Nike Inc. started cleaning its stats sheet the other day and for the first time, the Wholesale Jordans empire declined to report “future orders,” a crucial way of measuring wholesale demand from the galaxy of retailers who sell the famous kicks. Nike, No. 9 within the B2B E-Commerce 300, says the metric doesn’t matter much anymore, because now it’s centered on doing business directly with consumers and removing the middleman.
Nike sells to retailers through a mix of EDI and e-commerce. While Nike reported its slowest quarterly sales growth since 2010, its performance being a retailer-instead of a wholesaler-was actually a relative highlight. Sales on Nike’s own online store were up 19% in the recent quarter, while its retail locations notched a 5% grow in same-store sales. 28% of all sales are direct this coming year, compared with 4% five-years ago. CEO Mark Parker said the business is obsessed today with making shopping more personal. “Retailers who don’t embrace distinction will be left behind,” he warned on a conference call Tuesday.
Still, that wasn’t enough to thrill investors-at least, not even. The overlooked appeal of bricks-and-mortar retail is the way well retail chains lend themselves as to what economists call price segmentation. Shoemakers such as Nike can certainly 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, 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 such places as DSW Inc.
If performed correctly, all this socioeconomic slotting moves just as much merchandise as possible with minimal fuss, without tarnishing the bigger brand. And 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 what to ship where. For every Cheap Jordan Shoes in Beaverton, Ore., there’s a mid-level manager with a giant spreadsheet, ensuring “Momofuku” Dunks aren’t too easy to find, ordering up a unique design for China, distributing its best-sellers for all the right 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 working to make a conclusion play the basic economics of price segmentation. The strategy-a bold move, due to the historical manufacturer-to-retail model being discarded-requires no shortage of swagger. But Nike’s numbers show that the bet seems to be working, primarily because Nike 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 lineup, meanwhile, sells on Nike.com and then in its very own big box stores. As for the cheaper, less-popular kicks, they quietly trickle into the company’s “factory” stores (read: outlet) and onto Amazon.com. Nike even includes a studio in New York that makes customized shoes on-site in about an hour.
In a nutshell, the company is deemphasizing its ready-made network of retailers to generate a much more precise targeting mechanism. Tuesday Parker said the conclusion goal is to obtain in front of the consumer and present “the most personal, digitally connected experiences” in the market. “While switching your approach is never easy, Nike has proven before that whenever we do, it’s always tmrzsh the following phase of growth for our company,” he explained.
Theoretically, Nike can know any customer better-and their willingness to pay for-by making use of their own venues and platforms, particularly on its digital properties. The process is going to be building the mechanism to sort all of the data, and in doing so, the shoppers. In the real world, they sort themselves: The high-end boutique isn’t right near the cut-rate discount outlet. In the virtual world, it’s not too easy.
For the record, Under Armour Inc. is slightly in front of Nike Inc., with 31% of its sales coming straight 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 its sales dollars right from consumers. Its challenge will be making sure that none of them get too good an agreement.