- I visited Nike and Adidas’ flagship stores in New York City.
- Nike’s displays were confusing, and the store didn’t do enough to highlight the striking visuals that have always been one of the company’s strengths.
- Adidas’ design instincts were much better, and it found a number of smart ways to allow customers to interact with products.
The rivalry between Nike and Adidas has been one of the top stories in athletic apparel for decades. While Nike has often landed bigger athletes for sponsorships, Adidas has surged in recent years by anticipating and responding to customer demand with stylish, versatile products that make sense for exercise or everyday use.
Now, Nike is rethinking its retail approach in an attempt to keep Adidas from overtaking it as the top-selling athletic apparel company in the United States.
I visited the New York City flagship stores for Nike and Adidas on a Thursday afternoon, and I realised why Nike might be in trouble.
Here’s what I saw.
I started at Niketown on 5th Avenue. While Niketown is currently Nike’s flagship store in New York City, it’s set to close this spring before relocating a few blocks away in 2019.
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The first floor played to Nike’s strengths.
Nike’s acclaimed print and television ads have long played up its eye for striking visuals. Niketown’s first floor reflected that skill set by highlighting images rather than products, creating excitement before customers even saw any merchandise.
It also promoted an inclusive, culturally relevant message. Nike’s “Equality” ad campaign promotes diversity and tolerance.
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Most of the products shown on the first floor were inspired by that message. The items associated with the “Equality” campaign were some of the best I saw in the store.
Unfortunately, the product displays (and many of the products themselves) on the other floors didn’t quite live up to the hype. The store didn’t have a consistent aesthetic, and many of the displays failed to highlight — and sometimes even detracted from — Nike’s products.
The glossy black background on this display drew attention to its reflective qualities rather than the shoes.
Basketball shoes have long been one of Nike’s signature products, but Nike made some confusing decisions with its basketball shoe displays.
Placing a shoe off-center in the middle of a net-less basketball rim made the shoe line designed for LeBron James – perhaps Nike’s most recognisable American athlete who isn’t retired – look cheap rather than aspirational.
It doesn’t help that many of the shoes themselves were unattractive.
It would be difficult to make the raised, scale-like texture on Nike’s “Lebron 15” shoe line look desirable in any environment. Considering the clout that Air Jordans still have with sneaker enthusiasts, it’s surprising how badly Nike missed the mark with products associated with an athlete who will likely become one of the brand’s most legendary icons.
One of Niketown’s biggest problems is that it doesn’t consistently take advantage of Nike’s best assets.
Throughout its history, Nike has been able to land elite athletes for sponsorships more consistently than its competitors. But Niketown didn’t do enough to highlight those athletes. This Lebron James display was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t reflected in the store’s overall strategy.
Some displays hinted at a strategy the store should have adopted.
This display for soccer shoes did a great job of creating an environment where the products could stand out, while complementing the products with eye-catching visuals of elite athletes. If Nike had applied this formula throughout the store, it may have been more compelling.
But more often than not, Nike wasted opportunities to show off the qualities that make it stand out from its competitors. I was drawn to the framed, black-and-white photos on each floor, but they were placed near the elevators and away from the merchandise.
I went to Adidas’ Fifth Avenue store next. Adidas opened the 45,000-square-foot store in December 2016.
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Adidas’ flagship store also had a notable entrance. The Adidas store was designed with sports stadiums in mind, and the entrance was meant to look like the tunnel some athletes walk through before games. Like Niketown, the Adidas’ store’s entrance emphasised design over product.
The Adidas store had a more subtle and effective strategy for showing off its products, often placing shoes against walls with muted colours and using small, rectangular posters to separate the shoes into smaller groups that were easy to visually process.
The products were better, too. Adidas has gained an edge on competitors with its “lifestyle running” shoes, which are more stylish than the typical running shoe and are often worn as fashion accessories.
No matter their purpose, Adidas’ shoes looked way better than anything Nike had to offer, often using sleeker designs, more sensible colour schemes, and versatile textures that made sense for exercise and everyday use.
The store also highlighted the customer’s ability to customise its products.
The second floor had a section that appealed to more creative types. Situated in the middle of the floor, the custom-design display wasn’t intrusive, but it was obvious enough to draw the attention of a customer who might be interested in designing a custom shoe.
Customers could then make and order their own designs in the store.
The computers weren’t quite as intuitive as they could be – they didn’t indicate that users were supposed to scroll down at the beginning instead of clicking on the buttons at the bottom of the screen – but they were a smart way to engage customers who liked the brand’s designs but weren’t entirely satisfied with the colour combinations available in the store.
The store also emphasised interactivity in creative ways.
Rather than only using a treadmill for customers who wanted to try out shoes (there was a treadmill available on the bottom floor), the second floor had a test track where customers could use clip-on sensors that would analyse their strides and allow salespeople to give them customised recommendations. The track was a smart way to encourage customers to reach out to salespeople, rather than the other way around.
The store allowed customers test out products in non-running contexts as well. On the bottom floor, a testing area with soccer balls and other sports equipment let customers get a sense of how products might work in sport-specific contexts.
Between the first and second floors, there were two sets of bleachers where people could watch sports while their friends, family members, and significant others shopped.
By integrating the bleachers into the staircase, they gave non-shoppers a place to hang out without getting in the way of customers.
Overall, Adidas was the clear winner.
I’ve preferred Nike to Adidas products for most of my life, so I was surprised by how impressed I was by the Adidas store. While it wasn’t quite as flashy as its entrance indicated, it excelled where it mattered: in smart, carefully designed product displays and creative spaces where customers could test products in a wide variety of contexts. Add in the fact that Adidas has a significant edge on Nike in product design, and the result wasn’t close.
Nike may still be the top-selling apparel brand in the US, but if it doesn’t step up, Adidas could overtake it in the coming decades.
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