No publicity is bad publicity for J Crew

And so back to the old question: is all publicity good publicity when it comes to brand-building?

Today Woman’s Wear Daily has a story about J Crew’s recent quarterly report that notes a loss due to the cost of going private, but also allows James Scully, CFO, to trumpet the beginning of the brand’s international rollout, facilitated by the change in ownership. It began two weeks ago in Toronto with the opening a stand-alone store in Canada, and the launch of a Canadian online retailing site. Mr Scully said the company was “really pleased with the results in customer feedback so far.”

Interesting, that. As far as I knew – and I was in Canada, outside of Toronto, for the last two weeks — the story all over the Globe & Mail was of how irate J Crew’s loyal Canadian customers were because when the store opened prices were up to 50 percent higher than they were in New York (Canadian duties, you know; got to pass them on to someone). My in-laws couldn’t stop talking about it.

According to the Globe, one shopper “returned $600 of clothes at the Toronto store this week after buying them on Thursday”. The newspaper says she has decided “to no longer shop there because of the pricing” and quote her as announcing: “Not all Canadian shoppers are going to swallow that.”

Indeed, in quick response to such Canadian shoppers, J Crew dropped the duty fees, so prices are now only about 15 percent higher than in the US, and agreed on a flat delivery fee for online sales. Then CEO Mickey Drexler wrote a letter that went to customers saying: “We have received many messages like yours in the past few days and appreciate that you took the time to reach out.”

See: feedback.

Of course, said feedback also meant, though the store opened on August 18, the Globe story was written almost a week later: J Crew owned a part of the news for days longer then it would otherwise. But does it reflect the growing pains of expansion or a crafty plan to get in the news?

Guess it depends on whether you think any discussion generated is good discussion for a brand or not. Anyway, it will be interesting to see what happens, price-and-response-wise, as J Crew expands into Europe this autumn, especially given the rather unpredictable international currency situation. Notably, the brand has already adopted the flat fee shipping policy for the UK.

Meanwhile, however, J Crew is having their first fashion show during New York Fashion Week, which begins next Wednesday. I had wondered why they were doing this (it always seemed to me part of the attraction of the brand was that it was very chic without buying into the whole fashion week hoo-ha) but now it all comes clear: it’s another opportunity to generate feedback!