While I am in the States, my family sends me orders for various items they would like me to bring back. Since I have three daughters and a rather dishy wife, that means shopping in places such as Abercrombie & Fitch, which are mall rat havens with pounding music, posters of meticulously depilated underage models artfully grabbing their crotches, and clusters of of sweet young things standing around staring into space, occasionally shouting “What?”. My standard approach is to bring a netbook or some printouts and convince one of these creatures to go get the stuff for me.
Usually this works out to everyone’s satisfaction, but not today. I found myself in the Abercrombie & Fitch store next to Faneuil Hall in Boston, looking for a specific top (pictured) in a specific size. The store had only one left, which they refused to sell to me. When I asked why, the salesperson (and, eventually, the store manager) explained to me that it was the last one in the store and belonged to the “Visual Team”, apparently an organizational entity with immense powers. They did offer to check whether it would be available in another store. The idea that they sell me their piece and get a new one from another store apparently did not occur to them.
A few years ago this would have occasioned some rather sarcastic attempts by yours truly to explain the lack of basic business instinct in this policy, but with advancing years I have come to understand that discussing anything with “managers” (who manage without authority, an interesting concept) is like hunting dairy cows with a scoped rifle, to steal a phrase from P. J. O’Rourke. So I shook my head and left.
As for the store policy, I just can’t get it: There is a recession, and retail is suffering along with everyone else. Abercrombie’s revenues are stagnating and their stock is down there with the rest of the market. And here I am, a customer wanting to buy a product they have, and rather than sell it to me they instead saddle me down with their own bureaucracy.
Someone once said that in all companies, we start out working for the customer and end up working for the CFO. In Abercrombie they work for the Visual Team – it clearly is more important how the store looks than whether any sales take place there. I don’t get it. But then again, I am just a lowly business school professor who thought selling stuff was what stores did.
I must be getting old. And sadly lacking in the depilation department.