H&M v/s Forever21 - A Marketing Strategy Analysis

Industry Background

The fashion as we know reaches the normal mass through the catwalk models which we see and read about. With their charisma and bold dressing style, they attract a normal person to wear clothes like them. With these costumes being expensive and not easily accessible, it was still a desire for people to have them. In order to solve this problem and deliver people what they desire, fashion retail brands came up with a solution of rapidly producing cheap, trendy clothes to satisfy the need of masses. And this concept of producing and retailing such fashionable clothing line is called fast fashion. The term “fast fashion” was coined by the New York Times after Zara launched its first store in 1975, which essentially meant that the production of clothes took very less time and they would follow latest fashion trends to make similar clothing. Shopping for clothes used to be an occasional event a few years back. People would buy clothes for an event or when they outgrew them. Just about 20 years ago, the clothing industry was introduced to cheap, trendy and affordable clothing and people could dress up like their favourite movie stars and models. At this time, online shopping took off and brands like Forever21 and H&M took over the high street market.

Competitor Backgrounds

Forever21

Owned by Do Won Chang and his wife Jin Sook Chang, the brand originally opened in 1984 as a South Korean-styled clothing store in Los Angeles, CA under the name of Fashion 21. Forever 21 later became an epitome of fast fashion industry with 800+ stores worldwide. Its annual revenue is $3.96 billion. The apparel brand initially only used to offer fashion for women but now offers clothing to men & girls, lifestyle accessories and also has a dedicated section for plus size clothing for women. Their mission statement is “to provide shoppers with an unprecedented selection of today’s fashions with affordable prices”.

Forever 21 has often been surrounded by controversies regarding copyright infringements from celebrities (Ariana Grande), brands (Gucci, Adidas, and H&M), and photographers and even from Adobe for using unlicensed copies of Photoshop and AutoCAD. Due to various alleged cases, Forever21 is now facing a downfall as their sales dropped by 32% in 2019 and they had to file for bankruptcy. Forever21 ended up shutting operations in 40 countries and 178 stores in USA.

H&M

Hennes & Mauritz AB is a Swedish multinational clothing-retail company with its first store opening in 1947 under the name Hennes. As of today, the CEO of the company is Helena Helmersson. H&M is the second largest retailer in the world. Their first store targeted only women audience but later began selling men’s and children’s clothing. In the year 1974, they changed their name to H&M and started selling numerous brands for everyone under one roof. In recent times, they are expanding with the rate of 10–15% new stores every year, taking their tally to 5,000 stores over 53 markets worldwide.

H&M’s mission statement is “Providing fashion and quality at the best price”. It also says they want to provide design, sustainability and quality at the best price and always offer inspiring fashion with unbeatable value for money. H&M manages to be cost friendly by using in-house designs, having and using efficient logistics, no middlemen and by purchasing in large quantities.

Targeting

H&M

The typical target customer for H&M is a married/single woman in the lower middle class or working class, who is looking to upgrade her closet with the latest trends in an affordable price. Even though H&M sells clothing for men, kids and teenagers, their main target market still remains younger to mid-aged women. Women usually shop more for themselves at H&M, but since they have a fairly decent options for kids and men, women seem to shop for their kids and husbands too. The targeting strategy for this brand is very concentrated and they focus on selling fashionable product at a low price to married or single women, daughters and mothers. When it comes to brand loyalty, the customers are not very loyal to H&M and they usually shop from 5 to 6 stores on an average, in the hope of finding the best deal on high end fashion. Although, the customer attractiveness is very high due to its up-to-date trends and low prices.

Forever21

Forever21 targets mostly females from young adults to teenagers to pre-teens. 44.3% of Forever 21’s online shoppers are millennials, ranked 2nd in the Internet retailer 2019 Top 1000 for teens and young adults. The largest share of customers visiting forever 21 have an annual income of less than $30,000 which is a strong figure that drives the company’s pricing policy. It does have a collection for men, but their main target market is mostly young women.

Positioning

H&M

H&M is a brand that aims to provide trendy clothing to their customers at the best possible price. This fast-fashion clothing brand sells European influenced clothing in the American market. This brand offers a range of options starting from women’s casual, men’s business, kids clothing, accessories and footwear. They tailor ads based on geographic and demographic customer segments. H&M offers a recycling program where you can return your clothes from any brand to them, they will recycle it and offer you a little discount on your following purchase. They were among the first to launch a range called “conscious” which focuses on environment sustainability. But, in the end, it is still a fast-paced fashion brand and has a long way to go completely sustainable. Almost none of the H&M’s supply chain ensures labour safety, health and wages rights and is not certified by labour standards. The company is also starting to develop a formal animal welfare policy and claims that it will be fully traceable and certified to a credible standard, for the use of fur, angora or animal skin, by 2025.

Forever21

Forever21 positions itself as an “always changing and always in style” brand, something that always stays up-to-date and keeps changing. Many celebrities were seen wearing this brand even if they were much older than 21, but since this brand targets clothing that is trending in the movies or on the fashion shows, celebs do not mind flaunting it once in a while.

E-Commerce

For H&M, the physical stores are still the largest market and most of their profit comes from the same. It is in the online business but the brand has been relatively slower to adapt to the online market. They retail in total of 71 markets worldwide, but they only sell 47 of those market products online. Since they integrated their online purchasing with in-store purchases, they have seen a growth in their sales by 30% in 2019. Forever21 filed for bankruptcy protection in the US in 2019 and shut 350 of its 815 global stores. Since then it has focused on its e-commerce market globally in more than 95 countries, localised checkout in 21 languages, over 150 alternative payment methods, real-time payment, a huge range of shipping methods and easy returns.

4Ps of Forever21

Products

Forever 21 offers a long range of clothing for men, women and kids. To list a few style,

Dresses: T-shirts, tunics, party dresses, maxi.

Tops: crop top, graphic tees, vests, body suits, high necks, kimonos.

Jeans: flare, mid-rise, low-rise, boot-cut etc.

Jackets: bombers, faux fur, leather, denims.

Jumpers: hoodies, jumper dresses, cardigans, sweatshirts.

Lingerie: robes, slips, pyjamas, undergarments.

Apart from its clothing line, Forever21 also serves in accessories sections by selling ties, gloves, belts, socks, hats, sunglasses etc. Forever 21’s jewellery section can be seen blazed with pins, watches, brooches, body jewellery etc. They also deal in foot wears with boots, loafers, sandals, wedges and heals.

Pricing

Forever 21 is one of the pioneers when it comes to pricing strategies. Its pricing strategy is an integral part of it’s marketing in an aggressive industry. Forever 21 sells a normal top wear in the range $7 to $15. Jean shorts ranged in price between $7 and $19.99. While white tops ranged in price from $5.90 to $19.99. Forever 21 also plays psychological games by placing price of a product at $.9.99 or $9.95 instead of $10.

Places

Forever 21 started with a 900 Square-Feet store in Los Angeles but later expanded to over 700 stores across the globe. Now, on an average a Forever 21 store is built in a 38,000 Square-Feet store. Forever 21 also strategically opened huge outlets in countries like India, Germany, Australia, Japan, China, Brazil and UK. While more than 60% of its production happens in China, Forever 21 has successfully established a wide distribution channel and network.

Promotions

Forever 21 uses all kind of media channels to reach customers. Since, it is an international organization, it deals with various methods and practices to reach its audience worldwide. Social media has been a great help to the company. Often admired for its great posts amongst followers, Forever 21 has 15.4 Million followers on Instagram. The social media accounts of Forever 21 are also highly appreciated on platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, twitter etc. The company also relies on conventional methods such as print & media promotions. Its advertisements are highly appreciated amongst viewers. The company also has an e-commerce website and mobile application, which attracts a large number of customers. To keep the customers hooked, their apps and websites are well maintained, regularly updated and easy to navigate. Forever 21 also has season end sales, festive sales which attracts more and more customers during the offers.

4Ps of H&M

Products

H&M offers wide range of options in clothing to men, women and children. They sell clothes from designer collaborations to everyday basics and yoga wear. Their clothing variety is similar to that of Forever 21.

Dresses: T-shirts, tunics, party dresses, maxi.

Tops: crop top, graphic tees, vests, body suits, high necks, kimonos.

Trousers: chinos, shorts, flare, mid-rise, low-rise, boot-cut etc.

Jackets: bombers, faux fur, leather, denims.

Jumpers: sweaters, hoodies, jumper dresses, cardigans, sweatshirts.

Lingerie: robes, slips, pyjamas, undergarments for men and women.

Apart from these, H&M also deals with formal dresses for men and women. One can find formal shirts, trousers, shoes, business suits, blazers for men and women at H&M. They also deal with accessories such as belts, bracelets, socks, gloves, sunglasses etc. Their footwear line has shoes, leather shoes, sandals, flip flops, heals, wedges etc.

Pricing

The mission of H&M is to offer good quality clothes at cheaper prices. As compared to its major competitors GAP and ZARA, H&M offers relatively lower prices. One can say this is because of their lower production and transportation costs. Hence, because of which it can also offer more range of clothes than its competitors. H&M sells a normal top wear in the range $10 to $20. Jean Shorts ranged in price between $9.99 and $24.99. White Tops ranged in price between $12.99 and $14.99. As compared to Forever 21, H&M products are slightly costlier.

Places

First opened in Sweden in 1947, H&M now has 5076 stores worldwide. In some countries it also operates through franchising partners. Apart from huge stores at key locations, H&M has a dedicated e-commerce website and mobile app through which users can buy products. While most of the manufacturing for H&M takes place in countries with cheap labours, the clothes are designed by H&M. H&M has built a great supply chain over the years. By taking control over transportation, designing H&M is able to keep a reduced cost across such a huge collection to offer.

Promotions

Since, H&M has wide range of products, it uses multi-channel promotional strategy in its marketing mix. H&M heavily relies on media by launching catchy and creative TV advertisements. They have YouTube channels to showcase their unique campaigns and clothing lines. H&M also uses social media platforms to showcase and sell their products. Their Instagram account has over 35.8 Million followers worldwide, which is more than the double of what Forever 21 has on Instagram. Apart from offering promo codes and season end sales, it also collaborates with brands and celebrities to reach further audience. H&M also has dedicated mobile app and e-commerce website. They also offer points with each purchase, these points can be later redeemed by users to get deals on their next purchase. Such, offers and interactive methods lets them retain their customers for a longer time.

Strategies for luring customers

H&M believes in giving full rights to its customers and they have an upper hand in the bargain for clothing prices. In order to lure customers to their designs, H&M actively partners with the fashion industry like Gisele Bundchen, Cara Delevigne, Gigi and Bella Hadid, Kendal Jenner, Elsa Hosk, Liu Wen, Frida Gustavsson, Clement Chabernaud, Alek Wek, Adriana Lima, Anja Rubik and many more. They are not far behind in the music industry also with partnerships including Beyonce, Madonna, The Weekend, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue etc. In order to show their customers that they are not one of the regular cheap brands in a mall, they have partnered with high-end designers like Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel, Chanel Galleries and Fendi, Donatella Versace, Lanvin, Balmain, Roberto Cavalli, Stella McCartney, Sonia Rykiel etc. Such an approach with a good mix of fashion, music and the high-end brands, the company is trying to position itself as an affordable but respectable brand that customers can be proud of.

Marketing strategy for Forever21 is quite straight forward. It relies on its fast-paced, vogue, and lower priced products to attract customers to its products. Although there is still improvements to be done in its quality of clothing, the price beats everything for this brand. The company also has a gallery on its website where customers can try on the clothes that they bought and then post their pictures online, making them feel like models. The brand has not tried to set a specific reputation with its clothing, which allows it to freely experiment with their designs, contradictory to the other brands that set a signature look for their brands.

Analysis

The customer strategy of H&M involves setting the brand as a trending, affordable and environmentally sustainable one. They attract customers by partnering with other high-end brands, famous celebrities and musicians, which is quite effective. Their products range from women’s apparels to men’s formals to even kids clothing and footwear, which allows women to shop for their own as well as for their own families. Forever21, on the other hand, involves a comparatively strict marketing strategy. It focuses on women in the age range of 20 to 30 and also teenagers. The most attractive asset of this brand is its pricing and fast-evolving styles that are currently trending in the market. Both brands also use heavy discounts and yearly sales to increase customer footprint in the stores.

H&M and Forever21 both offer cheap range of products and their products fall in similar categories starting from apparels to accessories. However, the quality and the diversity in this range of products vary a lot more than what one might consider. H&M offers quality products that are evolved from European style of clothing and they also offer men’s and kid’s clothing to attract more customers to shop at a stretch for the complete family. The price range is low, products are diverse and they are actively involved in making their brand environmentally sustainable by using various techniques, which attracts people who care about their environment and sets a positive outlook for the brands as a whole. Contrary to this, Forever21 does not work on any kind of environment sustainability programs and it has a few copyright cases registered against it by other brands, including H&M, which showcases a not-so-good picture in the eyes of the customers. But, customers still reach out to the brand for its trendy, cheap and fast-evolving clothing range, which is not offered by any other brand in the market.

H&M has 5076 stores worldwide as of today and is running its business via physical stores and online retail. They have a good supply chain network built overtime which allows them to reduce costs of the products eventually. Forever21 has 500 stores worldwide as of today and 60% of its production still happens in China. Due to its wide supply chain connections, it is able to provide apparels for cheap.

The pricing for H&M is slightly towards the higher end as compared to Forever21, but it offers better quality clothing and many of its values and goals are towards a green future, so sometimes it feels okay to spend a couple of bucks on that brand. But, when you need the cheapest and the trendiest options, Forever21 is always the to-go brand. You can never go wrong with pricing and it allows customers of all age and backgrounds to shop under a budget. As for promotional offers, both the brands offer mid-year, seasonal and annual sales that attract a lot of customers and keeps them waiting for more offers to come.

Conclusion

H&M and Forever21 both are very customer friendly brands that are affordable and trendy. The quality of clothing that H&M provides is better than Forever21 in most cases, which is why many customers tend to switch to H&M. There is a lot of room for improvement for Forever21 in the field of environment sustainability and pollution and quality. If they are able to focus more on quality and future global warming goals, than just price reduction, then there is a good chance for them to get back in the business with a lot more hold and customers will view them differently. Various infringement cases also make this brand look questionable in the view of customers and that could be one of the reasons for Forever21 shutting 218 stores and filing for bankruptcy very recently in 2019.

As a very eager customer of both these brands, I would really like if Forever21 build a reputation around environment care and sustainability as I tend to shop more from brands that show sensitivity towards the environment. With that price structure, if Forever21 can gain the trust of its customers back, then I don’t think there is any other brand that can compete with it. As for H&M, I already love what they are doing but if they can fast forward their sustainability programs and set goals that are much closer in the near future, rather than setting a goal that it’s harder for us to see, they will be able to gain the trust of more customers than they can imagine.

Co-Author: Mukul Pathak: https://medium.com/@iammap26

LinkedIn:

Shraddha: https://www.linkedin.com/in/upadhyayshraddha/

Mukul: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mukulpathak/