Author(s): Trevor Pardee
For athletic clothing companies, one of the most effective marketing tools is high-profile, but highly limited, releases of shoes and other sportswear, including collaborations with celebrities like Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. With products this hyped, companies like Nike and Adidas are able to sell out their limited releases immediately. However, this has created a problem for their retailers — people camp outside their stores, and the crowds become unruly, especially if the chance of getting a pair of limited-edition sneakers is slim.
To address the problem, Adidas has taken an approach that gives every customer a chance to buy the latest releases, and minimized havoc at stores. It created the Adidas Confirmed app, which registers consumers' personal information, and about a week before a major release, allows them to sign up for a chance to place a pre-order.
A few days before the release, the app displays a countdown timer. Users have to hit a button as soon as possible after the timer ends. Adidas has in effect gamified buying sports shoes. Shortly after you press the button, the app tells you if you "won" the ability to pre-order.
Using the Adidas Confirmed app, I've attempted to pre-order the same pair of shoes on two separate releases (the Yeezy Boost 350 V2, if you're a sneaker fan), but I've come up short on both occasions. The app is certainly a good way to avoid camping outside a store for days, and its convenience may attract even more interest in limited-release apparel. But it's disappointing to lose without seeing how the outcome is determined. Adidas is understandably reluctant to disclose every aspect of how the system works, but a little more transparency might dispel some of the disappointment.
I also think Adidas is missing a trick to boost engagement with the app. Rather than taking a "win or lose" approach to pre-ordering, it should reward its fans by offering a sweetener for those that are unsuccessful, such as a discount voucher or better odds of winning a pre-order slot next time around.
Although Adidas has addressed some of the challenges associated with physical retailing, it may have opened up a new set of problems. In gamifying the sale of its products, it will have to tackle threats posed by online fraud, bot networks and other means of cheating the random nature of its pre-order selections. This might be a low priority for Adidas: its products are still wildly popular, and it's cut the potential for disruption at its retail outlets.
The app doesn't seem to have dented the huge secondary market for limited releases. Adidas should be applauded for taking a fresh approach to selling shoes, but time will tell whether it has a material impact on the availability — and the cost — of its products.