Nike Inc. started cleaning its stats sheet the other day and for the first time, the Wholesale Nike Shoes empire declined to report “future orders,” a crucial measure of wholesale demand from the galaxy of retailers who sell the famous kicks. Nike, No. 9 in the B2B E-Commerce 300, says the metric doesn’t matter much anymore, because now it’s centered on conducting business directly with consumers and cutting out the middleman.
Nike sells to retailers through a combination of EDI and e-commerce. While Nike reported its slowest quarterly sales growth since 2010, its performance as being a retailer-rather than a wholesaler-was actually a relative highlight. Sales on Nike’s own web store were up 19% in the recent quarter, while its retail locations notched a 5% gain in same-store sales. 28% of sales are direct this year, in comparison with 4% 5 years ago. CEO Mark Parker said the business is obsessed today with making shopping more personal. “Retailers who don’t embrace distinction will likely be left behind,” he warned on the conference call Tuesday.
Still, that wasn’t enough to impress investors-at least, not. The overlooked appeal of bricks-and-mortar retail is just how well retail chains lend themselves to what economists call price segmentation. Shoemakers such as Nike can easily target customers by sending the best shoes to the right type of store (think: first-class vs. coach, iPhone X vs. iPhone 8, Banana Republic vs. Old Navy). In Nike’s case, it ships expensive, exclusive edition sneakers to high-end boutiques, routes its stock Jordans to chains like Foot Locker Retail Inc., and dumps its low-end product and off-key colorways in these places as DSW Inc.
If done correctly, this socioeconomic slotting moves the maximum amount of merchandise as you can with minimal fuss, while not tarnishing the greater brand. To make no mistake: Nike does it correctly. On its face, the Swoosh is actually a design shop supercharged by the kind of storytelling its TV commercials, billboards and magazine ads are famous for. But Nike’s real genius isn’t marketing, it’s merchandising: knowing exactly what to ship where. For each Cheap Jordan Shoes in Beaverton, Ore., there’s a mid-level manager using a giant spreadsheet, making certain “Momofuku” Dunks aren’t too easy to find, ordering up an exclusive design for China, distributing its best-sellers for all the correct Di.ck’s Sporting Goods Inc. outlets and dumping plenty of Chuck Taylors at outlet malls.
Nike is now upsetting its own well-oiled applecart. In giving traditional retail the stiff arm, which Nike made official in June, the Oregon empire is tearing up that playbook and attempting to make a stop run around the essential economics of price segmentation. The strategy-a bold move, due to the historical manufacturer-to-retail model being discarded-requires an abundance of swagger. But Nike’s numbers demonstrate that the bet appears to be working, primarily because Nike continues to be 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 lineup, meanwhile, sells on Nike.com and in its own big box stores. When it comes to cheaper, less-popular kicks, they quietly trickle to the company’s “factory” stores (read: outlet) and onto Amazon.com. Nike even includes a studio in Ny that creates customized shoes on-site in about an hour.
In short, the company is deemphasizing its ready-made network of retailers to generate a much more precise targeting mechanism. Tuesday Parker said the final goal is to buy ahead of the consumer and present “the most personal, digitally connected experiences” in the business. “While altering your approach is never easy, Nike has proven before that whenever perform, it’s always tmrzsh the next phase of growth for the company,” he explained.
In principle, Nike can know virtually any customer better-and their willingness to pay-by using their own venues and platforms, particularly on its digital properties. The task is going to be building the mechanism to sort each of the data, and by doing this, the customers. In real life, they sort themselves: The top-end boutique isn’t right next to the cut-rate discount outlet. Inside the virtual world, it’s not easy.
For the record, Under Armour Inc. is slightly before Nike Inc., with 31% of the sales coming straight from consumers; Cheap Jordans is slightly behind, with 23% of revenue from retail. At its current pace, Nike will be collecting one out of three of the sales dollars straight from consumers. Its challenge is going to be ensuring that none of them get too good an arrangement.