By Thomas J. Ryan

Imagine walking into a store and having an associate figure out your optimal running shoe by knowing how your foot hits the ground while running, your typical pace and even where you run.

That was one of the examples given earlier this week at the NRF Big Show 2017 by Kurt Kendall, global head of consumer engagement at Under Armour, about how digital data is transforming retailing, engagement with active consumers and Under Armour overall. He spoke at a session entitled “Under Armour: Disruptive Performance through a Single View of the Consumer,” which was sponsored by SAP.

Kendall discussed Under Armour’s digital journey that began with its purchase of MapMyFitness in 2013, followed by the acquisitions of MyFitnessPal and Endomondo. The acquisitions, along with numerous other investments, established Under Armour as the largest online community in the fitness and nutrition space, he said. Currently, Under Armour has approximately 195 million Connected Fitness members across the globe, up from 120 million when Kendall first joined the brand from Kurt Salmon two years ago.

The Connected Fitness platform tracks data across four quadrants: activity (whether you’re moving throughout the day), fitness (actual workouts), nutrition and sleep. In all, the system has data on 3 billion workouts and 30 billion food entries. Combining retail transactions along with this personal data, Under Armour has access to over 10 billion individual interactions a year.

Not surprisingly, much of the session explored how Under Armour is working to capitalize on the data. Said Kendall, “The easiest thing to do is to store data cheap, the hardest thing to do is to use that data to actually drive insights.”

Beyond gaining insights to help outreach, merchandising, product development and other areas, Under Armour is using the data to enhance the consumer experience in line with the brand’s “Make athletes better” mantra. The active consumer, according to Kendall, is generally looking for three objectives — to look better, to feel better and to perform better — “almost always in that order.” With consumers generally not needing to be educated on the benefits of exercise or eating healthier, the goal of communications across its apps is “how do we encourage them to have the right behavior” from a fitness and nutrition standpoint.

Data On The Retail Front
The company is also looking to deepen connections with consumers that should lead to cross-sell opportunities. Kendall noted that Under Armour’s secondary mantra amid its digital transformation has been, “Don’t forget to sell shirts and shoes.”

The example of buying running shoes by tapping customer workout data was an illustration of how Under Armour is working on using data to personalize the in-store experience. One ambition is to have such capabilities in place when Under Armour opens its mega-store in New York City in the former FAO Schwartz building in 2019. But the data holds applications for rapid manufacturing and 3D printing that can also take place in a store. Said Kendall, “Could we print out shoes based on the information we have about how you run, how you walk? That’s the type of in-store experience we think about.”

Marketing can also be personalized based on the data. For instance, an individual in the Connected Fitness platform coming to could see content based on their workout activity. Said Kendall “So it’s not just about what you bought or about third-party cookies that are scraping from your browser. It’s literally about what you actually do, what sport you actually like to do, because what you’re seeing is relevant to that.”

Relatedly, customer engagement can also take advantage of “contextual knowledge” about where and when activities happen. A heat map, for example, can show every run workout in Manhattan and even drill down to information about women between the ages 25 to 40 who are running at the time and also do spin classes. This can help inform which fitness studios Under Armour could partner with or guerilla marketing efforts with the knowledge of the most popular run times and areas. Such data can even help with store placement.

The data can also help outbound communications become much more relevant. In some cases, someone looking to complete a 10K can find a coaching tool on the brand’s running app that will train them, even tracking their sleep to see if they need more recovery time. But Kendall notes that for some people, their primary workout activity is walking their dog. As such, Kendall said it’s important to understand that “not every person’s motivational driver is the same” when messaging. Irrelevant messages can lead users to stop using the app or unsubscribing. Kendall said, “If they’re going to give us that information, we have to really respect it.”

Beyond interactions with consumers, Under Armour is working on bringing such data to areas such as merchandising and product development.

The company has already come out with running shoes that automatically track workout activities and digital integration into the product is expected to expand down the road. Said Kendall, “We don’t think that’s going to slow down. We think it’s going to accelerate and we want to be at the forefront of that.”

What Workouts Are Consumers Actually Doing?
But Kendall also noted how Under Armour’s merchandising team learned about a missed opportunity in sports bras by exploring workout data. Exploring which activities purchasers of a certain sports bra were doing showed that fewer women than expected were using it for the high-impact activities, like running, it was built for and merchandised around. The brand then sought a better balance between functional and design aesthetic in messaging that’s more important for activities like yoga. Said Kendall, “Now on an ongoing basis, that team is not only looking at just what the sales are but how is that product actually being used. And we’re seeing that not just on our merchant team but our product development team in being able to incorporate that into the process.”

On a broader scale, Kendall talked about how Under Armour is working to embed data into decision making across the company’s culture through a concept introduced last year called “math house.” Data is expected to increasingly play a larger role in driving all aspects of Under Armour’s business.

“So instead of just saying, ‘Here’s my guess based on my experience,’ we can actually go look at that consumer information and be able to inform that,” said Kendall. “It really starts to get into how the company operates and the type of people that we have and that’s part of what we’ve been exploring as well.”

Photo courtesy Under Armour