American Eagle store closings on track as retailer emphasizes digital footprint

| Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

American Eagle Outfitters Inc. will keep closing stores this year and roll out a mobile-friendly website as customers do more shopping using their smartphones, executives said Tuesday.

The South Side-based teen retailer is on track with a “store rationalization” plan to close 150 stores over three years, Chief Financial Officer Mary Boland told analysts at the ICR Conference in Orlando, Fla. The plan was announced in 2014.

The closings, coupled with efforts to cut overhead and tighten inventory, are aimed at driving costs out of brick-and-mortar locations while American Eagle invests in digital sales.

Keeping costs down has been a priority as American Eagle tries to turn around declining sales and profits. The company has steadily improved its performance during the past year, recording a 4 percent increase in fourth quarter sales at stores open at least a year even as other retailers, including Macy's and Gap, struggled. Results for stores open at least a year are a key metric for retailers because they don't count sales generated from opening new stores.

American Eagle has revamped merchandise, reduced markdowns and invested in online platforms and mobile apps. Digital sales are expected to be 20 percent of revenue this year and will be driven by rising demand from mobile shoppers. More than half of online traffic comes from mobile devices, executives said.

American Eagle expects to introduce a new mobile-friendly website in the first quarter, Chief Operating Officer Michael Rempell said.

“Our customers are going to have as rich an experience on their mobile devices as they have on their desktop,” he said.

Chris Fleisher is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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