Top Five Customer Complaints With Fashion Retailers

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Top Five Customer Complaints With Fashion Retailers

05/09/2016
The fashion retail industry has been undergoing rapid change. From "fast fashion" retailers to direct mail fashion as a subscription service, the traditional model is under pressure while retail mall attendance continues to decline. The size of the U.S. apparel market is $225 billion as of 2014 and more than $1 trillion globally, a lucrative prize for a competitive industry. ConsumerAffairs for Brands conducted a comprehensive analysis of 14 fashion brands to identify the five most frequently mentioned consumer complaints.

The 14 brands included in the analysis were:
  • Forever 21
  • Abercrombie & Fitch
  • Macy’s
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Gap
  • Bloomingdales
  • Gucci
  • Anthropologie Online
  • Nordstrom
  • American Eagle
  • Banana Republic
  • Louis Vuitton
  • Belk
  • Old Navy
As part of the study, all the reviews on ConsumerAffairs.com for the 14 brands spanning a seven-year period between 2009 and 2016 were analyzed in conjunction with Dr. Marguerite Moore, Associate Professor at the College of Textiles at NC State University. The total number of reviews for all 14 brands was 2,407. The content analysis results suggest common attribution of service failure in five areas:

Provision of online customer experiences
Provision of in-store customer experiences
Credit card policies and procedures
Return/refund policies and procedures
Product quality (luxury items)


Fashion Customer Complaints


(#1 rank indicates the most mentioned complaint for that category)



Category/Dimensions


Rank/

Retailer

Online experience

 

Logistical issues related to online transactions, subdivided into ordering errors and shipping complaints.

   
 

Ordering

#1

Abercrombie & Fitch , American Eagle, Bloomingdale’s Macy’s & Nordstrom

   

#4

Neiman Marcus

 

Shipping

#1

Belk & Gap*

   

#3

Abercrombie & Fitch, Nordstrom & Old Navy

In-store experience

   

Negative interactions with sales associates or lack of in-store sales attention

   
 

#1

Neiman Marcus

   

#2

Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Outfitters, Forever 21

   

#4

Old Navy

Credit card procedures

   

Problems with billing, multiple charges, difficulty resolving credit card problems and issues related to consumer rewards

#1

Gap*

#2

Belk, Macy’s

   

#3

Old Navy

Return/refund policies

   

Issues with returns, refunds, gift cards and unclear promotions

#1

Forever 21

#2

Neiman Marcus

   

#3

American Eagle Outfitters

Damaged products

   

Product quality issues with luxury items

#2

Bloomingdales

   

#3

Neiman Marcus


*Gap tied for two complaint categories as first rank.


Online
Complaints across the board predominantly focus on service failures related to the online experience. Problems associated with the ordering process and delivery emerged among nine unique retailers representing both specialty and department store formats. Poor online experience clearly represents the predominant area of perceived service failure among the inquiries.

Implication: Retailers across formats can improve the online experience by creating transparent, real-time communication channels for online transactions from the point of purchase to final delivery. As consumers continue to migrate to online channels, this practice will be necessary to compete. Resolution of service failures in logistics are identifiable and should be a viable focus for service recovery.

In store
In-store complaints that primarily focus on subpar service within the retail store — including the perception of unfair, rude or inadequate attention from sales associates — emerged as the second most frequently cited complaint category among the analyses. The perception of in-store failures is ubiquitous among specialty apparel formats. Neiman Marcus also emerges as a source of failure for in-store service.

Implication: Service failures regarding interpersonal relations, though more difficult to identify and resolve compared to logistical failures, can be mitigated through training and design of company systems for resolving complaints through open communication.

Credit
The third most important category includes perceived failures related to credit procedures encompassing billing mistakes, lack of communication or resolution with billing questions as well as complaints regarding consumer rewards associated with credit card expenditures (driven by Old Navy). Note that these complaints often occurred among online transactions.

Implication: Credit services, such as logistical services associated with the online experience, can be designed and managed to minimize failures. Gap and Old Navy belong to the same corporate parent and likely use a similar system for credit and rewards processing. Further, Belk and Macy’s are strategically similar. Whether these players manage their credit in-house or through a third party, they can improve service by establishing a direct channel of communication with consumers.

Returns
Unclear return and refund policies also emerged among several retailers as a problem area. The finding is particularly prevalent among Forever 21 which enacts a stringent no return policy. These failures were specific to three retailers and less ubiquitous compared to the previously mentioned categories.

Implication: Retailers who enact return/refund policies that leave the consumer with little recourse, must be vigilant in communicating the rules prior to transaction, leaving less room for the consumer to be frustrated. If the company cannot achieve this balance, they should consider revising the policies.

Product quality
Damaged products were also cited as an area of failure among the two upscale department stores within the analyses. In these cases, consumers commonly complained that expensive luxury items, such as handbags, exhibit quality problems and the retailer is unwilling to replace the item. Consumers often express that after purchasing expensive luxury products, they expect higher levels of service.

Implication: This finding is isolated to the luxury channel, where products are often expensive and may, as a result, drive higher expectations among consumers. Though arrangements between luxury brands and retailers are unique, retailers should provide the consumer full-disclosure on the terms of these purchases.

Through the benefit of analyzing customer feedback and complaints, fashion apparel brands have a unique opportunity to identify and fix areas of concerns, leading to stronger brand loyalty. Those who ignore customer discontent do so at their own peril.


Dr. Sean Guillory is data scientist at ConsumerAffairs for Brands and holds a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from Dartmouth College.