December 16, 2004, 12:00 AM

How the web could make a big maker of shoes smaller -- and why that’s good

If Nike only made the samples its reps need to show retailer customers, it would still be the fifth largest shoemaker in the world. But virtual sampling could reduce that production and its expense by visualizing design changes online and on the fly.

By its own calculation, if athletic shoemaker Nike made only the samples its sales force needs to show the product to retailer customers and no other shoes for actual sale to consumers, it would still be the fifth largest shoemaker in the world. But that could be about to change. Nike is implementing new imaging technology from Scene7 that will cut the time and cost of producing that many samples by allowing Nike reps to show retailer customers online immediately how a new or redesigned shoe will look.

“We needed tangible pieces to sell, so we would mock up each color of shoe,” says Mark Capalbo, executive producer at Nike.com. “This way we are going to be able to limit the number of samples we make. And if you can reduce that number, you’ve obviously got a cost benefit.”

Capalbo adds that reps will have the ability to graphically make modifications to shoes online in response to customers’ requests and on the fly. “While consumers won’t see that directly, it will help our sampling process,” he says. What consumers do see on e-commerce site Nike.com is new imaging functionality including guided zoom that allows them to call out selected image details for a greatly enlarged product view, part of the same technology platform.

Capalbo adds that Nike.com also used Scene7’s platform in image production, saving manual labor costs and some expense that would be entailed in coloring the images through another process. Over the course of the year, he adds, Nike.com should break even on its investment in the technology in pre-production cost savings alone, apart from any sales lift generated.

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