Communications Platform Helps American Eagle Outfitters Boost Store Productivity, Customer Engagement
COVID-19 has shone a light on a common issue many retailers face: disjointed communications, particularly from company headquarters to brick-and-mortar store teams. With the safety of employees and customers depending on stores receiving timely information (e.g., safety policies and protocols) and taking immediate action, communication has become even more critical.
Just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) adopted a "Slack-like" communications platform, Retail Zipline. The investment has proven to be a wise one for AEO. The company has seen increased staff productivity levels at each of the stores that implemented Retail Zipline. Furthermore, the communications platform has served to keep 8,000-plus store associates informed of constantly evolving COVID-19 protocols in real time, helping them to create a safer shopping experience for consumers.
AEO notes that its partnership with Retail Zipline saved the company labor hours in the last year — hours that can now be redirected to delivering safe and more engaging customer experiences. In an exclusive interview with Total Retail, Sunny Woo, senior vice president of American Eagle and Aerie Stores at AEO Inc., discusses the company's use of Retail Zipline's platform and how it has made such a positive impact on store operations during a challenging time for the brick-and-mortar sector.
Total Retail: What communication challenges have presented themselves for American Eagle Outfitters, particularly its in-store staff, during the pandemic?
Sunny Woo: Our priority is the safety and well-being of our customers and associates. As our team worked closely with top medical experts to develop and implement industry-leading safety protocols, including being one of the first companies to offer masks as customers returned to shop, and a reimagined store experience, there was a lot of information we needed to share with our store associates to make sure they were well informed. As states implemented different guidelines that built on the practices we put in place in our stores, we needed to ensure that all stores had access to the policies and procedures for their specific locations. Furthermore, it was important to have a tool that was consistent and not subject to platform errors.
TR: What solution(s) has AEO put into place to address its communication challenges? Can you share examples of how the solution has been used?
SW: Prior to Zipline, field leaders didn't have an easy way to view and track the communication their team was receiving. They now receive a daily “bundle” email containing all communication and tasks for their team. The email also offers quick access to task compliance reporting, which gives a starting point for follow-up and coaching conversations with their team. Additionally, Zipline allows leadership to reply to Zipline group chats directly from Outlook email. This is a great tool for the “on the go” leader.
TR: What has the feedback of AEO's employees been to this new communication tool? How much training time have employees needed to use the platform?
SW: We conducted a survey of our field leaders, and 97 percent reported that Retail Zipline improves the way they receive and process communications. We chose to host a one-hour training session for our store leadership teams; however, there was very little change-management needed beyond that. The platform is intuitive and easy to learn, which made for a seamless transition. Additionally, Zipline’s live chat support allows our team to ask questions in real time. We launched Zipline to our full fleet just weeks before COVID forced us to close our doors. Zipline quickly responded to the need for a COVID hub, which allowed us to provide a one-stop-shop for all of safety and store closing/reopening processes and procedures.
TR: What are the business benefits that AEO has realized since it began working with Retail Zipline?
SW: Retail Zipline is a user-friendly platform that gives us the opportunity to target specific groups of associates and distribute information quickly and in a way that makes sense for our teams. The Zipline team understands the impact that proper communications can have on a business and makes it a priority to ensure that it understands all aspects of our business. Zipline takes on end-user support by being accessible to all field users and publishers in the product so that our team can focus on providing value.
TR: How can AEO improve its in-store communications strategy going forward?
SW: As we continue to grow and evolve our communication strategy, we're always looking for ways to streamline the associate experience. This year, Zipline is launching a feature that will allow field leaders to build full communications from Outlook, which will land directly in Zipline for their store teams. Since our leaders already communicate to peers and business partners via Outlook, this feature will be a natural transition and will still keep messages archived and organized in Zipline with readership and compliance reporting.