Year in Review: Oh, the games Anthropologie plays

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

While there is no doubt that I love Anthropologie, sometimes they confuse me. I find 99% of my transactions with them are smooth as glass but that remaining 1% leaves me wondering if they actually want me to buy their items or not. Today we'll take a look at some puzzling moves Anthropologie made in 2010. Anthropologie is hardly alone in these practices below, but it troubles me that they've joined the crowd rather than setting themselves apart.

Product page redirects. Used to be that if an Anthropologie item was sold out, you'd land on the product page with a message saying "We're sorry, this product is no longer available" where the "Add to Cart" button would normally be. It was always a sad message to see but you could still read the product description, the material content, and read user reviews of the product. When Anthropologie unveiled their site redesign earlier this year that all changed. Instead of seeing the actual product page you see this terrible redirect landing page above instead. Most frustrating, if the item pops back into stock after initially selling out, the product page doesn't come back. The community has to rely on the kindness of each other to announce wishlist popbacks. Annoying? YES.

Why did Anthropologie do this? I can think of a few reasons. Maybe their product page database was getting too big, so they decided to purge them more often. Although they still have to store the product information, so that doesn't save much space in the database at all...hmm, maybe customers complained of being frustrated with the messaging on the product page when a product is sold out so they introduced this page instead? Although customers seem to be more frustrated by this page...OK, I can't think of any good reasons why this page exists. It sucks, I hate it, and I wish Anthropologie would bring back the normal page instead.

Another unintended result of these redirects? My wishlist, once manageable and realistic, has boomed to ridiculous proportions so I can help the community see popbacks. Instead of adding items I plan to buy to my wishlist I add any item I'm even remotely interested in. I can only imagine the ways Anthropologie's wishlist database has ballooned in the past year. A wishlist which, at best, is frustrating to use.

The Chantico Tank was released in white and pink initially,
and joined by a few more colors after 3 months.

Second wave of colors, released looong after the initial colors. I think it's great that Anthropologie has managed their supply chain well enough to restock popular items quickly. But another side of that management seems to be that products are now released in 2 or 3 colors initially, and then more way down the line. A product seems about ready to move to sale only surprise! Instead another few colors come out and you're back to counting down from day 1.

Another frustrating aspect of this is trying to decide which color to buy a product in. I've relaxed my multiples rule quite a bit this year and now own several products in multiple colors. But for the most part I try to pick an item in one color. So it's very annoying when I buy an item, wear it, and then it comes out in a color I like better. The result has been that I'm buying less now because I fear that an item will has more color releases to come and I want to see all the options before deciding. Or sometimes I'll wait and when the new colors come out I think the original was the best, but that original has sold out. Options are great. I just wish they'd all come out at once.

Items appear online wayyyy after debuting in-store. Remember the In The Trees Skirt? It was in stores in July but not online until October. For someone like me who is spoiled with multiple local stores this isn't such a big deal. For our online-only shopping friends though this has to be a pain. What if your size isn't available in-store? Today's shoppers often try an item in-store and then investigate online before making a purchase. To not have an item online at all strikes me as odd.

My guess is Anthropologie is doing this to track customer analytics in stores. I can understand why as e-commerce continues to grow in overall sales proportions. We see the opposite too more frequently on Anthropologie's website as some items are now online-only. This is probably not a huge deal to the overall shopping population but as a blogger it's annoying to have a review ready to go and no product to link to. Tricky, tricky, Anthro.

All of these items were see-through. Come on, Anthro.

Quality decline. Ugh, this one pains me to even mention. But it's true. Anthropologie's quality is still higher than most of the brands of its size, but there was a noticeable decline this year. I saw dresses with boning popping through the seams. Loose threads, more than ever before. And material that was thin, thin, thin. It's such a bummer because I could always count on Anthropologie to release high-quality items. I'm not sure if they're trying to compete on price by experimenting with different materials or if their production costs have gone up so much that they need to cut corners to keep prices where they are. Either way, it's disconcerting. 

This decline extends to the warehouse. I am saddened to hear about people receiving items that have clearly been previously worn or the wrong item. When you're a medium-to-large retailer it's hard to keep track of every single order and mistakes will happen. It seems clearer though that no one is checking Anthro's online and CS orders before they leave the warehouse. I don't see ticks on my order forms anymore. No "inspected by" stamps. QC is an operational expense that is hard to justify to analysts but necessary to customers. Here's one way to try: no QC, less buying by me.

I buy a lot less at J.Crew than I used to, and that decrease can be directly correlated to their switch to looser gauge Merino, declining quality control, and poor design choices. Even many of the "upscale" brands I turn to like Theory, Barney's in-house label and labels like Diane von Fursternberg, Catherine Malandrino or Vince are just sliding downhill in quality faster than I can unravel one of their poorly constructed sweaters. As a result I'm just not buying these brands as much. Anthropologie, don't become next on this list!

Inorganic crap. Speaking of declining quality in materials, I like my wool sweaters to be made of wool! Nylon? Rayon? Spandex??? All materials I saw more and more at Anthropologie. Bailey 44's soft jersey used to be cotton-based. Now? Rayon. Blech. Have you found a 100% Merino wool sweater this year? Me either. Yuck. Is your silk top 100% made from the good stuff? Probably not. Ugh. You can't see me right now but my arms are flailing about in frustration. Why? Why, cruel world, is clothing no longer made from organic materials? Too expensive? Too hard to come by in the USA? I just don't get it. Without getting too political, my personal belief is that as we've allowed our clothing production to move out of the USA and into developing countries our clothing has suffered for it. Or is it because more retailers are public and have to answer to shareholders? Whatever the reason I'm highly annoyed. Real sweaters come from sheep, llamas, alpacas and rabbits. Fake sweaters come from plastic and inorganic stuff. Who wants a sweater made of fake stuff?

It's on sale! No wait, it's not...? Out of all the frustrations in this post, this one seems to have the community most up in arms. One of two things happens: an item is marked down on Tuesday, then goes back to full price once it sells out online OR an item is marked down by 40-60% on Tuesday but that percentage changes to 30-40% later in the week. They're both indefensible to me. Accidental markdowns? Maybe, but the hallmark of a great company is one that honors their mistakes to the benefit of the customer. Anthropologie has excellent customer service but they're stretching my goodwill here. They can explain it away all they want but it just makes them look bad in my eyes.

Anthropologie sets the prices of a full-price item and we as customers agree on the value by purchasing the item. It is a slippery slope to then say that an item is on-sale for one price today and another tomorrow. It's cheating to me. It's gross! It's taking advantage of customers. I have seen this happen at other retailers too. In fact, a few well-known stores will watch their stock levels and raise prices on items that are selling well! How is that not illegal? The cynic will say it's their product and they can set prices however they want. My response is that once you've set the full price or the sale price, let well enough alone. To play around with pricing is at best unethical. 

I'll have a counter-post to this one later today with things Anthropologie did really well this year. In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Any topics I missed?