Heidi O’Neill on Creating a Seamless Digital/Retail Experience – WWD

Heidi O’Neill is unflappable.

She was elevated to her present place, president of client and market, proper because the pandemic hit. And contemplating that she oversees the corporate’s fleet of greater than 8,000 owned and companion retail shops globally — all of which have been shuttered because the virus raged around the globe — it pressured her, and Nike, to shortly pivot.

“I started my official new role on March 11, two weeks earlier than I was supposed to start, as sport went dark, and the world went dark. John [Donahoe, chief executive officer] called me and said, ‘OK, it’s game time.’ That’s a moment I’ll never forget,” O’Neill mentioned.

However O’Neill, who began her profession at Levi Strauss and has been with Nike since 1999, was well-positioned for the problem. Earlier than being promoted to the brand new function, she was president of direct-to-consumer with accountability for the corporate’s digital efforts as effectively, a class she nonetheless oversees.

Even earlier than the pandemic, Nike had been shifting its focus extra to its personal direct channels and away from the standard wholesale mannequin on which it was constructed.

The storefront of Nike in New York, New York on Aug. 26, 2020.

The storefront of Nike in New York, New York on Aug. 26, 2020.
Lexie Moreland/WWD

Since fiscal 12 months 2018, Nike Direct has pushed greater than 75 % of the income development on the Nike model, fueled by the corporate’s digital enterprise, which posted gross sales of greater than $9 billion in fiscal 12 months 2021, almost 35 % of the full quantity. It is a quantity that Nike achieved three years forward of plan. By fiscal 12 months 2025, the corporate has projected, Nike Direct will symbolize about 60 % of the corporate’s general enterprise, led by development in digital. And the Nike Cellular App posted will increase of greater than 50 % within the third quarter of the present fiscal 12 months, overtaking for highest share of digital demand.

So even earlier than the well being disaster, O’Neill was accountable for fueling development within the d-to-c channels.

“I learned something about starting a new role,” she mentioned, “which is that sometimes you can’t take the time to earn it or learn it, you just have to own it from the beginning.”

And personal it she did.

“Certainly, none of us had handled a global pandemic before,” she mentioned. “But we’d been through hard times before, and we just came in ready to make decisions,” she mentioned.

Whereas a few of these choices have been powerful ones — shutting all of the shops and coping with manufacturing and delivery delays — the group instantly “lit up other digital experiences” to switch what was misplaced on the brick-and-mortar stage.

She additionally leaned closely on the corporate’s Shopper Direct Acceleration program, a digitally targeted technique that ramps up investments in e-commerce and know-how to create a seamless expertise throughout all channels.

“We believe we can move the world forward with sport and our Consumer Direct Acceleration is at the core of our growth strategy,” she mentioned. “We’ve been driving this Consumer Direct offense for over five years now. And you know, we can look at our results and know that it’s working.”

Whereas on-line efforts have taken heart stage, O’Neill mentioned the retail shops have additionally needed to change to fulfill the altering client demand.

She mentioned, “The importance of real-life experiences and human connection is part of our mission. And stores are really an important part of that human connection. We’re continuing to push those boundaries of innovation, and as other retailers may be slowing or pausing, we’re as bold as ever.”

Nike’s shops right now are “digitally powered” of their quest to “drive seamless connections with consumers,” she mentioned, singling out the Home of Innovation shops in Shanghai and New York Metropolis as examples. A 3rd one among these retailer ideas opened in Paris throughout the pandemic. These shops boast a variety of experiences and the most important collection of Nike footwear on the planet, in addition to unique and collaborative product.

Nike’s House of Innovation

Nike’s Home of Innovation.
Courtesy of Nike

They usually’re large — the New York unit is six tales and 68,000 sq. ft. It contains customization stations, cell checkouts, an enhanced deal with trend and different bells and whistles akin to The Vault, a members-only expertise that gives merchandise not accessible to everybody, in addition to a sneaker lab.

Along with the Home of Innovation, the model operates Nike Rise, a mid-size format that’s positioned inside the coronary heart of city areas around the globe, and Nike Stay, a smaller format focused primarily to ladies.

O’Neill defined the variations this fashion: “If you think about our Rise concept, what we really want to do is connect with the sport pulse of the city. Cities around the world have connections to different sports at different times of the year, and we want the store to kind of light up and rise for the sports and the connection in that city. And we will be publishing local run routes, workouts, and it’s also a way for the whole family to gear up for all sports.”

The Stay format, she continued, is “built for her” and 50 % of the combo is attire and footwear for ladies. “So it really is her home for sport and fitness.”

O’Neill mentioned Nike doesn’t count on to open numerous Innovation shops however will work as an alternative to “elevate experiences at present large-format shops like London. However our option to scale shall be via our Rise and Stay ideas.

“When you look at all of the impact of these together, we’ve got a fleet of over 8,000 Nike stores globally that serve 3 billion consumers,” she mentioned. “And at last count, we had over 200 million active members. And we’ll continue rolling out stores over the next few years.”

Nike Rise store in Seoul

Nike Rise retailer in Seoul.
Courtesy of Nike

O’Neill mentioned shoppers have traditionally seemed to Nike for greater than merely a “transaction” and the corporate responds to that by curating private experiences for every buyer. “We’ve done this through the years, taking on the role of personal shopper, personal trainer or coach,” she mentioned. “Those are really important ways to connect with our consumers above and beyond our commercial work.”

As an example, Nike specialists can be found each on-line and offline to work with prospects to seek out the precise merchandise, it provides unique product entry and early releases based mostly on private preferences. “And we’re going to continue to invest in personal coaching online and offline, and training,” she mentioned. “Our Nike Training Club is now in 180 countries. And we continue to innovate that content for Nike Run clubs launching at many of our new stores.”

The corporate’s Snkrs app, which skilled greater than 90 % development in demand and almost 80 % development in month-to-month energetic customers throughout fiscal 12 months 2021, is now supplied in additional than 50 markets around the globe, with [South] Korea the following nation to be added.

“Our sneakers app is doing some of the most innovative work around community, connecting sneaker heads and the sneaker community and even some of our neighborhood retail partners through experiences on livestream,” she mentioned. “We have sneaker stylists, we bring in our sneakerhead community to share how they’re rockin’ their favorite new kicks. Those are just some of the ways we’re connected with the community youth sports culture.”

This entire course of is indicative of a brand new mind-set about retailing and client engagement, she mentioned. “In the past, you might have thought about a channel, or even a series of independent channels. But now it’s more about how we create a seamless journey with all these experiences connected — with the member at the center.”

The Nike app, she mentioned, connects shoppers to the shop expertise by permitting buyers to scan seems to be on a model or try remotely. Then there’s purchase on-line, decide up in retailer, ship from retailer and the chance to guide in-store professional periods on-line. “We’re seeing high-double-digit growth for those services in-store,” she mentioned.

Regardless that Nike is de-emphasizing wholesale, O’Neill mentioned the skin retailers with which it really works are an essential a part of the equation. Living proof: Nike lately built-in its membership applications with Dick’s Sporting Items’ so prospects who go to Dick’s may also have entry to unique product or early entry to merchandise simply by being a Nike member.

“We’re able to service that across multiple touchpoints,” she mentioned, “but it’s also an amazing business. Our most engaged members are 12 times more valuable than our least engaged. If you work out with us and buy with us, you’re 60 percent more valuable. So the business return for this kind of ecosystem effect is significant as well. And I think there’s much more potential.”

Nike Live store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

The Nike Stay retailer in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Courtesy of Nike

There’s additionally monumental potential in ladies’s, Nike believes. Though it has had high-profile ambassadors akin to Joan Benoit Samuelson, the primary Olympic Video games feminine marathon champion, in addition to tennis stars Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka on its roster for a very long time, the corporate has doubled down on its efforts to lure ladies to the model aggressively over the previous few years.

Nike is the most important ladies’s athletic model on the planet, O’Neill mentioned, with gross sales in fiscal 2021 of $8.5 billion, and demand for ladies’s product is increasing at double digits year-over-year. The corporate can be embracing much less conventional “sports,” akin to yoga, health, wellness and mindfulness to attach extra carefully with the feminine client. It has launched bra-fit consultants and the launch of maternity in addition to modest swimwear collections, and the Stay retail shops are creating particular content material for ladies, akin to maternity runs for every trimester in addition to postpartum actions.

“I see us taking the baton from the last 50 years and offering a surge of innovation for this business going forward,” she mentioned.

Whether or not it’s ladies’s, digital or bodily retail, O’Neill manages to juggle the calls for of her high-stress job, one thing she attributes to her group and Nike as an entire.

“What’s pulled me through here at Nike is the human connection and the power of this amazing team. We wake up every day thinking we can actually make the world better and that’s kind of wind in the sails.”

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