beyond our current .cn channel and provides an additional channel to service customers who prefer shopping via Tmall. We are working closely with Tmall as we explore additional omnichannel capabilities to our customers.