Abercrombiekids Seeks More Control Over Customer Issues

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Confident that it can handle customer service, order management and fulfillment processes relating to children-focused abercrombiekids.com, apparel retailer Abercrombie & Fitch will bring that responsibility in-house starting in July.

Changes in business strategy and an upswing in its call center and Internet sales have persuaded Abercrombie to stop outsourcing work for its abercrombiekids.com site.

This way, the New Albany, OH, retailer hopes to create a single view of the customer by collecting data on shopping habits, linking that with order information received from the site or call center.

The decision on abercrombiekids.com means that outsource provider Interactive Marketing Services, Ridgely, MD, is out, replaced by licensed software from CommercialWare Inc., Natick, MA.

"A lot of retailers go out and look for third-party providers that can help them learn the direct business, but also develop their own infrastructure and cover them through that period, and that's pretty much where Abercrombie was," said Kim Free, vice president of product strategy at CommercialWare.

"As they built their new facilities," Free said, "they saw their business grow pretty consistently. They also started to add new concepts like the Hollister Co. brand, which obviously changed their business model."

An Abercrombie spokesman would not comment on the deal, though he corroborated the facts.

The company, as of the end of March, had 353 stores nationwide, including 84 under the Abercrombie marquee, five Hollister Co. shops for high schoolers and the rest focused at adults under the Abercrombie & Fitch name.

While combined catalog and Internet direct-to-consumer sales are not disclosed, Abercrombie reported revenue last year of $1.23 billion. E-commerce, however, accounts for only 3 percent of all sales.

As the company expands online, it seeks more control over customer-related issues. These range from improved inventory control, better customer service, analysis of online customer spending patterns, a centralized call center and locating product in the supply chain. The company also wants to be more consistent with its promised delivery dates for sales on abercrombiekids.com - something it had less control over when outsourced.

Once in-house, the systems will "provide their customer service reps visibility into the orders from the Web immediately as well as the ability to service their customers, modifying orders or handling returns - any of the back-end processes," Free said.

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