Nike makes shopping more personal

A Nike store in Chicago, Illinois, US on Sept 24, 2017. Nike recently reported its slowest quarterly sales growth since 2010.
A Nike store in Chicago, Illinois, US on Sept 24, 2017. Nike recently reported its slowest quarterly sales growth since 2010.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BOSTON • Nike shoes have a new retail footprint. For the first time, the company has declined to report "future orders" - a critical measure of wholesale demand from retailers.

Nike said the metric does not matter much anymore because it is now focused on doing business directly with consumers. 

While it recently reported its slowest quarterly sales growth since 2010, its performance as a retailer - rather than as a wholesaler - was a brighter highlight.

Sales via its online store were up 19 per cent in the recent quarter, while its retail locations notched a 5 per cent gain in same-store sales.

Its chief executive Mark Parker said the company is now obsessed with making shopping more personal. "Retailers who don't embrace distinction will be left behind," he warned.

Nike's real genius is not marketing its shoes with the famous swoosh logo, but knowing exactly what to ship where.

For every sneaker-sketching savant in its Beaverton, Oregon headquarters, there is a mid-level manager with a giant spreadsheet, making sure "Momofuku" Dunks are not too easy to find, ordering up a special design for China, distributing its bestsellers to all the right Dick's Sporting Goods - a chain of sporting product outlets - and dumping plenty of Chuck Taylors at outlet malls.

But now Nike is upsetting its own well-oiled apple cart.

In giving traditional retail the stiff arm, which it made official in June, the Oregon empire is tearing up that playbook and trying to make a detour round the basic economics of price segmentation. 

The strategy - a bold move given the historical manufacturer-toretail model it is discarding - requires no shortage of swagger.

But Nike's numbers show that the bet appears to be working, primarily because it has been sharpening its digital game.

Sought-after sneakers now ship out via Nike's own ecosystem of apps, including SNKRS, which it launched early last year.

The heart of its line-up, meanwhile, sells on Nike.com and in its own big-box stores.

As for the cheaper and less popular shoes, they quietly trickle into the company's "factory" stores (read: outlet) and onto Amazon. com. Nike even has a studio in New York that makes customised shoes on-site in about an hour.  

In short, the company is de-emphasising its ready-made network of retailers to create an even more precise targeting mechanism. 

Mr Parker said the end goal is to get ahead of the consumer and offer "the most personal, digitally connected experiences" in the industry.

"While changing your approach is never easy, Nike has proven before that when we do, it's always ignited the next phase of growth for our company," he explained.

In theory, Nike can know any given customer better, and his or her willingness to pay, by using its own venues and platforms, particularly on its digital properties.

The challenge will be building the mechanism to sort all the data and, in doing so, the customers.

In the real world, they sort themselves - the high-end boutique is not right next to the cut-rate discount outlet. In the virtual world, it is not so easy.

For the record, Under Armour is slightly ahead of Nike, with 31 per cent of its sales coming directly from consumers, while Adidas is slightly behind, with 23 per cent of revenue from retail.

At its pace, Nike will soon be collecting one in three of its sales dollars directly from consumers.

Its challenge will be making sure that none of them gets too good of a deal. 

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2017, with the headline 'Nike makes shopping more personal'. Print Edition | Subscribe