Tasked to assess the current tech implementation in American Eagle retail stores, this project explores the relevance of brick & mortar and the affordances it can bring to the company. A critical realignment of each channel can be a defining asset for competitor differentiation and brand culture & engagement.
American Eagle presented their brand values, work, and future plans –and emphasized an aspiration to become a differentiated brand– in culture and sales.
A Copycat Industry
To stay relevant, clothing retailers have tried to keep up with competitors by copying–creating a homogenous industry
Seeking differentiation and relevance in the industry, American Eagle has made a decision to be a future-forward and integrate tech into stores, remove cash registers, and "redefining" the retail brick and mortar experience.
Invested in Store Tech
Eager to create the "Store-of-the-Future", they've rapidly invested huge amounts of money on new tech processes.
Millions were spent on MPOS (Mobile Point of Sale devices), inventory management systems, iPads, Bluetooth beacons to be used with their customer app, abolishing the cash register)
Infatuation with Apple
Taking inspiration from Apple and their retail experiences, they assumed the same could be applied their context
Misguided decisions left them confused. Copying tech of a different retailer, may not fit another context the same way.
Tech AEO invested in was not being used by confused customers & associates
Employees and customers both were confused by the new tech and processes in stores and sometimes the shopping experience was awkward for both the customer and the associates. Customers don’t know of and are not incentivized to use American Eagle’s mobile app and new technologies in-store.
A misinformed implementation led to a disconnected experience between the stakeholders and the "Store of the Future" strategy started to blur between channels (Mobile App, Brick & Mortar technology, E-Commerce, Social Media).
Seemingly ambiguous issues required detailed investigation to identify underlying pain points, issues, and opportunities. Various ethnographic and generative research methods were used to understand the context & stakeholders.
Understanding the Context & System
- Retail context and opportunities
- Customer journey, emotions, & goals
- Associate responsibilities and logistics
- Relationship between Customer, Associate, Corporate
- Barriers & pain points of using the new technology
- What AEO is currently doing well
Big Picture Questions of Phase-01
- Where should the MPOS fit in the associate/customer timeline?
- How do associates anticipate the appropriate level of interaction?
- What cues can we create to enable this interaction?
- How can we unify the brand, online, and physical experiences?
Gaining Richer Insight Into the Problem: Customer & Associates
- Interactive Checkout Signaling (understanding comfort level with current MPOS experience)
- Customer-Associate Interaction Poll (How much do customers want to be engaged with)
- Private vs. Public Feedback (understanding customer-associate trust and relationships)
- In-depth Associate Interview (about trust, body language, and MPOS experience)
- Cash Register vs MPOS Task Analysis (Barriers of using the MPOS? Is it better than the register?)
Insights and Questions from Phase-02
- Channels are disjointed and don't represent the values & differentiation that AEO is striving for.
- Consistent theme of awkwardness between customers, associates, and corporate.
- Currently many process opportunities that are seeds of successful implementations.
- How do you address all stakeholders goals to create an on-brand, seamless experience across all channels?
- Redefine the MPOS checkout experience can help build a positive relationship between stakeholders.
When integrating tech into customer experiences, it's important that it's not a result of playing industry catch-up, but rather, that it's aligned with company values and adds to the holistic customer experience.
Our approach proposes a technology-focused system that enhances, not detracts, from the global brand experience of all touch points. We leveraged AEO's inclusive values as a lens to frame our approach.
Celebrate Individuality and Collective Communities
Part of being inclusive means a community where people feel included equally and celebrated individually. I believe that everyone has a longing to feel like they belong. When you feel a sense of belonging through commonalities in a community, while also learning about others uniqueness that's celebrated, you start to feel what inclusivity is like. AEO already has inclusive motif through AerieReal, Project Live your Life, International Stores.
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Give Purpose to Existing Assets & Align Customer Experiences With Values
Don't just have the ad campaigns stress inclusivity, but inject the feeling of inclusivity into every touchpoint of the customer journey–across channels. Create a system both in-store and out, striving to create a perpetual feedback loop.
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#WeAreAEO: Leveraging Technology to Create a Global Community
#WeAreAEO is an omni-channel customer experience, drawing on American Eagle's push for inclusivity, improving the customer/associate relationship, and rethinking the role of the brick-and-mortar stores.
It strives to provide a shopping experience where you may be able to "feel inclusivity" at every touch point in the customer experience by connecting customers to one another across a global community. This celebrates individuality and diversity, while simultaneously emphasizing the unique and remarkable idiosyncrasies present in each individual's own city.
Exploring the System & Touch Points
- 1) American Eagle Mobile App
- 2) Local In-Store Display
- 3a) Global In-Store Display
- 3b) MPOS Checkout (within Global Display)
- 4) Jean Notes (Customer-to-Customer)
Each touchpoint in the System:
- Builds upon existing systems, giving purpose to disjointed implementations
- Allows users to play a larger role in the system
- Drives home the same values of American Eagle in/out of your regional community
1) AEO Mobile App.
Leveraging an Existing Asset to Drive Omni-Channel Engagement By Allowing the Community to Give Back & Contribute
A huge opportunities lied in a customer-initiated interaction and leveraging the customers' personal devices rather than more expensive technology implementations in-store. Our system first emphasizes the utility of downloading the mobile app to the customer, then incentivizes them to engage with the global and regional American Eagle community through the app.
AEO had a mobile app with low engagement that expected customers to use with in-store with Bluetooth beacons. This was expensive and cumbersome. It relied on the customers having downloaded the app with location services turned on. Many associates and customers did not know AEO had a mobile app or never downloaded it before to try it in-store.
This new AEO Mobile App implementation provides value by:
- Providing the ability to vote and give your opinion on styles you like/dislike in a mobile app questionnaire. This enters you into a contest to be showcased & interviewed on the AEO app globally and represent your city. After many people answer the city-specific style questionnaire, AEO builds up data on the top sellers/styles representative of your city and region. This benefits both the business and customers.
- Giving an aggregated snapshot of what the top trending styles are across the global AEO community (i.e. New York, Pittsburgh, etc). Users are able to read about other people who have been chosen to represent their city and then given the opportunity to shop the winners' favorite top style picks/the winners' regional trending styles. Celebrating individuals of the community makes customers feel recognized and perceive authenticity.
- Allowing customers to access store and region-specific coupons and general offers within the mobile app and be reminded using location services when near an American Eagle store.
2) Local In-Store Display.
Create a Sense of Belonging Within the Local Community
If a customer goes in the store (that filled out the questionnaire) and the outfit they voted for is picked, they can potentially see their input affecting their local store, or know that these styles are representative of their city, feeding back into regional pride and individuality. If a customer has not filled out the questionnaire, there is info encouraging to contribute/enter to win on the AEO App.
This Local In-Store Display provides value by:
- Drives potential traffic to a different channel to learn more about the value of the AEO app.
- Provides an opportunity to physically visualize the regional community’s trending styles potentially driving sales traffic of similar items and using that data for a more efficient supply chain.
3a) Global Store Display.
Create a Sense of Belonging Within the Global Community
This display does something similar to the stories shown on the AEO app. You can browse through people who were chosen to tell their AEO story from different areas of the world. You can explore content about other people in the global AEO community. What are outfits in New York City like? San Francisco? Chicago? See what individuals perspectives might look like within the global AEO community–different or similar. The way we’ve divided things up by regional and individual people, gives people this sense that they are part of a community, but they are also celebrated as an individual in their own city.
This Global In-Store Display provides value by:
- Ability to explore and purchase other regionally trending American Eagle items
- Drive traffic to mobile app channel as Incentive to enter the contest to represent their city
- Provides opportunity to engage users with new content each time (different experience each time)
- Cut down on mental wait time if store is busy
- Discover more about individuality and diversity within the global community with exposure to different stories and cultures.
3b) MPOS Checkout.
Inserting Tech Appropriately to Solve Disjointed Experiences
Normally, when calling associates with the existing MPOS, there is a dead space of uncomfortable ambiguity. The button on the Global Display, allows the customer to call an associate. This customer-initiated interaction signals to the associate you are ready. Instead of waiting around uncertainly, customers can write a friendly note to another customer, or scroll through new content on the Global Display, breaking down the mental wait time that customers experience. By shifting customers’ attention to something interesting and engaging, you reset their mental clock and perceived length of a waiting time.
Theoretically, AEO's current MPOS approach will work 100% of the time. However, through our research, this expensive implementation came with complexities that rendered it awkward, uncomfortable, and underutilized. There were some trust issues that also served as blockers to the MPOS, resulting in a failed integration.
This new MPOS Checkout Experience provides value by:
- By adding in the MPOS into our system in this manner, we can reduce the complexities and issues of the MPOS(“Where am I supposed to go, how am I supposed to get the attention of the associate, do I just stand there while I wait for them to check me out? ”).
- This solution gives associates and customers a surface to place merchandise down/hide store supplies, and reduce customer mental wait time. This solution also allows natural curiosity and distraction– forgiving any potential hiccups in the system that a customer might otherwise have to experience.
4) Jean Notes.
Create a Sense of Belonging Between Customers and Closing the Loop for a Holistic User/Brand Experience
When talking about connecting customer to customer, this drives that bit of authenticity home with a handwritten note, included in each pair of jeans (AEO's flagship product). This little moment of delight, should put a smile on the customer's face, strengthening the connection between them, their city, AEO, and other customers.
This Local In-Store Display provides value by:
- Closing the loop of checkout experiences between customers
- Jeans are American Eagle’s flagship products and most frequently purchased (notes would have the farthest reach this way)
- Delightful discovery of the handwritten note makes the note seem more genuine
- Potential to drive further engagement and invested sentiment into the community/ecosystem.