Nike Inc. started cleaning up its stats sheet a week ago and the very first time, the Cheap Jordans empire declined to report “future orders,” a vital 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 focused 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 being a retailer-as opposed to a wholesaler-had been 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 all the sales are direct this season, in contrast to 4% five-years ago. CEO Mark Parker said the company is obsessed today with making shopping more personal. “Retailers who don’t embrace distinction will be put aside,” he warned on a conference call Tuesday.
Still, that wasn’t enough to thrill investors-at the very least, not. The overlooked appeal of bricks-and-mortar retail is how well retail chains lend themselves as to what economists call price segmentation. Shoemakers including Nike can simply target customers by sending the right shoes to the correct sort of store (think: first-class vs. coach, iPhone X vs. iPhone 8, Banana Republic vs. Old Navy). In Nike’s case, it ships expensive, limited 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, all this socioeconomic slotting moves the maximum amount of merchandise as you can with minimal fuss, without tarnishing the bigger brand. And make no mistake: Nike can it correctly. On its face, the Swoosh is really a design shop supercharged by the sort 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, ensuring “Momofuku” Dunks aren’t too easy to find, ordering up a special design for China, distributing its best-sellers to all the best Di.ck’s Sporting Goods Inc. outlets and dumping a lot of Chuck Taylors at outlet malls.
Nike is now upsetting their 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 basic 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 is apparently 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 this past year. The center of the lineup, meanwhile, sells on Nike.com and in their own big box stores. When it comes to cheaper, less-popular kicks, they quietly trickle in to the company’s “factory” stores (read: outlet) and onto Amazon.com. Nike even includes a studio in New York City that makes customized shoes on-site within one hour.
In a nutshell, the business is deemphasizing its ready-made network of retailers to create a more precise targeting mechanism. Tuesday Parker said the final goal is to get ahead of the consumer and present “the most personal, digitally connected experiences” in the market. “While changing your approach is never easy, Nike has proven before that if we all do, it’s always tmrzsh the following phase of growth for your company,” he explained.
In theory, Nike can know any given customer better-and their willingness to cover-by utilizing its very own venues and platforms, particularly on its digital properties. The task will likely be building the mechanism to sort all the data, and in doing so, the shoppers. In the real world, they sort themselves: The top-end boutique isn’t right near the cut-rate discount outlet. Inside the virtual world, it’s not so easy.
For the record, Under Armour Inc. is slightly in front of Nike Inc., with 31% of its sales coming directly from consumers; Wholesale Jordans is slightly behind, with 23% of revenue from retail. At its current pace, Nike will soon be collecting one out of three of their sales dollars directly from consumers. Its challenge will be ensuring that none of them get too good an arrangement.