Brand Battle: Forever 21 Vs. H&M | Street Fight

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Battle of Affordable Apparel: Forever 21 vs. H&M

Does this dress make my branding look local? Affordable apparel and accessory stores Forever 21 and H&M face off in the November Brand Battle. Shoppers flock to both chains looking for inexpensive but trendy items with which to garnish their wardrobes and flatter their figures. Both companies have hundreds of locations in the U.S., and with customers increasingly moving to mobile, local strategies are essential for successful business growth and customer understanding.

The Players

The two affordable clothing store chains Forever 21 and H&M have slightly different customers, with Forever 21 targeting a younger audience of mainly women and H&M offering items for both men and women, and attracting the younger crowd as well as shoppers in their 30s and 40s. Forever 21 competes with less experience: It’s a 31-year-old company, while H&M was founded 68 years ago. H&M has larger footprint, with more than 3,800 stores worldwide vs. Forever 21’s 723 total locations. Brandify performed this analysis counting U.S. locations only: Forever 21 with 453 and H&M with 310.

The Battle

Round 1 — Data QualityForever_21_vs_H&M

WHY H&M WON: Brandify used location data obtained from a major core data provider to conduct this analysis, and performed minor data cleansing to ensure it reflected how the data is distributed. Forever 21 had fewer claimed listings, but H&M’s location data contained more errors. H&M struggled the most with matching its website URLs with the URLs found on its local listing webpages. Forever 21 struggled with maintaining its address data. With 61 percent of its 453 locations having location address errors, Forever 21 has a long way to go to ensure it’s sending customers to the right address. Whereas H&M’s website URLs proved to be a pain point for the Swedish clothing giant, Forever 21’s lack of address precision and unclaimed locations was the company’s downfall in this round.

Round 2 — Local SEO

WHY FOREVER 21 WON: This was the closest round of the battle, in which both brands scored the same number of points. For local SEO, Brandify analyzed four major components including local pages, locators, website optimization, and page rankings across Google Maps and Bing Maps. The search evaluation looked primarily at four key components for local search: local pages, locator, website, and on-page factors, including page rankings across Google Maps and Bing Maps results for the keywords “clothing store,” “dresses,” and “women’s clothing” for each brand. Any result out of the top 10 was considered “not found.” Both companies have obvious opportunities to improve their local SEO. H&M has a better optimized and more user-friendly business locator, but both brands are lacking local pages. This lack of focus on local SEO affects both companies’ search rankings on Google. For the terms “women’s clothing” and “clothing store,” less than 1 percent of each brand’s locations ranked in the first positions. On Bing, searches for the same terms returned 39 percent of Forever 21’s locations and 13 percent of H&M’s in the top position. Revitalized local SEO strategies will help both these brands rank higher on Google. The two companies tied their brand scores for this round, but Forever 21 figures as the first among equals because its store locations ranked higher on search engines.

Round 3 — Reviews 

WHY H&M WON: Monitoring online reviews is crucial to maintaining a positive online reputation. Brandify conducted an analysis across six different types of experiences a customer could have at Forever 21 and H&M by looking at consumer sentiment for the following keywords: “quality,” “staff,” “deals,” “helpful,” “selection,” and “price.” Customer satisfaction was similar for both brands, with 40 percent of Forever 21’s reviews and 38 percent of H&M’s garnering four to five stars. H&M’s customers were more likely to associate these terms with positive reviews than Forever 21’s customers. Forever 21’s customers also were more likely by four percentage points to give a one-star review than H&M customers. Overall, H&M shoppers were more satisfied with their experience.

Round 4 — Social Engagement 

WHY H&M WON: At the corporate level, both brands have a strong presence across all social platforms, however neither is attempting to adjust its local-social strategy to appeal to local audiences. H&M boasted more social fans who were 18 percent more engaged on leading social media platforms. Although H&M won this round, both brands need to incorporate a local strategy into their social media marketing, beginning with claiming locations on Facebook. More than 40 percent of both brands’ locations on Facebook remain unclaimed, leaving a huge opportunity to gain more engagement on the social media giant.

Round 5 — Local Advertising 

WHY H&M WON: Both brands are running national campaigns that are more product-focused rather than promoting specific locations. Their approach to online advertising is focused on ecommerce sales; however, shoppers still prefer to buy at brick-and-mortar locations, leaving a gap in both companies’ advertising strategies. Still, 80 percent of H&M’s keywords rank in the top three positions, a stronger performance that helped H&M best its rival in local advertising.

Round 6 — Competitor Benchmarking 

WHY H&M WON: Benchmarking the top competition nationally and locally can help provide better understanding of what’s needed to compete and win real estate across local digital search. Brandify performed a local search analysis using the phrase “women’s clothing” across Google and determined that Forever 21 and H&M both have four competitors at the local level, including each other. With H&M’s more engaged social audience, higher review sentiment, and more claimed listings on major search engines, it ends up the victor in this battle.

Brandify Recommendations: Forever 21

Forever 21’s branding could start driving more and new customers with a more local-focused marketing strategy:

1 — CLAIM LOCAL LISTINGS. In claiming locations, Forever 21 would have the opportunity to ensure each listing’s information is accurate. The company will see improved data quality if it begins claiming local online listings. This also will improve consumer sentiment by ensuring that fewer customers drive to the wrong locations or can’t get through on the phone.

2 — CREATE LOCAL PAGES. 31 percent of Forever 21’s locations showed up in the top position for Bing searches, but the company’s presence in Google search results was significantly worse. A local SEO strategy and the creation of local webpages will help Forever 21 begin ranking higher in Google search results.

Brandify Recommendations: H&M

H&M won November’s Brand Battle, but by a slim margin against the younger, fresher Forever 21. H&M could improve its branding in several areas, and Brandify recommends the following adjustments:

1 — MAINTAIN DATA QUALITY FOR LOCAL LISTINGS. H&M already is doing a better job claiming its listings across major providers; now the company needs to ensure its location data is accurate for every category.

2 — CREATE LOCAL PAGES. Only one percent of H&M’s locations were returned in the top position for Google searches, and Forever 21’s stats beat H&M on Bing. Local pages would help H&M begin showing up in more Google searches.

3 — CREATE HYPERLOCAL CAMPAIGNS. H&M would do well to direct local shoppers to stores located closest to them. Hyperlocal campaigns linking to landing pages will help customers find the nearest location.

November Brand Battle Winner: H&M

The battle was scored using Brandify’s Social Data Matching (SDM) technology with data from various channels,* including Google, Bing, Facebook, Yelp and Foursquare and. Data was entered into the Brandify analytics engine to test the two companies’ local digital marketing footprint to determine a final Brand Score for each.

The Brand Score is calculated with an algorithm that consists of 250 variables grouped into six pillars: Data Quality, Local SEO, Reviews, Social Engagement, Local Advertising, and Competitor Benchmarking.

The two stores tied in one pillar, but the larger, more seasoned, H&M bested its challenger in the end. Despite the two companies receiving the same score for local SEO, Forever 21 was deemed the winner in that category because its locations ranked higher in search results. Overall, a lack of focus on local listings and data accuracy dragged down Forever 21’s final Brand Score, giving the November Brand Battle win to H&M.

Street Fight and Brandify will publish a new Brand Battle each month.

*Other channels sources included in this analyses: Yellow Pages, MerchantCircle, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube.

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About BrandifyBrandify-Logo

Brandify is transforming the way businesses connect to consumers by leveraging location technology and offering unrivaled personal service. Brandify has helped hundreds of brands understand and improve their local presence. Current and past clients include In-N-Out Burger, True Value, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Applebee’s, Black & Decker, and more. For more information about Brandify, go to