For me AE has the edge in a few categories. Price is the biggest. I went with the AE patriots in burgundy shell and brown shell over the Alden LHS. The reason was primarily price. I got both pair (as seconds) for what I would have paid for one pair of Aldens. Plus you can't even get Alden cigar right now. The other area where I like AE is with their non traditional colors. I have the Daltons in walnut shell and the Dundees in cappuccino shell. While these colors may be soon gone from AE I liked them and picked them up (at full retail) because of their uniqueness. If, in the future, all AE offers in shell is black, burgundy and the occasional brown then Alden will probably be the better value unless you can get AE's on sale.
For me Alden makes a great casual shoe/boot and all my Aldens are worn with casual dress. AE excels in dressier situations which for me is most of the time. Let's face it, $700 for shoes/boots is expensive and the quality/value is not there at that price point. For another $100 I can get Carmina Shell or even Vass calf which both of these are far higher quality than anything AE or Alden makes. I've even seen some Edward Green shoes on sale at the $850 price point.
The greatest strength that I see in AE is that their prices are low compared to other brands. If this changes then they will lose their appeal. $345 (the current price of calf models) is higher than what most people will pay for shoes but that price is at least attainable. I know i've personally turned 5-6 guys to AE who would have never paid that kind of price without some prompting and pushing from me. Now that they have tried AE they will be customers for life unless the prices continue to sneak up. If that happens they will probably move to other brands. AE has a great niche in the market between lesser quality brands such as Cole Haan, Johntson and Murphy, Kenneth Cole and higher quality brands such as Crockett and Jones and Carmina. In my opinion AE needs to stay in that niche and if on occasion they can offer something unique (like they did with the walnut and cappuccino webgems) then all the better.
Well said. I think AE is fully aware of this niche that they have created which is largely due to their price point. I'd be surprised if it ever significantly changes. I am sure prices will inevitably sneak up, but the prices of the other brands will likely sneak up accordingly. Thus, the niche will likely still exist.