To prep or not to prep, that is the question

While many retail stores are beginning to make an effort to bounce back from several seasons of poor sales, the back-to-school line at stores such as American Eagle and Abercrombie & Fitch have suffered especially.

Same-store sales for 2003 are down 6.4 percent at American Eagle and 7 percent at Abercrombie & Fitch, according to the Associated Press. Same-store sale comparisons are the retail industry standard for determining how well the retailer is performing.

Survival of the fittest

There are several reasons why American Eagle ‘s sales are in a slump. Abercrombie & Fitch opened a sister store, Hollister Co., a retail line feauring California and surf styles. Abercrombie & Fitch stores have also branched out into these styles, putting pressure on stores such as Hot Topic and Pacific Sunwear.

The demographic for these stores is 16 to 24-year-olds, yet there has been a decline in the sales for college-aged students. Instead, 18-22 year olds have gravitated toward more professional-looking fashion lines. Designer trends, such as Seven jeans, have also taken away from possible sales.

War of the sweaters

“I would say Hollister is my favorite out of the three, but all three stores only seem to sell clothes that are made for 13-year-old girls,” Robin Yellen, senior biology major, said. “I still shop at those places, but I don’t really buy that much from each place because they don’t fit me the way I want them to because they are too short.”

Abercrombie & Fitch is by far the most expensive store of the three, but its clothes are worn by many students around campus. Abercrombie’s staple winter items are sweaters and denim. Sweaters usually vary in price from $49.50 to $79.50, with select styles on sale for $39.50. Its denim is consistently the most expensive, at $59.50 to $69.50.

American Eagle – which often carries a cheaper, version of Abercrombie styles – offers a similar style of sweaters ($29.95 to $58) and denim ($29.95 to $44) but at much more reasonable prices. Hollister Co. also tries to market itself as a cheaper Abercrombie & Fitch with the same quality and styles. These stores have monopolized much of the high school crowd, but do not have the same effect on some college students.

“I don’t shop at Hollister and rarely at American Eagle because they have gotten more expensive,” Nicole Cocuzza, senior business administration major, said. “I’d rather just go to Abercrombie. But when you go to Abercrombie, all they have are tables of clearance T-shirts that I’d never wear and maybe a nice sweater.”

What’s in a name?

So what could be the problem? High school fashion revolves around name recognition. Many students become walking billboards for companies such as American Eagle, Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch to show that they can shop there.

In college, however, many students mature and it becomes almost negative for them to walk around with a shirt with the word “Abercrombie” plastered on the front. Students in college are not judged by fashion as much as they were in high school. When you walk around the College campus, many students are found wearing cheaper vintage or thrift items.

“I think the quality is the same,” Joanne Gault, sophomore accounting major at Monmouth University, said. “People are just finding ways to express themselves with other things than clothing.”

Pick and choose

Final verdict: As a long time shopper at Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle, I wouldn’t give up on these stores – yet. Most holiday collections are already in stores, so check them out and see if they have any new or inventive items. I have not been impressed with their last couple of seasons, but if you are as big of a shopper as I am, you can always find an item that you “need.”