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American Eagle Outfitters lures customers into fitting rooms with help of beacons

In the old days, a door-to-door salesman knew his chances of making a sale multiplied if he could talk his way into a home. For today’s retailers, a critical step is getting customers into fitting rooms. Once a customer is trying on a product, she or he is much more likely to make a purchase.

American Eagle Outfitters — an early adopter of beacon technology — used push notifications delivered through the Shopkick app to successfully draw more customers into fitting rooms this summer.

For nearly two months the retailer sent a push notifications to select customers as they entered the 100 of the company’s 929 stores that are outfitted with beacons. The message offered 25 kicks — Shopkick’s rewards currency — if they tried something on in a fitting room. American Eagle found that customers that received the offer were more than twice as likely to try on clothing as those who didn’t.

“That’s incredible. It’s way beyond anything I anticipated,” said Joe Megibow, chief digital officer at American Eagle Outfitters. “This is just the right message at the right time. A little bit of value to encourage them to ‘Hey, try something on today.’ ”

For a store with young customers, findings ways to appeal to them via technology makes a lot of sense.

“We need friendly associates that can help with style and fitting and the transaction, but the idea that [customers] will run up to associates is less likely than it has been in the past,” Megibow said.

He said he’s certain American Eagle Outfitters will install beacons in the majority of its stores, but isn’t sure if they’ll end up in every store just yet.

American Eagle Outfitters placed a beacon at the front entrance and in the fitting room of each trial store. When a customer with the Shopkick app entered the store, the beacon sensed their smartphone’s presence via Bluetooth, and triggered Shopkick to display a message offering 25 extra kicks. The beacon in the fitting room determined if the same customer had approached it, and awarded the 25 extra kicks. More than 10,000 customers took part in the trial.

“Frankly if someone came in the store and worked their way to the back corner and didn’t go in the fitting room it’s remotely possible that might register,” Megibow said. “But in general that’s not going to happen.”

American Eagle has approached the potential of beacons carefully given concerns about spamming and annoying customers with unwanted messages. Savvy smartphone users can easily disable notifications and uninstall apps. While continuing to work with platforms such as Shopkick that are tailored to a wide array of retailers, Megibow is also looking for ways to use beacons to connect to customers through American Eagle’s own app.

Beacon technology remains in its early days and is just starting to catch on with other retailers such as Macy’s, but American Eagle Outfitters’ success is a reminder of its potential.