Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Crew's news and online reviews

Mickey Drexler, CEO of J. Crew, was interviewed recently in The Globe and Mail.

Interviewer: Apple creates demand for things people didn’t even know they wanted. How does that apply to J.Crew?

Drexler: "That was Steve’s favourite line—that customers don’t know what they want unless you show it to them... If you market it and you show it and they don’t want it, you lose. End of argument. You can’t argue too much with the customer."

Not computer science
Do designers really "have to show it to us"? Drexler reaches a little far for the genius designation that Jobs handily earned; this is not technology, it's clothes. I could not have dreamed up the iPod, but can imagine a violet peacoat or navy silk shirt I can wash myself. 

Manufacturers do listen to customers, or claim they do. I've read plenty of Lands' End copy that says "You asked us to bring this back, so we did", or "The cut will please those of you who asked for a longer jacket". Are they making this up?

I suspect the market Drexler tries to shape is a youthful one, with plenty of disposable income. I challenge J. Crew to cut for mature bodies even if they have to create a second line, and to use the same juicy fabrics.

They are already extremely quietly selling a handful of semi-formal and wedding dresses, like the silk-taffeta Blakely in up to size 20, but I'd also like to see short dresses with skirts longer than 18 inches. And why not pants and skirts in this range?

J. Crew expanded size dress
Come on, Drexler! Someone has to capture the 50+ market by offering more wit and sass  than the stalwart Bean, dependable Lands' End or utilitarian Eddie Bauer.


What these more conventional companies are doing is publishing customer's online reviews and product ratings.

LL Bean Rating Snapshot
Lands' End Views and Reviews

How useful are these to you? 

I'm still surprised that some companies print these. If you think you want those LL Bean boots or that cute Boden skirt, the reviews can easily change your mind.

I can sink into a near role-playing world, in which I try to figure out if a narrow-footed retired dog-walker in Vermont would have good judgment about a pair of winter boots. Reviews keep a company on its toes, because they'll be stuck with inventory if customers condemn a specific item with a one or two-star rating.

J. Crew don't play. Bloggers may post scathing remarks about shreddy cashmere, but Drexler keeps it under wraps, and provides no customer feedback system.

The economy's still slow, retail limps along. Seems to me that an online retailer who does not provide product feedback is taking an expensive stance, especially when free shipping is only offered as an occasional promotion.



30 comments:

Susan said...

I pay close attention to online ratings and have changed my mind about a product based on them. I often leave comments and ratings myself.

Peruvian Connection is a company which uses a rating system. It is particularly helpful when a company like Peruvian uses ratings as their products are all over the map ranging from sublime to not usable.

It would be great if J Crew made a line for our demographic. As it is, I have one top in my closet from their offerings.

Frugal Scholar said...

I LOVE the reviews. Garnet Hill has them also. You can click on the reviewer and see if (usually) she has bought other things you would like--i.e. test the reviewer's taste against your own.

Bourbon&Pearls said...

Their 18 ich skirts are even shocking on some of the models, although they no doubt have 52 inch legs!
I always read online reviews, they are so helpful in terms of fit and quality.

Karen said...

SLEEVES! That's what I want on a dress, J. Crew! I think many of us of a certain age have the legs for a shorter skirt (put aside for the moment the appropriateness of such attire), but few of us have the arms for the relentless sleeveless dresses that are marketed as cocktail wear. I was recently looking for a dress to wear to a black-tie evening wedding and was nearing despair when I finally found a plain black sheath with a 3/4-sleeved satin coat that went over it. Of course, I couldn't take the coat off all evening, but it was a small price to pay for not displaying the arms.

Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

I always look at online ratings and really appreciate the companies that are willing to allow the negative ones to show on their site. I also have changed my mind based on reviews. I really want to believe that the retailers are listening to companies...it only makes good sense to do so! Coldwater Creek is a retailer that allows the negative and the positive and I have a more positive experience with them because of it! I also agree with KAREN...more with sleeves, please!!

Susan said...

I don't understand the issue about sleeveless dresses and arms. I wear sleeveless all the time (will be 60 in April). I have a VERY slim and in shape friend who frets about every little infirmity in her upper arms. I think it is a bit silly.

I realize that my view on this topic may be a real outlier. I guess I am clueless. My upper arms are ok. I do make it to an exercise class MOST of the time, but I am my no means obsessed.

déjà pseu said...

Susan, I think the sleeve issue is a personal one and not always about insecurity over upper arms. Some of us get cold in air-conditioned interiors in sleeveless garments. I also came up in the working world when it wasn't considered appropriate to wear sleeveless garments in the office, and to be honest, I still have that bias. The reason that so many retailers have so many sleeveless styles is that they are cheaper to produce. Setting in sleeves adds to the production cost of a garment. And it's one area where it's hard to get the fit right.

Duchesse, I love ratings systems. BUT, I read all of the reviews, especially if there are some negatives, to see what they didn't like. "Thought these were long sleeves but they're only 3/4" isn't a negative for me, and I've seen people give poor ratings because they didn't like a particular color that I wouldn't have considered anyway. I look for comments about fit and quality. J.Crew's marketing strategy does seem to work for them. Their cuts are hit and miss: tees are way too long and narrow for me, but some of the sweaters work quite well. And I lucked into that paisley skirt, which was actually too long in the regular size and they hemmed for free.

kathy peck said...

I keep reading about the sheddy or otherwise inferior cashmere of J. Crew. I've never had a problem with their sweaters. They're not the most luxurious, but I think great for the price.
I've never thought about the fact that they don't have reviews, interesting, because I do pay some attention to them.

Duchesse said...

Susan: I am careful about overall ratings, because of the averaging effect. A couple of high ratings, a couple of low yields and average rating, but does not tell the real story.

Frugal: I rarely look at customer's other purchases @GH, but pay close attention to quality remarks.

Bourbon & Pearls: I know some 20-something women who wear that size and they do not want tiny skirts either, Those larger sized dresses seem to me to be mostly evening and bridal attire.

Karen: I want sleeves in winter (this is Montreal!) and will wear sleeveless in summer- that's life one of the widest temperature-range climates in the world. See Pseu's remark, I agree it is largely manufacturing expense.

Pam: Am a cynic; there is nothing to stop them for cooking the remarks by having employees post good reviews to counter the negatives. But even if they are scrupulously honest, it amazes me that some people say a Lands' End cashmere sweater is cheap and thin and someone else says it is great quality.

Susan: Arms are a deep body image issue. As I've stated before, I'm sorry (and irritated) that a woman will suffer in full length sleeves in sweltering heat, simply for vanity. At the same time wish I had the toned arms I took for granted at 30.

Pseu: I still have a client (in media!) whose dress code forbids sleeveless... apparently the fear is thank tops, so instesd of no tanks- no sleeveless.

The ratings have influenced me mostly NOT to buy; the power of a negative comment outweighs OK-to-good comments. I've also learned to parse ad copy. "Featherweight" cashmere usually means thin and therefore delicate, and often too light for this northern climate.

Wish retailers would include measurements of ALL garments, like Boden and Bompard do- "Knee length" is never knee length on me, but how long is it?

Susan said...

I had not thought about being cold in an office building (since I don't work in one). Good point also about it being cheaper to manufacture sleeveless AND get the fit right.

I recognize that many women have deep body issues with upper arms being one of them. My comment is that I can see GREAT upper arms that some women are still reluctant to show because they don't like those of a 20 year old. I find that to be a shame, but I am not criticizing, just admitting that I am sometimes puzzled.

LPC said...

Online shopping is still an evolving domain, no question. I read some statistics, in a presentation on Socialnomics, in which people trusted online recommendations and reviews far more than advertising. I don't buy much any more without reading reviews. Where none exist, I will even Google, or something of the sort.

Fashion does tell us we want something we don't know we want yet. It's called a trend:). But style has to listen to what we need. More and more, as we flood online heart, soul, and pocketbooks.

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

I have been won over by Land's End, and who knew I 'd ever by online?
I read the reviews and I love their return policy and 100% satisfaction guarantee. I read the online reviews and they help me decide to buy or not to buy.

Nordstrom's does the same and i think it's honest and brave on their part...leave nothing to chance.

I can say that the cashmere from Land's End is a great quality and is as thick as my Johnston one from Scotland at 1/6 the the price!

HB said...

I do read ratings and have certainly made online purchasing decisions based on them. I don't go on the overall number of stars, of course, since people will give a negative rating for how they like a color or didn't read the fabric content. It's not a perfect system but there is certainly a difference between Zappos' approach and that of J Crew. As far as J Crew is concerned, have had such spotty fit, style, and fabric quality from J Crew that I only shop their B&M locations on sale.

Adding to the comments above: office buildings - and working in a male-dominated environment - mean that I want a skirt that doesn't hike up when I am in the (inevitably) long meeting or after-hours command performance at a cocktail party or similar. Bare shoulders are not exactly comfortable either when doing business with a group of fully-clad men. Plus offices and conference rooms are freezing as they are conditioned for people wearing suits. I can be having a "personal summer" moment and still end up icy cold after a morning of meetings. I want to look good and age-appropriate but also to be on equal footing with my counterparts.

Minimalist Magpie said...

Hear, hear! I would love it if J. Crew offered some of their more "interesting" skirts in a longer length.

And the lack of online rating system does not reflect well on them...but I think that's how they maintain their "mystique" as their quality goes down.

lagatta à montréal said...

One thing I dislike about some of the mainstream catalogues such as LLBean and Lands' End is their colour ranges. Sometimes they have nothing but pastel and gaudy, oversaturated colours, meaning I'm pretty much stuck with black, and I really don't need another black sweater.

There are some interesting items at JCrew but I think they run small, no?

I do read the ratings, though of course some of them could be fake.

My word verification word is "fackwt", which almost sounds rude.

Duchesse said...

Susan: *I'll* criticize, and have no problem with it, having just seen Fran Lebowitz' "Public Speaking" :) The insistence on physical perfection in order to reveal any non-private body part saddens me. And- I have seen the same thing with men.

LPC: Perhaps because I am a decade older than you, I see so few trends that are either recycled or timeless (how can plaid or stripes be a trend)?

I trust online reviews more than ads but it will take one exposé of cooked feedback to wreck my faith in them.

hostess: Know you love LE cashmere (and I like the sweater I've had for at least 5 years) but how in the world do we reconcile the number of reviews that slam the quality? I wonder if all styles are the same quality.

HB: With my haute corporate clients I did not wear sleeveless, but in summer would wear a short-sleeved silk shirtwaist, Never felt had to equally covered. Here, many companies are turning down the AC and telling the men that jackets are not required, as an energy-saving tactic.

Minimalist Magpie: Yes, have noticed quality varies, as sometimes visited B&M store. Maybe their young customer is not as demanding re consistency.

lagatta: J. Crew do not only run small, they cut with narrow arms and high armholes. *Here* is one that should fit you and in great colours:
http://www.eric-bompard.com/lang-en/cardigans/246-gilet-classique.html

Try on mine; just got one, 20% off and somehow came through this time w/out duty, gift from the cashmere goddess. There are also sales in Jan. but not all colours available.

materfamilias said...

Interesting to follow the discussion, but I rarely shop/buy online. I suspect customer reviews would make a difference to me if I did, but more influential is reading my blogging friends (whose taste and expertise I've come to trust).

Tiffany said...

I shop online a lot - as the range is Australia is very limited and I dislike the whole shopping process - so the comments are really important to me.

As I'm fairly short, I really like sites that include the length of garments; something that is mid-thigh on a 5ft11 model is quite likely to be OK on me, but if I have the actual measurements, I can check.

Even more helpful are the wonderful bloggers who discuss specific garments. I've bought shoes via a recommendation from Pseu, and a beautiful Veronique M dress that you showcased - both of which I adore and still wear regularly. Likewise Eric Bompard cashmere ...

coffeeaddict said...

Just tired of all this recyled, upcycled and any other way cycled clothes, fashion magazines, fashion bloggers, editorials... Tired of being told which colour is hot and what is trendy this season,
Tired of cheap ill fitting unimaginative mass produced clothes passing off for the next great something. Unfortunately Mr. Drexler was partially right, it's not that people don't know what they want but they're so desperate to be told what to wear as if that will somehow magically be their VIP all access area ticket into society.

Duchesse said...

materfamilias: I bought my sons' clothes almost exclusively online, and loved the ease (and no-strings returns.) And years later, I am betting that as the boomers age, they will appreciate things coming to the door- but maybe not you.

Tiffany: Almost the opposite opinion to materfamilias' (and both are valid!) I too, as a 14-16 cannot find that much in stores so appreciate online merchants. There is a tradeoff between getting to assess something and the convenience and access. For items that it is no fun to slog through stores for (bedding for example) online can't be beat.

coffeeaddict: I was more like that when I was in my teens and twenties, but in a late-consumer society you learn pretty fast that you don't want it all, even if you could have it all. Consumption fatigue is a significant step toward freedom, whether it's clothes, gadgets or any consumable.

Gauss said...

I find J. Crew to be extremely disappointing - from poor fit and cheap fabrics to inflated prices. I don't buy anything from them, online or otherwise. It doesn't surprise me that they don't allow comments and ratings - they sell their rags as if they were the best things ever.

Anonymous said...

Women over 35+ account for over 65%of online clothing sales and women over 50 account for the fastest growing sales within the 35+ group. They also have the most disposable income, much higher than those under 30. The problem is that nobody wants their products associated with older women - it's a death knell to your brand. I do see improvement being made to say Lands End to be more fashion forward and offer things in other than primary or pastel colours so change is definately coming. I find J Crew highly overrated, the quality is not there to warrant the prices but I do wish the few online retailers that cater to older women would at least take a look at the colours and styling that J Crew has and tailor it to their market.

Anonymous said...

I did a lot of mail-order shopping when I was in the States, because I generally didn't have time for B&M stores. And I stuck with a limited group of retailers -- Nordstrom, J.Jill, Garnet Hill, Boden, and, once in a while, Talbots (until we broke up).

And I tended toward the sites with reviews, reading them all to see what I could glean. I especially like Boden's, as reviewers often gave their age, size, height, and body type. Really, really helpful!

It is nearly impossible to find things that will fit me here in Spain that are not both frumpy and mind-blowingly expensive. (If the Xmas lottery "touches me," I'm going straight to the Marina Rinaldi boutique on Serrano.)

Otherwise, it's all about living with what I packed, and trying not to overcompensate with accessories.

Duchesse said...

Gauss: I have, in the last decade, bought only sweaters from J. Crew, often on sale. The quality has been from OK to very good, about what I'd expect for the sale price. They have the interesting, attractive colours, especially in cashmere, hard to find elsewhere at their price point.

Anon@5:44: You have factually described the problem, thanks. Yes, noticed LE getting slightly more stylish (at least, styling the basics better in the catalog) and recently ordered my first item-a Fair Isle sweater- in years.

J. Crew have featured Lauren Hutton on and off and occasionally a model even older (as part of a "family"). Hard to imagine that Drexler is not aware of the 50+ market and would not plan to target it, whether under J. Crew's brand or another.

Merchants aren't the only ones who don't want to be associated with aging; boomers don't either. They like tho think they are going to be forever young. So is it not natural to give them clothes they can wear in a brand they associate with their college days?

50+ may have more disposable income, but I wonder whether they will spend that on clothing.


Anon@6:14: Online shopping will only grow. Online merchants are determined to address any barriers, so reviews, virtual models, free shipping, chat (even video) functions, recommended products: it's getting to be a richer experience all the time.

Since I find B&M shopping more disappointing all the time, I like these new features.

And- I'm guessing you can still order from Boden (UK site) where you are?

Ms. M said...

I just wrote a whole blog post about how I love online shopping. :) And I do read reviews, but I'm more likely to search for blog posts on specific items (and pictures). There are at least a few blogs devoted to discussions about J Crew apparel, for example.

I do tend to order from J Crew-- they offer the types of colors that look best on me. But I'm often disappointed in the quality and fit. I still shop there, but it's not unusual for me to return half of what I order.

Murphy said...

J Crew's quality has really fallen off in my opinion! I have a lovely pair of lined wool gabardine pants that I got there several years ago, but when I tried to get another pair this year, none of the similar wool pants were lined. In addition, the sizing of their tops has gotten skimpier and less forgiving around the middle.

I am in despair about finding a moderately-priced line for flattering clothing. Ann Taylor (another former go-to of mine for trousers) has similarly moved on in search of the younger customer. Meanwhile, I have a better income than I ever had in my twenties and thirties and would LOVE to spend some of it on clothes, but very little suits me. Maybe slow retail sales will motivate some of these stores to branch out to our demographic?

Duchesse said...

Murphy: So frustrating when dependable product is no longer made. What do you think of Lsfayette 148?

Duchesse said...

Ms M: J Crew are offering goods few others will, online- but not for 50+ unless one is on the thin side.

Anonymous said...

I rarely buy online as we don't have any free shipping in New Zealand. Prices for shipping from anywhere else tend to double the cost of the garment, so I don't bother.

I have bought a few things from a local online shop and I do really appreciate the reviews. But I still find it much more satisfactory to go to the shop and actually try things on. Often things look lovely in photos on models but turn out to be nasty cheap fabric, skimpy cut, oddly cut etc.

With the sleeve issue - I can't quite work out what the problem is. I wear little cardigans/ shrugs over my sleeveless tops/ dresses.

If I was being formal at work, I'd wear a jacket with shirt-y type things underneath. (a short sleeved or light jacket for summer)

For evening there are heaps of options of arm cover - pashminas, shrugs, boleros etc. I've got several little sequined/ sparkly things.

It is sometimes more chic to have a dress that's all in one, but adding things over it gives you a wider range of looks and can be fun.

Eleanorjane

Duchesse said...

Eleanorjane: I don't require free shipping but some shipping charges seem very high to me. I tend to order higher-priced things (like cashmere sweaters) online so do not mind a shipping charge b/c I figure to go out, pay for parking, deal with the crowds- it is worth $20 to have it delivered to my door. But if I have to return something, that cost hurts!

I love shawls of all kinds as a way to vary an outfit, even jeans and a sweater.