J.Crew recently made its first foray into the UK market with the opening of two new stores -- and all has not gone smoothly. Many UK outlets reported that shoppers across the pond were not happy with the marked-up prices, as it appeared that J.Crew had, in many instances, swapped dollar signs for pound signs, which, at a $1.59 exchange rate (at the time), means the Brits are paying quite a bit more than we are for the same goods.
In a new cover story for Bloomberg Businessweek, which adorably features a Photoshopped Royal Couple wearing J.Crew, Mickey Drexler responds to those he's angered by, well, brushing them off. “Prices are different from country to country. I’ve been coming to Europe for decades, and it’s always been that way,” he said. In fact, he argues the pricing could actually be good for business stateside. “Opening international stores enormously helps your domestic business. Because then customers will buy even more when they come to America, because it’s cheaper,” he says. We're not sure if that statement was a super thought-out business strategy or something Drexler came up with to make the price difference sound like a positive thing. But either way, he could be right.
Jenna Lyons was a little more forthcoming to Bloomberg about the fact that setting up shop in the UK has been challenging. “Everything’s different over there, from the labeling to compliance to legal issues,” she said. “Stuff you wouldn’t think of." She also admitted to having trouble finding a good sales staff. Apparently, customer service is not a strong point among Brits: “When someone’s in the dressing room saying, ‘This isn’t really working,’ where we excel is having the salesperson say, ‘We have these three other things, or this option online.’” Thus, J.Crew imported staff from the U.S. to train British employees.
It all sounds like issues that would naturally arise when an American brand (especially one as distinctly American as J.Crew) crosses the pond. Lyons and Libby Wadle, head of merchandising and buying, even detailed some of the challenges the company is dealing with in preparation for its move into Asia, like store size: "They’re smaller, and rents are much higher," said Wadle. And person size: “You go in with the impression that everything would have to be smaller, but we’re seeing that that’s not necessarily the case,” she said. It will also be interesting to see how the company does in the Asian market, which has lately been dominated by big-name luxury brands, not so much low-key, affordable brands like J.Crew.
Until then, prepare to fight with foreigners at your local J.Crew for that last beaded Collection sweater in your size.