Why don't sports retailers get what Reebok understands so well?

closeup of sneakers shoes showing shyness or bashful introvert
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It's all about giving customers a reason to visit the store.

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Was intrigued the other day about an impressive technology-fueled marketing move by Adidas brand Reebok, during an experiment in Stockholm. It involved timing consumers on the street by having them run past a Reebok kiosk. If consumers ran fast enough, they would get a pair of $100 ZPump 2.0 sneakers.

The technology used is impressive, essentially pairing a speed cam and tracking technology. From a marketing perspective, it's classic. It telegraphs the question "Are you fast enough to justify using these sneakers?" It generates powerful viral videos and it makes consumers want the product.

Here's the frustration: Why are these efforts always from companies like Adidas? This is exactly the kind of tech move that is needed from sports retailers such as Dick's Sporting Goods, Cabela's, Finish Line, Champs Sports and REI. We can give Sports Authority a pass, given how distracting Chapter 11 filings can be.

But first, let's take a peek into that Stockholm trial. Reebok set a speed of 17 kph (roughly 10.5 mph) as the differentiator for those who get the free sneakers and those who don't. (Although by the looks of the kiosk, it appears that one good crowbar would also work. That might not be strictly legal, though.) How fast is that? In the Olympics, medalist Usain Bolt sprinted at about 23 mph.

It wasn't clear the exact distance consumers had to run at that speed, which makes a big difference. If they cleared the 10.5 mph target, a green light glowed. A red light shunned those who didn't make the cut.

Good stunt for Reebok. But it would be an amazing stunt for a sports retailer. Envision setting up something like this in the parking lot. Why in the parking lot? It attracts a crowd of people and crowds of people attract more people. It associates the store with athletes. Most critically, it is something that works in-store and can't be re-created on the Web. Technically, a GPS speedometer and other elements within a smartphone could replicate the test, but that's not nearly as much fun as doing it with a crowd. (Unless you think you're really slow, in which case you're probably not a target for these sneakers anyway.)

I've argued for years that physical stores need to leverage things that can only be done in-store. If the local Dick's Sporting Goods does little more than provide a good supply of athletic gear, it might as well surrender to Amazon right now. It needs to leverage in-store events (ones that can't happen elsewhere) that puts the attention on the expertise and help from knowledgeable sales associates.

Leverage that knowledge and you're untouchable. My daughter is a college runner and she went into an ultra-local sporting goods store, a place that was privately owned. The associate asked about her sport and started recommending particular brands. He then examined her foot and changed his recommendations. Afterward, he watched her walk in the shoes and made more fine-tuned suggestions. She became a loyal customer. It was the kind of customer service that no e-tailer can touch.

So if a local mom-and-pop store and a shoe brand can do it, why can't national chains? And while thinking about that, remember why I gave Sports Authority a pass. They also never bothered to make in-store experience differentiated and memorable.

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