I'm going to be very clear about my position on this. Small defects often have minimal, if any, effect on the longevity of a shoe. The problem I have is that when you are spending $300 - $600 on any product, I would expect the manufacturer to have basic quality control measures and not let items out the door that have obvious defects. If that's a big scratch, crooked stitching, whatever; if it affects how the shoes looks, it's a defect. It's an insult to the customer when they pass off shoes with obvious issues as new. I won't apologize for feeling this way
I think the crux of the matter is that AE themselves sells shoes with defects as seconds.
Anything that has that kind of visible but slight/inconsequential defect should be sold as seconds. Its not like they are losing 100% of the shoe when they can't sell it as first quality so it doesn't make sense to me that they would let things with that kind of defect out the door.