American Eagle invites college kids to do their laundry

Discussion
AE Studio launch party, NYC - Photo: American Eagle
Oct 30, 2017
Tom Ryan

American Eagle Outfitters is opening a new prototype, AE Studio, in Manhattan’s Union Square, close to New York University (NYU), that provides students with free laundry services.

The teen chain said in a statement, “While they wait, they can hang out with friends or study in the studio bar and seating area and enjoy the view of Union Square.”

The store, a makeover of the chain’s flagship in the city, places a heavy emphasis on jeans. American Eagle claims to be the number two denim retailer in the U.S. A collaboration with Atelier & Repairs will offer customized versions of denim repurposed from previous collections.

Other features of the store:

  • On-site social media team: American Eagle’s social media team will have an in-store work space to “create content in real time” and directly engage with customers.
  • Concierge iPads in dressing rooms: Customers can personalize their shopping experience and engage the brand “with the tap of their finger.”
  • Collaboration space: Featuring capsule collections co-created with new brands, emerging designers and artists.

The overall concept “is meant to inspire community and collaboration.” But getting much of the media attention is the free laundry.

“We want this to be a place where the customer feels comfortable,” Chad Kessler, American Eagle’s president, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “College kids have to do their dirty laundry, so we provide the service for free with a student ID. We have Wi-Fi and a hangout area. It’s a way to drive customer engagement.”

In an interview CNBC, Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail and a RetailWire BrainTrust panelist, said integrating laundry and study spaces “may seem a little wacky,” but should appeal to its core base.

“American Eagle will need to work hard to publicize and communicate this as it is an unusual facility to have and most shoppers would not expect it,” added Mr. Saunders. “The bottom line is that AEO is innovating and testing new things which puts it on the right side of the tracks as far as retail is concerned.” 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will free laundry work as a traffic draw for college students? Will jeans customization, social media components and other aspects of AE Studio be appealing to college-age people?

Braintrust
"This concept is definitely a media grab with potential for success, but a lot more room for error."
"One might throw a bone to American Eagle for coming up with a different idea … but not everything “outside of the box” is worth doing."
"Doing laundry in NYC is inconvenient and expensive! (And I hear that NYU now costs, what, $100k a semester?)"

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29 Comments on "American Eagle invites college kids to do their laundry"

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Charles Dimov
BrainTrust

Jean customization and other aspects of AE Studio are probably the right direction for American Eagle. Think back to when you were in college/university. The restaurants near the university that offered all you can eat chicken wings learned to put limitations on their offerings — fast. So too here. Free laundry services will definitely be accepted with a smile. However, is going to a retailer for this going to drive enough new sales to offset the costs of the service? That is a big question. In my mind, it seems like a stretch.

Naomi K. Shapiro
BrainTrust

Are you kidding? I’ll bet the college kids will be lined up before the doors even open! Brilliant promotion that hits on all cylinders: customers (college kids) waiting for their laundry, shopping (for customized jeans) and “socializing” (and reinforcing the promotion) in the meantime. A perfect formula for success.

Tom Dougherty
BrainTrust

These are desperate times for retail. They will try anything to make the brand a destination. It will get press and may pick up a few new adherents, until someone travels with dirty laundry only to find all the machines are in use. Time is the only currency in the market today.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Retailers seem to rationalize lots of crazy ideas in the name of “customer engagement.” While I am a big proponent of “launch and learn,” I have a hard time aligning to ideas that seem too far disconnected from delivering business results. Will free laundry attract traffic? Perhaps, but traffic for the sake of traffic doesn’t get you far. Admittedly I’m not the target audience, but I have a hard time seeing how this initiative will lead to something meaningful for AE.

Richard Layman
Guest
21 days 21 hours ago

Yes, initiatives that are congruent make sense, incongruent ideas don’t. When I was in college, I worked in the student run peer counseling office. It had the only soda machine in the building, so we had lots of “traffic” into the office. It was an old coke machine c. 1970s (this was almost 40 years ago), noisy as hell. I said it was a distraction and we should get rid of it, that it was too noisy and the constant unrelated foot traffic interfered with the counseling environment we wanted to create. This laundry idea is comparable. It will cost a lot of money to operate, and there is no guarantee people will buy stuff. Since selling stuff (or services) is the point of retail, it doesn’t make sense. Could AE set up branded laundries where people pay money but have a better environment, in college towns? Sure. Even then it would be a distraction in all likelihood.

Seth Nagle
BrainTrust

It seems like it’s all about recreating the retail space these days. I’m glad to see AE is starting to think outside the box. We’ve seen Tom’s turn their shoe stores into coffee shops and Chobani opening up a retail location/food lab, so why not turn a clothing store into a community hangout/laundromat?

Sure there will be a few obstacles to overcome (noise, machines, kids not knowing how to wash clothes) but if AE can craft some unique messaging that targets their demographic I would imagine they could have a very successful six-month pilot.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

This sounds like the perfect strategy to draw in consumers. We only wish that companies such as AE offered this kind of shopping experience when we were college kids. In our experience-first retail model, offering jean customizations, integrating the digital and social experiences with the in-store model and making the AE prototype store a destination is the perfect strategy to stand out against their competition.

Innovation not only lies on the technology/digital side, but this sort of in-store disruption is the sort of transformation that AE has to make to remain competitive, relevant and trendy.

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust

College students love free things. I can see this space attracting students who live nearby. The idea probably won’t work for students who have free laundry in their dorms, or live across town. I just hope that AEO does a good job laying out and organizing the new space — the last thing anyone wants is a store that feels like a laundromat. People who walk into the store to shop or design jeans won’t want to deal with the chaos of people trying to do laundry. This concept is definitely a media grab with potential for success, but a lot more room for error.

Joanna Rutter
BrainTrust
22 days 5 hours ago

It’s exciting to see retailers take a risk on creative marketing campaigns to bring in foot traffic, especially when it’s meeting an actual customer need and isn’t just noise for noise’s sake. Doing laundry in NYC is inconvenient and expensive! (And I hear that NYU now costs, what, $100k a semester?) I’ve been watching American Eagle for the past few years and have been impressed with how they’re stayed relevant, especially with their Aerie brand. AE Studio tells me that they have an internal leadership team who is willing to evolve, which is encouraging. Back to meeting needs: A free laundromat by NYU is perfect, provided they can keep their machines up and running and keep the studio from feeling chaotic so the experience doesn’t turn sour for a visitor. Will this new foot traffic correspond with higher sales? They’ll need to look at the data closely. Is it a draw? Absolutely, and one that leaves a pretty lasting impression, too.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

I have to admit that I don’t know what it is like going to college in NYC however, me and my college friends often did laundry in the wee hours or other weird hours of the day/night. Laundry was not to interfere with anything important and therefore it was important to have a laundry room in the building where you could run down in your jammies after the alarm went off. Then rush back to bed. I can’t imagine having to pack up my laundry, dress and go to a store. Way too much effort. But that’s just me and my 2 cents.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Definitely not part of the target audience but somehow washing my dirty laundry in a retail store is not very appealing. I realize the word has a very different connotation but I’ll stick with “don’t air your dirty laundry in public.”

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Great promotion. Gets kids into the stores. The question is, will getting them into the stores increase sales? Or does it matter to AE? Maybe they are just doing this out of their desire to make a better connection with their customers, regardless of an immediate increase in sales. Maybe it is all about customer engagement and being a part of the community. Could this “no-strings-attached” idea mean more loyalty and sales down the road? If so, a brilliant move.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Retailers at the Store Operations Council meeting indicated that they’re trying anything and everything to attract customers, and “experiences” in the store are high on their list. Stores will never have the best prices or best inventory availability, so they have to provide something else. Given Amazon’s penetration in the marketplace, it’s time to embrace new ideas of all kinds.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Sorry, but no. Carry my dirty laundry into a Manhattan retail space to hang out? I don’t think so. And free laundry can’t be that big a deal anyway. I can’t believe this is answering a huge need for NYC college students.

Free beer? Maybe that would work.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

One might throw a bone to American Eagle for coming up with a different idea … but not everything “outside of the box” is worth doing.

Will this result in more clothes being bought? I doubt it. Those jumping on the chance to save a few bucks on their laundry are not going to be spending money on custom jeans, at least not very often. (I’m amused that the more rips and holes there are in “repurposed” jeans, the more expensive. I have GOT to get out more!)

As other realists have commented, this location:

  • Has to be relatively close by;
  • Has to be open 24/7;
  • Has to have safety measures in place, especially given university-related sexual harassment experiences lately;
  • Has to be accompanied by something to do — coffee, Wi-Fi, desks, etc.

I would not bet on this moving from fad to trend.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

“Has to be accompanied by something to do — coffee, Wi-Fi, desks, etc.” “Desks”??? What ever would a college student do at a desk? I’m still going with free beer.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

And if I’d have seen your submission in time, Ben, I’d just gone with your suggestion! The desk is just somewhere to line up your empties or to play beer-pong while you wait for the dryer to go off…

Richard Layman
Guest
21 days 21 hours ago

I suppose you could charge for doing laundry (but then why bother lugging it to the store?), but offering “points” towards purchasing items, not unlike how “gasoline points” work as part of grocery store loyalty programs. Still, it seems like a lot of work for little payoff.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

I applaud any brand or retailer that experiments and innovates. That being said, opening this type of promotion in New York City seems more like PR stunt — albeit a good one! — than an attempt to implement a sustainable and viable business model that can be extended to at least all of the tier-one markets. They will certainly draw students for free laundry but will quickly fade when no machines are available. Why not combine this with an online schedule so students could schedule their wash times?

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

It isn’t the free laundry that makes this concept forward thinking, it’s the fact that they are TRYING free laundry. Where are Abercrombie & Fitch or Gap or Old Navy with the new ideas? Surprisingly, specialty retail is extremely laggard in understanding the new dynamic of fail fast/innovation as a success metric. Perhaps that comes from years of fixing “problems” or challenges with nothing but better product or hitting hot trends. With the long tail of e-commerce, those days are over. Wake up, specialty! It’s a new dawn out there!

Mark Nicholson
Guest

They’ve created a lead magnet and just need to determine how to capture and nurture. A good example of creating value to draw prospects, allowing you to be center stage when its your show. There are some pros and cons; it’s a good concept that will appeal to several.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

At first blush sounds like a neat idea. But once you begin to think about all of the logistics and the customer, the idea does not have a lot going for it. But has a lot going against it.

The press is going to be great to start with — if it gets up and running. And note I said “if.”

On the negative side, layout, hours, location, noise, availability … the list keeps getting longer and longer.

Richard Layman
Guest
21 days 21 hours ago

Remember the college students who started a “food concept” offering cereal all day in cafes near college campuses and then other locations? It got a lot of press, but never went anywhere. I looked it up recently and found not one such existing store in the U.S., but someone doing something similar in the UK. Yes, innovation should be celebrated, but not all ideas are good or worth pursuing. E.g., Bismarck’s quote: “Fools learn from experience, I prefer to profit from the experience of others.”

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Services. That’s always been a differentiator for retailers. This is a great example of that.

Ed Dunn
Guest
22 days 3 hours ago

An important part of this promotion was left out: Atelier & Repairs, an assortment of customized denim and apparel repurposed from AE’s previous collections.

I suspect Atelier & Repairs, which operates on the same line as Supreme and the Japanese fashion icon that upcycles Nike shoes, is the bigger draw, not necessarily the laundry.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

When the history of retail is told, measures like this will seem just as laughable. I can’t imagine the compelling reason to have college students go into a store to wash their clothes. File this under desperation and cluelessness like Ron Johnson wanting to put yoga classes in the middle of JCP.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Sounds fun! A free place to hang out and a pair of customized jeans. Love the concept of college students whose lives have flexibility to hang out and generate buzz and vibe for AE. The buzz and vibe hopefully will draw in the next round of students. Wonder if student ID will be needed? I am sure many locals have laundry to do.

Sarah Nochimowski
Guest

Again the discussion about how stores have to become a destination, a place you want to visit. This is so cool and so NYC! Great idea and right in line with their customer base.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Even if the laundry experiment is fraught with risks and challenges, I applaud the focus on the store experience that AE Studio represents as AE attempts to redefine their brand. Some of the other aspects of the AE Studio experience are frankly more intriguing to me, including the social media team on site and the capsule collection collaborations. Just yesterday I published a post on capsule collections and product drop events and how I think they perfectly represent what the new consumer desires. Good luck, AE!

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"This concept is definitely a media grab with potential for success, but a lot more room for error."
"One might throw a bone to American Eagle for coming up with a different idea … but not everything “outside of the box” is worth doing."
"Doing laundry in NYC is inconvenient and expensive! (And I hear that NYU now costs, what, $100k a semester?)"

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