AEO Trend Tagger

Client: American Eagle Outfitters, Inc.
Timeline: 2 months
Role: Project Management; Research
Team: Maddy Cha, Se Eun Park, Sujay Desai, and Wenjie Lee


Trend Tagger is a service innovation for American Eagle Outfitters that lays a strong foundation for the evolving use of digital engagement to drive traffic into physical stores, and vice versa. It involves AEO customers in co-creation of value through inviting them to style of coming trend, incorporating social voting and rewards, and bundling merchandise in-store.

I acted as project manager and design strategist, working closely with my team to narrow our problem scope in which to design a service innovation through generative research and iterate based on evaluative research.


How might American Eagle bridge its digital experience
with its in-store shopping experience?

American Eagle Outfitters, one of the premiere denim retailers in the US, is lauded for its digital shopping experiences: a high-performance mobile app, an “anyone can be a model” Instagram campaign, and a robust loyalty program. But as online personalization has burgeoned, creating analogous, sustainable styling experiences for in-store shoppers has proven challenging.


Trend Tagger: a digital-meets-physical retail styling experience that drives traffic to physical stores through peer-supported styling challenges and in-store shopper recognition and deals.

Trend Tagger is an in-app and in-store shopping experience that lays a strong foundation for AEO to mobilize their digital engagement to drive traffic into physical stores, and vice versa.

Design Research

Our client contacts at American Eagle kicked off the project with a short presentation on the current state of the company and where they had been focusing on innovation, and asked us to consider four areas: associate enablement, returns & exchanges, in-store personalization, and omni-channel fulfillment as a starting point.

Generative Research

My team focused on in-store personalization at brick-and-mortar American Eagle locations. During our discovery phase, we made use of contextual inquiry, audience surveys, observations, and interviews.

For our interviews, we conducted contextual interviews with two American Eagle store associates, two AEO shoppers, and one target demographic shopper who did not have a strong attachment to the AE brand. Through our

We distributed a data-gathering survey through which we sought to learn more about teens’ and young adults’ generalized in-store shopping habits in order to understand perceptions about shopping, as well as identify pain points in the in-person shopping experience. We collected nearly 200 responses from folks within our networks by sharing the survey in relevant social media communities, resulting in responses from people ages 15 to 41+ and people living in both suburban and urban areas.

Key Insights

  • Shoppers in AEO’s target demographic are uninterested in speaking with associates, yet crave style advice or inspiration.
  • Use of the AEO Connected app is not ubiquitous among because shoppers don’t perceive distinct value that could be gained through its use.

Concept Mapping

We developed a stakeholder map and concept map focusing on the in-store experience of AEO. This helped us to identify the different actors and pain points of the customer’s journey which gave us more insights to the connections between the customers and the business itself.

Competitive Analysis

For our competitive analysis, we researched nine of American Eagle’s top competitors. When looking for information, we narrowed our search down to understanding target demographics, top sellers, store layouts, use of website and app, methods of in-store personalization, fitting room environment, average product prices, and overall gross profits. We thought that these parameters were important to understand how competitors appeal to their target customers through their physical stores. These pieces of information also helped us to understand the differences between AEO’s and competitors’ methods of personalizing through technology and store layout.

AEO has multiple competitors in the retail industry, almost all of whom are trying to enhance in-store personalization. This is occurring through technology as well as through methods to bond and create a relationship with the target demographic.

Every competitor has their own website and app, which they’re trying to use to extract consumer data and use it to match their store experience to what customers want. Every competitor is on social media and uses influencers to promote their brand but those methods cannot target individual customers’ desires. 

Service Blueprint

For our service blueprint, we laid our focus on in-store customer experience. The blueprint begins from how customers gain motivation of going to an AEO brick-and-mortar store and ends when they leave the store. From the blueprint, we’re able to see how physical evidence and employee interactions affect customer experience at each phase of the service. An interesting finding is that customer’s in-store journey is split into multiple branches. For example, they may leave the store at any point. The reason that drives customer’s prompt decision is an interesting point to concentrate in our future research.

Evaluative Research

Storyboarding and Speed-Dating

From our research, we began storyboarding different ideas to speed-date, through which we could validate (or invalidate) the customer needs that we had identified. We created five scenario storyboards exploring concepts grounded in increasing associates’ style credibility, socially supported shopping, and utilizing customer meta-data in store. We gauged audience reaction and feedback and used that to refine and narrow down our potential solution.

We speed-dated each storyboard with about a dozen shoppers in AEO’s target demographic. Through this process, we found that:

  • Customers are outfit-motivated and want versatility from their purchases.
  • Personalized recommendations are good, but easily verge on being creepy and inefficient!
  • Bundled deals are appealing, but it depends on what is in the bundle.
  • “I feel like there are some items that look really cute, but I have no idea what I would wear it with and I would be more inclined to buy if I knew.”
  • Hard-to-style items become more desirable when customers know how to wear them

Experience Prototyping

Our speed-dating participants had strong reactions to our concepts, and in moving on to prototyping, we decided to combine successful elements of different storyboards to create a modified innovation approach and visualized it through preferred future storyboards.

We decided to stage a user enactment of our idea that would allow us to gauge interest and effectiveness of our idea. To accurately do this, we began working on wireframes for the application, highlighting all of the key points of the customer journey. This was meant to showcase the process of suggesting outfits to be matched in store.

We also simulated an in-store shopping experience using the initial prototypes as a way to introduce our concept. We had three groups of participants enter the space and browse the clothing on the hangers as if it were in a real store with minimal instruction.

Scenario: Shoppers will walk into a “store” where they will encounter a clothing display. The clothing will be tagged with regular American Eagle tags as well as a Trend Tagger tag that indicates that the item can be bought at a discount when purchased in tandem with another item. The display also carries signage about AE Trend Tagger, a profile of the customer “stylist,” and a URL with more information about the program.

Shoppers will approach the display and go shopping. Researchers playing the role of shopping associates will be available to greet shoppers and answer questions. When they’re ready to check out, they’ll approach a mock-register with their merchandise.

Research Questions

  • How interested will shoppers be in this concept?
  • How might shoppers share their styles with their social networks to garner votes?
  • What recognition might shoppers want if their styles win?

We presented our findings to our clients in a mid-point check-in, at which we received largely positive feedback, as well as direction to think about streamlining implementation. From here, we recognized that a need to further define aspects of our service. We decided to discuss how the service would be implemented and work together given the multiple touch points and experiences, while also editing our application and physical tags based on feedback from our user enactment sessions.

For the final client presentation, we presented a concept that focused on the most essential aspects and functions of our proposed service innovation, so as to introduce it seamlessly.

Final Concept

Trend Tagger involves American customers in the co-creation of value by inviting them to style upcoming trends, incorporating social voting and rewards, and bundling merchandise in-store.

The Trend Tagger program invites AEO customers to style upcoming, on-trend items with other American Eagle merchandise through the website and the mobile app. Customer stylists receive points in AE’s existing loyalty program by submitting their outfits for community voting, and the three customers who receive the most votes win the styled merchandise and 10,000 AEO Connected points as a reward.

In-store, the items in the winning Trend Tagger style are displayed together with recognition of the customer stylist. The display is accompanied by signage explaining the Trend Tagger program, and individual items are marked with “match” tags that indicate they will be discounted if purchased in a bundle.

Trend Tagger yields greater in-store wallet-share for American Eagle by incentivizing customers to purchase different items; rich customer data for AE from both new AEO Connected sign-ups and co-created styles; and greater confidence for customers from socially-affirmed styling. It also lays a strong foundation of future, sustainable digital-physical shopping experiences.

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