Abercrombie & Fitch © Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg News/Landov

Customer Service Hall of Shame

No. 4: Abercrombie & Fitch isn't talking

The trendy clothing company, the only retailer in MSN Money's Customer Service Hall of Shame, has been accused of sexualizing children and using discriminatory hiring practices.

By Karen Aho

Abercrombie & Fitch is the first specialty retail store to break into the top ranks of MSN Money's annual ranking of poor customer service.

In this year's MSN Money-Zogby International poll, 38% of respondents familiar with the company's customer service rated it "poor."

That's a distinction the trendy clothing company chose to ignore. Its offices did not respond to requests for comment.

MSN Money is not alone when it comes to getting the cold shoulder. Josh Golin, the associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said Abercrombie & Fitch has been less than communicative with that organization as well.

Golin's group is concerned with Abercrombie & Fitch's sexually explicit clothing and advertisements aimed at preteens and teenagers. In the company's line: thongs for young girls that say "eye candy" and T-shirts for girls that read "Who needs brains when you have these?"

"When it comes to sexualizing children, Abercrombie & Fitch is among the worst corporate offenders," the campaign's Web site says.

Abercrombie & Fitch has had its share of high-profile spats. In 2005, it paid $50 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging discriminatory employment practices at its 700 stores. As part of the lawsuit, the company was ordered to recruit minority applicants and diversify its marketing materials.

Early this year, Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, announced plans to rename its emergency room after Abercrombie & Fitch in exchange for a $10 million donation. Efforts to persuade the hospital to reconsider made national headlines.

All this negative publicity likely influences opinion surveys such as the MSN Money-Zogby survey, experts say.

However, none of these lingering image problems appears to have the hurt the company's bottom line. It posted $3.8 billion in sales in 2007, a 13% increase over the previous year, and $475.7 million in net income.

In the MSN Money-Zogby survey, 25% of those familiar with the company's customer service rated it "fair," 28% "good" and 9% "excellent."

Published May 28, 2008

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