Despite talk that Adidas's North American business is in major trouble, the German sportswear giant just launched Confirmed, a mobile platform that will let sneakerheads skip the long lines at Foot Locker, obscure shoe lotteries, and the occasional disturbance of the peace that come with the sale of a rare pair of shoes. “You hear a lot of chatter and frustration that the existing system is somehow rigged for friends of friends or VIP customers,” said Simon Atkins, the company’s vice president of brand activation. “We saw a real opportunity to change the paradigm with customers.”
Here’s how it works: Consumers who download the app, register with personal details, and allow push notifications from Adidas will get offers to reserve limited-edition shoes and apparel as they become available. Those who respond first are given the right to buy the products at a certain time and place, both in Adidas-owned stores and other retailers. “The primary function for us it to create an equal and uniform experience for all consumers,” Atkins said. “We’re creating a virtual line.”
An app is also a great way to carefully parse who gets the sought-after shoes. If Adidas has 500 pairs of a particular model and wants them going only to urban tastemakers, it can confine its reservation blasts to such places as Antwerp, Belgium, and Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Bushwick neighborhood. This is a way to reward the most loyal customers.
Just wanting the shoes badly and beating everyone else to the store will no longer be enough. On the flip side, digital computer programs—so-called bots—won’t be able to scan the Web for reservations and lock up multiple pairs of shoes ahead of release dates. There are already plenty of apps for sneakerheads that indirectly link customers to coveted shoes. The “buy” button on the Sneaker Crush app, for example, takes browsers to secondary market listings at which sellers are auctioning shoes that have yet to be released.
Cultivating a class of super-customers, meanwhile, cannot come soon enough for Adidas, which posted a 19 percent slump in profit in the first nine months of 2014. Nike generally dominates the special sneaker market. But Adidas has recently been signing celebrities and star designers to bolster its credibility with collectors, including deals with Pharrell Williams and Kanye West.
When it comes to sneaker sales, West makes Michael Jordan look like a slow-footed rookie. In 2009, Nike quickly sold out of 3,000 pairs of Kanye-designed “Air Yeezy.” With a retail price of $215, a pair of the shoes quickly fetched more than $4,000 on EBay and other secondary markets. This week, a new pair of the Yeezys was listed on EBay for $6,000. Atkins at Adidas wouldn’t say exactly when Kanye’s new sneakers will go on sale, but the app was designed in part to manage the wave of demand expected for them: “Unprecedented, I think, is probably the best word.”