Strengthening the Storefront: AEO Inc.'S Blueprint for Operational Excellence

Produced by


Marc Lambo

VP- Associate Experience & Customer Care
AEO, American Eagle Outfitters & Aerie

Melissa Wong

Co-Founder & CEO

 Jeremy Baker

Co-Founder & CTO

In this illuminating session, Marc Lambo, VP- Associate Experience & Customer Care at AEO, American Eagle Outfitters & Aerie, alongside Melissa Wong, co-founder & CEO, Zipline, and Jeremy Baker, Co-Founder & CTO, Zipline, dove into the strategies behind American Eagle (AE) and Aerie's operational success. The discussion, rich with insights, showcased how AEO Inc. has been at the forefront of enhancing the store experience, bolstering associate engagement, and navigating the complex retail landscape with agility and innovation.

Building a Unified Team Vision
Marc Lambo, with his extensive 24-year tenure in retail, emphasized the significance of listening to both internal and external customers to create a seamless, values-driven shopping experience. “Every decision that is made always start and end with the customer," Marc remarked, highlighting how the internal teams are crucial extensions of the external customer base. This approach has been pivotal in ensuring the AEO brand's core values are not only perceived but experienced by customers through meaningful interactions with associates.

Enhancing Communication for Impact
The conversation underscored the role of effective communication in enriching customer experience and fostering trust within teams. Marc pointed out the challenges of navigating the retail environment, where making numerous decisions daily can be daunting for associates. By implementing a streamlined communication strategy, AEO Inc. has managed to "eliminate wasted time" and focus on what truly matters: the customer.

Melissa Wong shared how Zipline's partnership with AEO Inc. has been instrumental in cutting through the clutter, enabling the company to prioritize and implement strategies more effectively. This collaboration has led to a significant improvement in internal communication, ensuring that every team member is aligned with the company's goals and strategies.

Adapting to Learning Styles and Technology
Both speakers highlighted the importance of tailoring communication and training to individual learning styles—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic—to empower associates. This customization facilitates a deeper understanding of the brand voice, ensuring that customer interactions are not only consistent but also personalized.

The role of AI in enhancing customer experience was also discussed, with Marc noting its potential to foster stronger human connections and streamline operations. By leveraging AI, AEO Inc. aims to provide its customer care agents with more information, thereby improving satisfaction and efficiency.

Operational Scalability and Feedback Loops
Achieving operational excellence on a global scale requires flexibility, as noted by Marc. He stressed the importance of a system feedback loop for prioritizing initiatives and understanding urgency levels. This feedback mechanism is vital for maintaining the brand's agility and responsiveness to both internal and external customer needs.

Cultivating Readership and Brand Belief
The dialogue further delved into the challenges of maintaining effective communication and operations at scale. Marc shared insights on how AEO Inc. uses a monthly dashboard to monitor communication effectiveness, addressing any issues with content quality or timing. This meticulous approach has been key in growing readership and enhancing the team's belief in the brand, thereby strengthening AEO Inc.'s market position.

A Partnership for the Future
As the discussion with Marc concluded, the strong partnership between AEO Inc. and Zipline emerged as a cornerstone of the brand's operational strategy. This alliance has enabled AEO Inc. to navigate the retail industry's complexities with innovative solutions, setting a benchmark for operational excellence. As Marc and Melissa reflected on the journey, it was clear that the fusion of effective communication, technology adaptation, and a customer-centric approach has been instrumental in AEO Inc.'s success, offering valuable lessons for retailers worldwide.

Aligning the Organization for Success
Jeremy Baker, Co-Founder & CTO of Zipline outlined the foundational principle of creating an aligned organization, underscoring its criticality in the chaotic retail environment. “Alignment is really specific and really critical," he emphasized, pointing out how misalignments can cascade into operational inefficiencies, especially in a field where real-time feedback is a luxury not often afforded. This principle of alignment, as simple as it may sound, is the bedrock upon which successful retail operations are built, ensuring everyone, from the store floor to the C-suite, is on the same page.

Intent-Based Communication Channels
The second principle Jeremy highlighted was the creation of intent-based communication channels. This approach categorizes information into four types: reference, need-to-know, nice-to-know, and dialogue, thereby streamlining communication. By organizing information based on its purpose and urgency, retailers can cut through the clutter, making it easier for employees to access the information they need when they need it. “When everything is in one place, it makes it a lot harder,” Jeremy noted, advocating for a structured approach to communication that enhances clarity and reduces confusion.

The Right Message at the Right Time
The ability to send the right message to the right people at the right time is another pillar of Zipline's strategy. Jeremy critiqued the traditional bi-weekly communication cadence as insufficient in today's fast-paced retail environment. By adopting a more flexible and responsive communication strategy, retailers can ensure that changes and updates are disseminated promptly and efficiently, improving the overall responsiveness of the organization.

Empowering the Workforce
Empowerment lies at the heart of employee satisfaction and productivity, according to Jeremy. By providing employees with the context and information they need to understand their tasks, retailers can significantly boost job satisfaction and efficiency. This empowerment comes from making information easily accessible, breaking down silos, and ensuring that tasks are communicated with clarity and relevance.

Measuring Execution and Impact
The final principle revolves around measuring execution and readership to identify gaps and areas for improvement. This feedback loop is crucial for continuous improvement and adaptation, enabling retailers to refine their strategies and communications based on real-world data and feedback. Jeremy shared insights into how Zipline's tools facilitate this process, offering a seamless way to track and analyze the effectiveness of communication strategies.

Zipline: A Catalyst for Change
Throughout his talk, Jeremy Baker painted a picture of a future where retail operations are streamlined, employees are empowered, and communication barriers are dismantled. He shared anecdotes and examples of how Zipline has helped retailers like Ross VisionWorks and others to achieve these goals, leading to significant cost savings, improved employee retention rates, and higher customer satisfaction. With a blend of technology and strategic insights, Zipline is paving the way for a new era of retail communication, one where information flows freely, employees feel valued and informed, and operational efficiencies are realized at every level of the organization.

APRIL 2024