Adidas Goes to the Wall

Virtual shoe wall aims to bridge online and in-store shopping experience

The Adidas Virtual Footwear Wall renders products in 3-D and allows shoppers to digitally interact with the shoes.

It’s an intriguing scenario: This summer, a weekend soccer player will enter Adidas’ store in downtown Manhattan to buy a pair of top-of-the-line F50s. He will turn down offers of help and saunter to the right of checkout where four 46-in. touch-screens are stacked. He will tap the play button on a video showing two pros putting the $270 shoe through its paces on the pitch and then removing the digital MiCoach tracking device in the sole and plugging it into a computer to review their performances. He likes what he sees, so he hits the “Men” button to display all the colors and styles of F50s the store has in stock. He sees one he likes and taps it. A large version appears and he runs his finger across the screen to view it from all angles. Grabbing a size 10 fitting boot from the rack to his left, he tries it on and it fits like a glove. Only then does he ask an associate for help to retrieve the pair he wants to buy from the stockroom.

The customer will complete his purchase within 10 minutes of entering the store and leave without ever having wandered more than 15 ft. from the checkout counter. The new age of retail automation has arrived on Lower Broadway.

An Adidas store in Oxford, England, increased sales of F50s five-fold when it was the first to test the technology described above (referred to as the Adidas Virtual Footwear Wall) early this year, and Adidas promptly shipped its technological wizardry to New York in March to try it out on U.S. consumers. Chain-wide rollout to all 2,300 company-owned stores appears to be a foregone conclusion.

“All locations would be the ultimate goal,” said Chris Aubrey, Adidas’ Germany-based director of commercial experience. “We will continue to test in 2012, but next year we will begin to roll it out. We are even looking at installing walls in the stores of our wholesale customers as well.” (Adidas has some 5,000 franchisees worldwide.) 

The Adidas Wall provides a brick-and-mortar interface for today’s plugged-in digital shopper, who is comfortable researching and making purchases online or via mobile device. That was the initial intent, but at the same time, the wall increases staff efficiency. 

“We built it first from the shopper’s point of view, giving them a way to take more control over their shopping journey,” Aubrey explained. “The added bonus is that we can ensure that associates will spend more time on the floor offering customer service rather than looking for things in the stockroom.”

To accommodate the expectations of people who shop with smartphone in hand, downloading product data and reviews, Adidas made a bold decision to give up total control of brand messaging in-store by allowing live Tweets about products to flash atop the Wall. 

“We know that the consumer can get that information for themselves right there if they want, so we decided we would rather be honest and transparent instead of just promoting positive comments,” Aubrey said. 

While the F50 will remain the star of the wall for the near future, Adidas has bigger plans for its automated sales platform, which was created with technology from Intel’s Intelligence Systems Group in Chandler, Ariz. 

“The next update will contain at least 60 different models of shoe,” said Aubrey, who noted that 3-D visual modeling of all styles coming off the production line has become standard practice. “Right now, the max amount of shoes you can display is 24, but that is limited only by the capacity of the hard disks and computer-processing power. The plan is for the wall to act like an endless aisle concept when it is complete and rolled out.”

Adidas ultimately hopes to use the Wall to merge its e-commerce operations — where more than 2,000 shoe models are available — with store operations (stores offer only 300 models). If, for instance, a customer likes a style but not the available colors, an associate can direct her to the wall where she can explore the entire inventory. 

“The challenge,” Aubrey observed, “is for retail stores to remain relevant in the era of online shopping.”

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