“Consumer Direct Offense” – Nike going Amazonian

Nike is poised to deliver another punch in the gut to the retail industry by launching their “Consumer Direct Offense.” It’s a pivot toward more online selling, and will cut 1,400 jobs.  Ouch!

Of course in the long run, with robots cruising swiftly around warehouses of shoes and clothing, still more jobs will be lost. By the way, Amazon has 45,000 robots in its warehouses as of January 2017.

It won’t be just Nike. It’s a trend, in running as much as bookselling. It’s a business reality—Nike doesn’t want to go the way of The Sports Authority. Having just written an article about how stable the running expos have been (which will appear in the June issue of RRM), I can now see this development punching holes in the expos where local retailers as well as national brands set up booths.  “Disruption,” indeed.


What About “Feel?”

The feel of a shoe is just as important as style, size, color, and all the attributes a manufacturer claims will improve your speed or your running experience. (Or make you look more cool.) I would never buy a pair of shoes of any kind without trying them on. Especially since I’ve found that with running and biking shoes, there can be a world of difference between brands. They might look identical on a computer screen, but one pair will feel perfect and the other—pah! Switching to online means buying shoes that you’re not sure would work for you, and returning them if they don’t.  If the replacements don’t work, then back they go. . . .

Another ploy for the consumer is to go to a retail store and try on shoes to find what you like. If they cost less online, you can go home and order them online.  In fact, you could even whip out your smart phone and order them while standing right in front of a store employee.  (Few among us could be that mean, but there seem to be some in high office who might welcome the opportunity if s/he had a grudge.)

Moral Dilemmas? Are We Talking about Forms of Cheating?

Does the second scenario (using the store as a test) pose a moral dilemma any more than the first? I believe so, because it directly robs the salesperson of time that might be better spent with another customer. But the first method, cutting out the retail store altogether, could be just as bad in that it robs the store of any opportunity whatever to maybe steer you to another brand or model that works better for you, or even saves you money. This is one of the sources of pleasure in going to a running store: the interaction with employees, virtually all of whom are runners. You can chat about shoes and rain gear while getting the scoop on the nearest half-marathon.  Interpersonal engagement and the ability to touch a variety of products, make for value added, and you should be prepared to pay for it.

 Complete Amazonation of Nike? Probably Not. But We Are Losing Something.

It’s doubtful Nike would go entirely the way of Amazon, because Nike has long been a distinctive brand in itself, and Amazon has embraced so many products it has become an online department store (can you see Nike selling food processors?).  Still, the move seems sad, and not just because of 1,400 people losing their jobs. We are all losing something, maybe several somethings. Gone is the interpersonal engagement, and gone is the chance to see, feel, and try on various options which you might find superior to the shoe you went looking for—in look and feel. When a drone delivers your new shoes, you will feel them for the first time, and the only comparison is the shoes you already have.

This kind of disruption strikes me as a distancing from physical reality—a divorce, especially from the sense of touch. Virtual Reality is now a Big Thing, but I haven’t heard of VR advances in the sense of touch. Touch is vital to the running experience—blind people run road races, but I can’t imagine someone running who has no sense of touch. Someone who wouldn’t respond to the feel of new shoes. Thanks to Nike’s “Consumer Direct Offense,” we will have one more source of deprivation dictated by corporate bottom lines.

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