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mj slaby / the incline

Why American Eagle brought a robot to its Cranberry store

On Thursday, young adults from Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh “shopped” at the store.

robot 1
mj slaby / the incline
MJ Slaby

Starting from the front doors of the American Eagle store in Cranberry, the robot followed around members of the store operations team as the shopper on the other side decided between shades of blue for a polo and which leggings were best.

From The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill, a pair of students from the adult day school, a private school for ages 5 to 21 with severe physical disabilities and neurological impairments, and one teen from the institute’s outpatient unit, shopped for their back-to-school clothes.

Satchel, 20, wanted a yellow dress. But with no yellow dress in sight, she quickly started nodding yes to a black patterned dress, leggings with pockets and more.

She finished her shopping trip with a high-five from her speech language pathologist. Now, she’ll just have to pick which new outfit to wear first.

On Thursday, the Children’s Institute paired with American Eagle to test the retailer’s new Beam Smart Presence System aka a robot that can “beam” shoppers into the store.

The more than four foot-tall robot has a screen on the front, a sleek skinny frame and four wheels at the bottom. It seemed to roll on its own behind two store operations team members as they showed off clothes and added to a pile that the shopper deemed his or her favorites.

The trio each used an app on their ipad to launch a split screen with three views — themselves, from the robot’s screen and from near the robot’s wheels to see what’s on the floor. Using the touch screen, they were able to move the robot right and left to go in a circle and up and down for front and back.

The shopping robot is an idea that came from American Eagle’s digital innovation team. Colin Bodell, chief technology officer, said he’s been working on ways to add technology into the stores. American Eagle has had printers in stores to add designs to shirts and denim, programs with Amazon Echo and Google Home, and now, for the first time, a customer-driven robot.

“How great is it that she can sit on the couch and have a personal shopping experience?” said Allison Dillon, Satchel’s teacher and speech language pathologist.

She and fellow teacher and speech language pathologist Megan Sutton agreed that the robot gives their students the independence and freedom to go shopping when they want without waiting for someone else or being worried there is no one who understands sign language.

Satchel and teacher Allison Dillon pick out clothes using the beam robot.

Satchel and teacher Allison Dillon pick out clothes using the beam robot.

mj slaby / the incline

Plus, they said it’s a more true-to-life shopping experience than browsing a website. (American Eagle Foundation gave gift cards to the three students who did the testing.)

Not only can the robot be used to help shoppers with limited mobility, but it can be used to bring designers into the store to give customers feedback, said Bodell.

“If there isn’t an expert at the store, the robot could just roll up,” he said.

So how soon could robots be part of the typical American Eagle shopping trip?

Well, Bodell said there are still more tests to do. But he plans to review the technology quickly. A decision will be made in a few months, he said.

Christina Daniels from American Eagle's store operations team shows polo shirts to Noah through the beam robot.

Christina Daniels from American Eagle's store operations team shows polo shirts to Noah through the beam robot.

mj slaby / the incline