Service please: Abercrombie & Fitch’s Regent St. Store

As a fan of the brand, it pains me to report that I have never had a successful shopping experience at the Abercrombie & Fitch store on Regent Street in London. Something has gone wrong every. single. time.

I’m quite loyal to a small number of brands. For tech, it’s Apple. For speakers, it’s Sonos. For sneakers, it’s New Balance. And for clothing, it’s mostly Abercrombie & Fitch (having graduated from Hollister as a teen and Jack Wills during my Uni years). I’m not obsessed with brand labels, I just appreciate having a coherent experience and design language, and as I’m currently feeling washed-out colours with and clothing that’s not smart but not casual either, Abercrombie hits the mark.

It’s a shame, then, that their new flagship store on Regent Street hasn’t got off to a good start. Having opened up towards the tail end of the pandemic (or the government’s definition of the pandemic at least, given we’re still at 1,000 hospitalisations a day), it’s smaller and plainer than the previous one, which occupied an impressive (and whole) building on nearby Savile Row.

But that’s not the problem. The problem is that every time I shop there, something goes wrong.

Now I should say that all the staff are polite. Changing room attendants are attentive, and staff are helpful if you’re stuck trying to find something in the store. In fact, every experience in the store designed to support you in handing over your money is a positive one (funny that).

When you get to the checkout, though, it’s another story. Here are some tales:

What’s a discount?
Look, Abercrombie is pretty expensive. I try to save money by taking advantage of their many sales and promotions, which they email me about all the time and which clearly state are applicable both in store & online, with the discounted price reflected at checkout. They even have banners at the store entrance explaining the current offer.

I hope you’re good at mental maths though (I’m not), because if you’re not careful, they’ll end up charging you full price in-store anyway. More than once, I have had to bust out the calculator app on my phone to work out what the price should be and then remind the assistant about the promotion, because they didn’t apply it as they should have done. Social anxiety being what it is, I need to be really sure of myself if I’m going to ask someone to do something, in case they have already done it and I just got the figures wrong. It’s a stressful experience.

What’s a tag?
I have twice had merchandise bagged up for me without the security tags removed or deactivated. The first time it happened, I actually don’t recall the item having a bulky tag on it when I tried it on. I could be wrong, but it feels like they put one on instead of taking one off? The even worse thing about the first time is that the security scanners they have at the exit weren’t active. I only found out about the tag when I walked into a Boots halfway across London (heaven forbid you knick a pack of paracetamol) and it screamed at me. I had to trudge back to get the tag removed.

The second time, the scanners did go off and an employee dashed out to find me ruffling through my bag, probably looking more bemused than shocked, and helped me get the tag deactivated. Like I said – they’re really nice. This just shouldn’t be happening in the first place.

What are locks?
The experience that most sums up the chaotic nature of the store is when I witnessed a shoplifting incident right in front of me. A couple of people who, I will just be straight with you, did not look like Abercrombie’s usual clientele, were acting a bit suspicious on the other side of their fragrance display cabinets. I was trying out all the fragrances to pass some time, and these two were pretending between themselves to be intrigued about the different fragrances. Then, one of them opened the cabinet door and slipped a couple into their handbag, before making a swift exit. The scanners didn’t go off, of course.

I have no idea why these cabinets are not locked or protected in some other way, but it was pretty off-putting for me.

I actually emailed Abercrombie about the problems at the store (because of course I did). The store manager replied to me (from a gmail account, weird). Whilst I appreciated the personal response, most of it was fluff. The interesting tidbit, I think, was where they blamed Brexit for hiring issues. I think they meant that both in terms of quantity and quality of store staff – but just couldn’t say that directly. Here’s hoping my next visit will, finally, be a success.