American Eagle Outfitters and Aerie Give Customers the Gift of Chatbots This Holiday Season

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The retail brands launch two different chatbot experiences that provide target audiences with information and inspiration.

Authenticity is an integral part of American Eagle Outfitters' (AEO's) marketing strategy. The clothing retailer's intimate apparel brand Aerie made headlines back in 2014 for featuring un-retouched photos of women of all sizes in its “Aerie Real” campaign—a positive body image initiative Aerie still champions today.

But authenticity has to extend beyond campaign creative; it has to be a part of brands' DNA and be exemplified through the ways in which they interact with their customers. This holiday season AEO is testing new ways to authentically communicate with its customers, and engage them via the channels that they frequent, by introducing chatbots.

“We hear back on a regular and continuous basis that the authenticity plays really well,” says Colin Bodell, chief technology officer of AEO. “We use the same language they use, [and] we want to meet them wherever they are. That's what drove this bot work.”

The beginning of the bots

AEO's target audience consists of people who are primarily in their late teens to early twenties, and messaging apps have become this youthful demographic's new watering hole. Consider: 40% of all U.S. teenagers use Kik, the chat network reports, and more than 70% of the messenger's users are under 25 years old.

So when AEO's innovation project manager Heather Bell learned about chatbot platform Pandorabots at a conference this summer, the brand decided to give it a shot. After all, Bodell says AEO likes to approach new technology from a standpoint of humility and experimentation—letting customers inform the retailer how and where they like to consume content, versus having the brand determine this for them.

“We believe that we're not all-knowing,” he says. “We have to have, again, a healthy dose of humility, [and] we have to try different things.”

Soon after, AEO's creative, marketing, and innovation departments began working with the Pandorabots team to develop two new chatbots for AEO and Aerie, planning to debut them in November.

Two bots; two experiences

The retailer started with the Aerie Bot first and launched it on Kik at the beginning of the month. By engaging with the chatbot, customers can participate in real-time conversations and learn more about Aerie's products and body image messaging. For instance, customers can choose to learn about bra fit and care tips or opt to see photos and videos shared among the “Aerie Real” campaign community. They can also explore the bot's bra shop and browse products based on mood, lining and pushup levels, or through a “this or that” layout—one in which users are shown two bras and they can pick which one they prefer. Once they find a bra that they like, they can shop for it via Aerie's website. In addition to shopping and consuming content, users can share their thoughts about the bot experience with Aerie directly.


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