In hindsight, talking about athleisure or sneakers right now seems fairly meaningless given what is going on in the world. We say we keep people in our thoughts and prayers, but really unless we know people affected, I don’t believe we truly mean it. I can however offer some empathy. Right now people of color including Africans, Indians and Middle Easterners, in Ukraine are being denied the ability to leave the country, while those who are white are being provided with refuge. This is war, yet people still find the time to be racist. Numerous accounts from nonwhite individuals fleeing the country have encountered discrimination. According to this ABC news article, an African student attempting to flee with her family was stopped at the Romanian border by the Ukrainian Military, told to get out of their car, and walk in a line designated for ‘people of color’. Where I think brands can step in for the issues above is by taking a strong stance against discrimination for anyone trying to flee a dangerous situation. Brands are quick to have a black or person of color athlete join their brand, but I’d like to see them be just as enthusiastic when it comes to supporting issues black people face around the world.
What this shows to me is that brands still have work to do when it comes to adapting to world issues, from the serious issues mentioned above, to their own supply chain and how they continue to conduct sales and business. The rest of this article will focus on how I think brands need to adapt to the latter – changing business practices that haven’t been working and addressing consumer frustration.
- Adapting to consumer frustration
Despite the fact that consumers are able to order much of what they want online, many are still going into stores to try to secure their pair of the newest shoes. Recently, in August 2021, an employee at Shoe Palace was fatally shot during a chaotic shoe release driven by the lack of supply in products. Just a couple weeks ago, a woman was stabbed while waiting in line in for a sneaker release over an altercation between another customer. The fact that people are victims of violence over a shoe is completely unacceptable and there’s been no real changes made to prevent these incidents from happening. Brands know their products have this power over the consumer, but have yet to really make an impact and steps forward to address these problems. The son of an ex-VP at Nike used her corporate credit card to receive a discount on shoes in order to resell them at a large profit. These resellers perpetuate supply issues too and force consumers to pay huge markups.
Some potential solutions for dealing with this could be pre-ordering. You don’t see Apple customers killing each other over an iphone in the Apple Store. They have successful presales and this helps customers receive the items they want without all the chaos. If consumers can preorder, that panic around release times can dwindle. Making consumers create an account could be another great way to reduce panic because it can allow management of fraud. If you have an account, you have gone through verification and you’re not likely a bot purchasing large quantities just to resell and place more pressure on the supply and demand issues.
My theory is brands do not want to implement any changes because they see this hype as a good thing and can’t understand that making changes will not reduce the hype. Theaters allow you to book tickets in advance and you don’t see people less excited to watch the newest Marvel release, for example. Apple products popularity has not dropped just because consumers are able to plan a preorder in advance. This notion that you have to create chaos for hype is wrong and not only does it create stress, it puts lives at risk too. A customer waiting in line for hours just to be turned away is going to act a lot less rationally than they would if they were able to preorder an item and guarantee it’s waiting for them.
2. Adapting to Supply Chain Issues
During the beginning of the pandemic, I can understand there was a lot that brands needed to do to adapt to what was going on in the world. Where I get frustrated is that there doesn’t seem to have been much work on making adjustments for our new normal. If you watch a tv show, you expect things to change, characters to grow as people as the seasons move on. If a show is stagnant with no growth, it doesn’t make for an overly interesting concept. I believe the growth and adaptation consumers need has not been there.
I don’t understand the need to make things so complicated and frustrating to those who are more passionate about your brand and products. Imagine if Marvel took the same approach when releasing Spider-Man, No Way Home. No presale tickets, no announcement on the day the movie comes out, you have to guess and show up at the theater and battle for a seat with numerous other fans. It would be frustrating and cause a lot of issues among viewers. If I have tickets, I will show up for the time indicated, if I don’t, I won’t go to the theater and riot for a seat. It doesn’t take away any of the hype around the movie and those who did not get tickets opening night will book for later dates.
If certain items are limited, be honest about it, have a pre-order, and set the expectation. Let your consumer know what colors will be available and when, making it clear to those who want your products what the likelihood is of making that purchase.
3. Release Dates
The great unknown in the sneaker world seems to be around release dates. As I’ve mentioned previously, this is something that could be easily remedied simply by sharing this information on your site and on social media. I understand that exact dates may not be known when the shoe is first announced, but eventually this information is known and could be shared. It’s really annoying when you continually check for updates just to see it on a third party reseller with no word from the actual brand. What happened there? How were so many resellers able to get a shoe while the brand was silent on any details?
I often have to find out about release dates from blogs, while the brands themselves keep release information under lock and key. There’s a lack of transparency around these releases. Even when dates are set, it’s not uncommon to go on to the app or website at the moment of release to see no information, sold out products, or limited sizing. I find it hard to believe if I’m on the site at the moment of sale that everything, all sizes, are completely sold out in one minute. There is likely some behind the scene sales or presales going on that the average consumer is not privy to. If that is the case, fine, but be honest about what your plan is so I as the consumer can set expectations. If you are going to release certain colorways, provide the information consumers need.
In summary, to make adjustments to transparency in release communication and establishing presales, would go a long way to make this experience better for consumers and lead to less chaos, frustration, and in the most unfortunate situations, violence. To cap it all off, what is incredibly frustrating is that a lot of influencers and athletes these brands are sponsoring are people of color. They ask black athletes to wear their shoes and promote their brand while continuing to operate in a way that affects the communities these athletes are from. While I don’t for one second want to take away blame from those who act out violently over a shoe, I have to wonder why brands can’t do their part to address the issues that stem from their inefficient and inequitable product releases. Adidas says ‘Impossible is Nothing’, Nike says ‘Just Do It’, Under Armour says ‘The Only Way Through is Through’, Puma says ‘Forever Faster’, yet I struggle to see them living up their slogans when it comes to improving the issues around their own product releases.