Showing the brand growing more comfortable across online platforms, Nike has formed a strategic relationship to sell the Nike brand as well as Converse through Walmart’s Jet.com website. The move follows Nike’s move last year to start selling product directly on Amazon.com.
The partnership is part of a makeover of Jet.com that includes elevating assortments by adding brands such as Nike as well as local brands to better connect with Jet.com’s target audience of affluent, urban millennials.
Jet.com wrote in a release, “Through a highly curated assortment of local and leading brands, along with select strategic partnerships, consumers will have access to and choice over the brands they want and need. Come October, Jet and Nike will be entering into a strategic partnership to create a curated and consumer centric experience, offering consumers Nike and Converse products in a fully branded experience. The initial assortment will include hundreds of products across apparel, footwear and accessories for men, women and children, including essentials for running, training and sportswear.”
Nike is currently available on the site only from third-party sellers from Jet.com’s online marketplace.
Asked about Nike’s expanded partnership on CNBC, Simon Belsham, president of Jet.com and Walmart e-commerce SVP, said, “What I like about Nike – and it’s similar to the partnership we have with Apple we announced in the summer – is we have a shared view about what retail’s about and the future of retailing. For me, retail is about creating inspiration and discovery for customers, not just transactions. Nike shares that in terms of how they represent their brand. Whether you want these Nike products for yoga, basketball or fashion, you need a different experience. And our site will reflect that experience. We also believe that retail can take a different approach. It’s not just providing access to everything. It’s about providing customers choice and doing what retailers have traditionally done a really good job of – curated selections, trusted service. And together with those partnerships, that’s what we’re bringing together.”
Walmart purchased Jet.com in 2016 for $3.3 billion. The online retailer had traditionally offered a wide variety of basic grocery and household items at savings. The platform stood out not only for its purple boxes but unique discount policy that rewards additional discounts to customers who buy more items, opt out of free returns, or pay by debit card (instead of credit cards). Walmart bought the business to reach younger, more urban consumers that typically eschewed Walmart because of its down-market reputation.
Recently, however, Jet.com’s website traffic has fallen off as it has struggled to differentiate itself from a host of e-commerce rivals, starting with Amazon.com. The site’s relaunch positions Jet.com even more narrowly towards the city dwellers who make up the bulk of its shoppers.
Belsham told CNBC, “We see an opportunity to create something different for customers in the city. It’s really focused on a great experience. And it’s a very differentiated experience. If you’re buying groceries, it’s very different than if you’re buying home and fashion. And what we’re launching today is something that really brings all that together for customers in a very different way.”
Toward that end, one focus will be tailored shopping experiences. Recognizing that shopping behaviors and needs shift across categories, Jet.com will be offering intentionally designed experiences that will flex to accommodate shopping preferences. For athletic brands such as Nike, this will entail a higher level of engagement to interests. Belsham told Business Insider it’s about “really inspiring people about fitness or the sport they want to play” and “not just a search engine to find specific products.”
The revamp aims to provide more personalization, with item recommendations and services that are relevant to the city-dwelling customer’s life. Images and messages will be tailored to the online browser’s location. For example, New York residents may see a skyline as they browse and the skyline may show the sun rising or setting depending on the time of day.
Products will also be tailored to the location, including an emphasis on local brands as well as national brands in a way that speaks to local tastes. In New York City where Jet.com is close to completing a fulfillment center in the Bronx, three-hour delivery will be offered.
For Nike, the move to start selling on Jet.com comes after the company earned headlines in June 2017 when it said it would test selling products directly on Amazon.com, initially with a small assortment of its footwear and apparel. Nike’s test arrived shortly after it came out that Adidas would take part in Amazon Prime Wardrobe, a perk Amazon had recently debuted to let Amazon Prime members order, try on, and return clothes for free.
The move to Amazon surprised some because Nike had built a reputation for diligently protecting its brand and being quick to stop doing business with retailers that it considers too promotional. In the last decade, Nike had sparred with Foot Locker, in part, over pricing, and also has periodically pulled its product from Sears’ shelves due to price-integrity concerns.
In selling directly to Amazon, Nike is said to have gained control of messaging as well as its ability to police unauthorized third-party sellers on Amazon.com that in the past led to counterfeiting activity and MAP violations. But having products on Amazon’s transaction-driven website risked losing some brand cachet. However, many observers felt Nike couldn’t afford to pass up on the sales boost from selling on Amazon, particularly with Sports Authority’s exit from the marketplace, and adjustments were required anyway with the growing appeal and volume of online selling.
Indeed, by December 2017, Nike announced it would be expanding its Amazon partnership. Nike CEO Mark Parker said on a conference call with analysts at the time, “We’ve seen good sell-through on the limited selection of products that we have offered.”
Asked about how Nike’s partnership with Amazon was going on its fourth-quarter conference call on June 28, Parker said, “I would just say that our partnership is progressing well. We remain focused on elevating consumer experience on the platform.”
He further said lessons learned with Amazon are being applied to its expanding partnerships with other sites, mentioning Alibaba’s Tmall platform in China. Said Parker, “Tmall has been an exceptional partner for us. I think the main focus is on elevating the brand profile and experience on the platform and that’ll continue to be the focus as we explore next steps with Amazon and I’ll call out our other digital platform partners too, Zalando and ASOS and some of the others I mentioned earlier that this is a critical part of our digital opportunity going forward beyond what we’re doing direct.”
Many will question whether Jet.com’s tailored experience and personalized recommendations meet the criteria for “differentiated” retail experiences Nike plans to grow with. As part of its Analyst Day last November, Nike said it planned to narrow the focus of its wholesale business to 40 “strategic partners,” offering “differentiated” shopping experiences. Nike had 30,000 wholesale partners globally at the time. By 2022, Nike’s related goal was to have 80 percent of Nike’s product selling through “differentiated” retail experiences – including Nike-owned stores and websites – versus 40 percent estimated last fall.
Nike last partnered with Walmart in May 2005 when Starter shoes engineered by Nike began appearing on the shelves of Walmart. Nike acquired the Starter brand the prior year with plans to explore growth in lower-channels. By November 2007, Nike sold Starter to Iconix Brand Group and exited mass selling.
Nike’s shares closed Thursday at $83.47, up 46 cents
The move appeared to unsettle investors in Foot Locker, which saw shares slide $1.32, or 2.7 percent, on Thursday to $47.03.
In a note on Foot Locker, Jonathan Komp at Baird Equity Research said that while other athletic brands already appear to be widely available on Jet.com, including Adidas, the negative reaction among core traditional Nike retailers in the morning, including Foot Locker, “likely reflects ongoing longer-term fears about rising competition from online retailers (both a sales and margin risk) and direct from the brands even though FL has consistently defended its role as one of NKE’s key global differentiated retail partners.”
Nike made up 67 percent of Foot Locker’s sales in the retailer’s last fiscal year.
Komp also believes investor’s concerns over heightened competition for Foot Locker may be coming from JD Sports’ comments earlier this week that it was rolling out store remodels of Finish Line ahead of holiday. JD Sports, the leading sneaker retailer in the U.K., acquired Finish Line in late June.
While releasing results for the first half, JD Sports revealed that it’s making efforts to improve retail and visual merchandising at Finish Line’s stores. But the bigger news was its plan to forge ahead with testing a multi-channel JD retail concept in the U.S. ahead of holiday, targeting key locations.
Komp said his team has noticed “an uptick” in remodeling activity in JD Sports remodel construction applications, including in Schaumburg, IL; Columbus OH; Greenwood IN; Culver City CA; and Mall of America. He further noted that prior local media reports had suggested JD could test the conversion of nearly 10 percent of Finish Line’s store base to the JD concept over the next 10 months and potentially more as well as a website.
Wrote Komp “We see JD’s strategy as somewhat of a threat to FL, if converting a significant portion of the Finish Line stores to higher-volume JD stores proves successful, though the U.S. consumer reception is a key unknown, and there may be offsetting benefits to FL if JD is able to reduce Finish Line’s historical reliance on discounting.”
Komp, who has a “Neutral” rating on Foot Locker, wrote that both the Nike/Jet.com partnership and JD Sports’ U.S. expansion discussion “may be greater-than-reality.” But he also noted that “competition remains a key factor weighing on ongoing sentiment/valuation for FL, further elevating the need to show improved operating fundamentals.”
Other major sellers of Nike product were also off slightly on Thursday. Dick’s Sporting Goods closed at $37.18, down 81 cents; Hibbett was down 60 cents to $19.75; and Big 5 Sporting Goods eased 20 cents to $5.20.
Photo courtesy Jet.com