J.Crew's success story - and the six retailers that should learn from it

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 ForbesWoman article -- but JCrew.com 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.
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