Why Under Armour Says That Customisation is a Smart Retail Approach

April Davis By April Davis | 26 Jul 2018

Under Armour Icon presented a keynote speech at this year’s Online Retailer conference, where the company’s Director of Product Customisation, Lindsay Sturman discussed Under Armour’s approach to customisation.

Kicking off her presentation, Sturman gave the audience an insight into her own personal motivations and what has driven her to create Under Armour Icon’s highly personalised online experience.

“It was September 26, 2015, and I was in a small southeastern US town. I was about 80 miles into a 160-mile bike ride, and that’s when the pins and needles in my feet began,” she said.

It wasn’t immediately clear where she was taking her story, but as she continued to share her first triathlon experience and the strength of will she had to draw on to be able to cross the finish line, the meaning of her personal anecdote became more apparent. She was the athlete in the equation, which to Under Armour, is the target customer.

As she neared the finish line, she had to cross a bridge, and as she told the audience this, she pointed down to her feet and said this is the bridge pictured here, on my shoes. She had used her own businesses customisation tools to create a one-of-a-kind pair of shoes that were meaningful to her.

“We are allowing the consumer to build not just a unique, one-of-a-kind shoe, but a meaningful shoe by capturing what motivates and inspires the athlete.”

For Under Armour, the day Sturman completed her triathlon was the day the company’s goals of customisation was born. At launch, the company had three styles, but fast-forward to today, and the business has 11 styles on the platform, with a number of those styles now being the most popular products on Under Armour’s website the across apparel and footwear categories.

“Under Armour knew that we needed to offer customisation. There was really four key reasons for that,” she said.

Firstly, she claims it was a great way to connect with the consumer and allow them “to have fun while engaging with the brand”. Secondly, the company recognised that customisation is a trend that isn’t losing momentum.

“Just last year there was a survey on Millennials and Gen Z, and what it discovered is that 74 percent of Millennials and Gen Z want to buy a custom product that is made for them, and 42 percent had already purchased a custom product”, she said.

Customisation is also something that she believes customers have grown to expect, as it’s a strong marker for the modern-day concept of customer experience in new retail, making it a smart retail approach.

Online retailer keynote speech

Under Armour Icon allows consumers to custom design their own footwear.

“It helps deal with the perils of excess inventory and overly marked down prices, as you’re building a higher value product on-demand. A lot of retailers over the last couple of years have found their demise over the excess inventory problem,” she said.

This is something we’ve seen recently, as H&M reported a $4 billion overstock, which the fast fashion retailer claimed was a big factor behind its poor Q2 results.

According to Sturman, customisation combats the issue of over-stock by providing on-demand manufacturing, which Under Armour believes can then be used to not only give consumers the opportunity to play with product colours but also create a custom design process that allows them to draw on their own personal experiences.

“Under Armour felt just looking at colours wasn’t enough… There was a huge opportunity being missed to connect with the hearts and the mind of the athlete. So we set out to revolutionise the customisation space.”

This was reportedly achieved by connecting it back to the company’s brand mission, speaking to the consumer to understand their needs, and drawing on the brand’s own roots in innovation.

“We decided we wanted to go beyond the expected and connect with our brand mission, which is to make all athletes better. And we did this by allowing the athlete to share their story, their motivation and their inspiration for wanting to be an athlete.”

She says that this means consumers have the “emotional armour” to perform their best every time they lace up. In terms of speaking to the customer, Sturman says this was important because athletes’ hopes and dreams are often driven by their identities, so the company wanted to know what that identity was, and how Under Armour could use that to provide the best customisation experience possible.

However, one of the biggest things that Sturman believes makes customisation valuable, is that it opens up multiple contact points where a brand can communicate with a consumer on a more personal level.

“We have an animated GIF that’s sent to a customer in an email that shows them that their icon… the shoe that they designed, is being built in the manufacturing facility. They receive this as soon as it does hit the production line.”

In the four to six week wait period between a customer ordering a personalised product and receiving it, Sturman says having a continued conversation with the customer is vital to ensuring the best possible brand experience.

This, along with premium packaging, a personalised pack list and a quality end product, not only helps with consumer retention and engagement, it also provides a valuable marketing channel that is otherwise untapped.

“A lot of athletes were sharing un-boxing videos when they received the package, they would open it up and share out what they were seeing… They loved the premium touchpoint of every part of the experience.”

This she believes is the key point behind customisation, as customisation “is made for social sharing”.

The design process also opens up a channel for further internal marketing strategies, including the opportunity to run design competitions and share the best designs across social media, which are all avenues the brand has explored in the 13-months since launching its Under Armour Icon customisation tool.

Regardless of any challenges faced during the customisation process, Sturman has three key takeaways:

“There are three key takeaways I want to leave you with. Know your consumer, talk to them and find out what they really want from you. Stay on brand, know what your core brand values are and connect your customisation experience back to it. Finally, you’ve got to adapt the business model. You need to be fast, flexible, and always connected to the customer.”

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