Launched in 2015, the app has changed how sneakerheads cop their coveted kicks.
Like many Americans on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, online shopping has become synonymous with retail therapy. When it comes to sports footwear and apparel, Nike has continually been at the forefront of innovation and creativity.
While competitors such as Adidas and Under Armour chip away with brick and mortar locations, the Swoosh has been aggressively pushing boundaries in the digital space.
Starting in 2015, Nike launched SNKRS, a virtual sneaker buying experience with an interactive smartphone App, combining e-commerce, education, history, and engagement all in one.
Since then, Nike has continued to grow its digital landscape, starting with the acquisition of Virgin Mega, a digital design start-up within Richard Branson’s Virgin enterprise.
Now named s23NYC (located in Manhattan on 23rd St.), the design team focuses on transforming new ways to evolve SNKRS with unique experiences.
“We’ve been in this space for close to a year now and our team has 26 of us,” says SNKRS General Manager, Ron Faris. “The team is growing, we’re hiring engineers, designers, product managers, and marketers. We all sit around a table looking to invent new ways to inspire sneaker culture.”
Nike has always been about groundbreaking technology on the sports field. It came as no surprise when the company launched a new app with an augmented reality platform built in.
SNKRS Stash is one prime example; consumers open the app and search specific locations in metropolitan cities (NYC, LA, Chicago) and unlock shoes to purchase all from their smartphone.
Last weekend I took part in my first SNKRS Stash @ComplexCon. 93 winners unlocked the @nikesportswear #AF1 High Stash. We also met the legendary graffiti artist Mr. Stash, who was on hand for the event. A unique experience. pic.twitter.com/YlxoqVEARI
— Michael Silver (@BigEastSilver) November 10, 2017
“AR is probably one of a series of experiments we’ve tested that happened to work really well. I think the impetus came from the idea when Nike acquired the company (Virgin Mega) and the first task or mandate was to take the SNKRS app and inject a bigger sense of community,” says Faris.
In the past, sneakerheads (collectors and fans have adopted the name) would camp out in front of stores for hours, sometimes days to get highly sought after releases. This caused safety concerns with large crowds forming and violence on occasion. Going digital now makes more sense then ever given these trends and new functionality.
“The digital age has changed just about everything,” according to Matt Powell, Industry Sports Advisor at The NPD Group. “25% of all sneakers are bought online and the web is growing faster than physical stores.”
With momentum driving sales to phones and keyboards more than ever, Powell believes “All of the growth in the future will come from online. We are moving to a world of omnipresent retail.”
Like any goods or services, feedback is key in development as Faris detailed.
“The app itself does great from a commerce perspective. As we started to do focus groups, which we do monthly from our SNKRS Studio, we talked to the kids. The number one thing that came back was so many of them miss that thrill of the chase. The story of how they got the shoe, not just getting the product.”
“We didn’t want to disrupt the normal course of operations within the app, but if you want to engage deeper with us we would at times bury Easter eggs that would unlock robust experiences like the SNKRS camera. This in turn unlocks ‘AR 3D models’ of a shoe, which we did most recently with Jeff Staple and the Pigeon Dunk. We started to see on social sentiment that this really got people emotional. At the end of the day, our whole goal at the studio is to build an experience that creates energy and emotion,” Faris elaborated.
Speaking with Jacques Slade, a content creator well known in the sneaker industry, he touched on his early years of shopping.
“The part that I miss the most is the community aspect of it. You make friends and get to talk to like-minded people one-on-one in those lines. ‘Camping’ digitally has some aspects of that through Twitter, but it comes across a lot different when you meet a person in real life.”
Nike has been keen on implementing stories into their product releases and creating dialogue between professional athletes, ambassadors and its fan base. The aforementioned “Pigeon Dunk” first released in 2005 in NYC and caused riots, resulting in police shutting down the event.
The rumors, the speculation, the riots, the infamy, the legend, the return. It's all true.
Thank you for being a part of history. pic.twitter.com/PcqRXT6s5P
— Extra Butter (@ExtraButter) November 7, 2017
This time around, consumers had multiple ways to purchase the updated sneaker. There were specially designated newspaper stands in NYC and photos shared on social media allowing the public to secure these coveted kicks from anywhere in the United States.
Jeff Staple, owner and designer of apparel brand Staple Pigeon, collaborated with the SNKRS team to ensure a smoother release this time around.
“Jeff and his team were great partners in working on both aspects of the digital side and the more traditional drop of the shoe,” Faris recalled.
“For these experiences to be successful you want to get everyone on the same page early. Things like augmented reality as a technology are very new to a lot of people. Some of our partners are seeing AR for the first time as we introduce it to them. We want to make sure there’s an opportunity for both sides to build on the idea to make it better.”
Competitors are always seeking to gain an advantage, now more so in the smartphone era. Adidas has it’s own app titled ‘Confirmed’ and Footlocker uses a reservation system built within their ‘Launch Locator’ section.
“I think the apps are all very 1.0 versions of what things can be,” according to Slade.
“Each offer a solution to some of the pain-points of online sneaker purchases, but I don’t feel either have really changed the game. The apps look cool, but the innovation has yet to come.”
Consumers will always want the latest products on the market, yet batting 1.000 is simply not realistic. In certain cases, shoppers have expressed displeasure with high-profile releases such as “The Ten” collection, with app errors occurring.
Due to technical issues caused by overwhelming demand for “The Ten” collection, we have cancelled the online draw.
— Nike NYC (@NikeNYC) November 11, 2017
Twitter conversations regarding ‘bots’ are commonplace, a loophole where 3rd party software secures items in shopping carts at a rapid pace. These hacks have overwhelmed online sales in recent times, but what can Nike and other brands do to fix these issues?
“This is a dynamic that will always plague sneaker culture. However, what we can do is try and always improve the fight against bots by looking at new ways to hold them at the front door or not let them into the system,” says Faris. “With every launch we learn more and apply those learning’s to future launches to make the experiences great.”
Focusing closely to 2018 and beyond, from sneakerheads to Soccer Moms, we can all look forward to emerging technologies from these powerhouse brands.
“The future is really exciting. The potential for sneaker shopping and technology can go many different places. From custom experiences through augmented reality to custom color ways to personalized shopping experiences,” Slade predicts.
This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.
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