Teen retailer Aeropostale is focusing on one thing to get back its hold in the millennial market: technology. The company is shedding its formerly logo-heavy brand and working to boost sales through increased engagement with young consumers.
In October, Aeropostale launched a new prototype store filled with flashy colors and fun-filled cityscapes. And now, Aero is taking its new image one step further by launching a new mobile app and in-store iPad kiosks, aimed at making the brand more easily accessible and improving engagement with the teen consumer base.
"This is the future," said Jacob Hawkins, Aeropostale's vice president of e-commerce. "This is the way [teens are] going to interact with our brand."
The teen retail market has been led by three brands: Aeropostale, American Eagle, and Abercrombie and Fitch. Forever 21, another competitor, has been growing like crazy in recent years.
All four companies have mobile apps, and have had them for a while. But Aeropostale seems to be the first to install iPad kiosks in their stores, which could draw in more customers and give the brand a needed leg up on the competition.
American Eagle dominated the teen retail sector during the last back-to school season, and the company's sales were up 5 percent at the end of last year. Aeropostale, on the other hand, has been battling a slow recovery from the recession and its sales slid by 6 percent during the holidays.
Marketing to millennials is a different challenge than marketing to the rest of the consumer base. Teens are tend to be connected to their phones, and care about what their friends are saying about brands online.
"It's not just about selling a good product at a good price," Hawkins said. "It's about telling a story."
Aeropostale's mobile web traffic has grown by 167 percent during the past year, making up more than a third of total online traffic to Aeropostale.com, according to company data. Its revenues from mobile traffic have also increased from 2 percent in June 2010 to 13 percent today.
But retailers still want to see their customers in stores, and Carin van Vuuren, the chief marketing officer of Usablenet, which created Aeropostale's new app and iPad setup, said the updated app aims to draw teens in through its new store locator and mobile coupons.
"If you create an experience that streamlines some of the things that people want to do, you'll increase the amount of time that they spend engaging (with) the brand," van Vuuren said. "For millennial customers, this is the only way."
Here's what's coming for Aeropostale:
The app has adapted. Besides an online store, Aero's new app includes a style guide, outfit builder, and branded videos. Together, the elements are aimed at connecting teens to Aero's brand, rather than just increasing commerce, Hawkins said.
Some of the other new features include a store locator, mobile deal finder and scanner to scan store merchandise for product information or links to order online.
It's connecting with your bank account. Van Vuuren said one successful feature of Aero's current app has been connecting online shopping with PayPal accounts so customers don't have to worry about inserting their credit card information for every purchase.
Decreasing barriers to checkout is key to increasing buying, she said.
In stores, customers can use Aero's new iPad kiosks to piece together outfits, browse product reviews and pick out music to jam to in the dressing room.
Usablenet has developed similar touch-screen systems for Cache and British brand Marks & Spencer, van Vuuren said.
The merchandise is changing too. Logos aren't being slapped on everything.
Hawkins said Aeropostale has been working to change its merchandising during the past two years, focused on shifting from a "key item" business to a lifestyle brand. Customers walking past a storefront a few years ago would have seen "flat style" — piles of jeans and t-shirts on display.
"We stacked them high and sold them deep," Hawkins said.
Now, storefronts incorporate a more fashion-forward focus, with mannequins decked out in fashion bottoms, colored denims, footwear and accessories.
The prototype store is intended to feel like customers are walking through the rooms of a home, and has a New York vibe that reflects Aero's identity as a northeast brand, Hawkins said.
Numbers aren't finalized yet, but he said the chain is planning to open or remodel 40 stores nationwide into the new tech-friendly, fashion-centric models this year.
Aero's primary customers are teenage girls, who spend far more time on their phones than they do on laptops or desktops, Hawkins said.
To capitalize on this, the company has launched a new SMS texting program, sending out the latest offers, coupons and company announcements to teens' smartphones.
The goal of all this new technology is to streamline Aero's image as a fun, teenage brand, and give customers a consistent experience across all platforms, Hawkins said.
"A brand like Aeropostale is increasingly about building their infrastructure to personalize experiences," Van Vuuren added.
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