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“Nike Broke Up With Retailers. Now It’s Trying to Win Them Back”

This recent Wall Street Journal article, “Nike Broke Up With Retailers. Now It’s Trying to Win Them Back,” (June 10, 2023, non-subscribers may be able to access this gifted article) explores Nike’s strategy to strengthen its relationships with traditional retailers after a period of focusing on direct-to-consumer sales. The article highlights Nike’s shift towards a more balanced approach, acknowledging the importance of both online and physical retail channels.

I find it particularly interesting because the latest edition of Essentials of Marketing describes Nike’s (and other brands that traditionally relied heavily on retail for distribution, see Levis for example) use of direct-to-consumer channels. This article provides some insight on the downsides of that move.

Nike initially redirected its focus towards direct sales through its website and Nike-owned stores, seeking to bypass traditional retailers (in 2022, 42% of Nike sales were direct-to-consumer). However, this strategy resulted in strained relationships with key partners, such as Foot Locker and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Now, Nike is working to rebuild these relationships by offering exclusive products and experiences that can only be found in retail stores.

The article also discusses Nike’s exploration of new retail formats, such as “Nike Unite” shops, which are smaller stores that cater to local communities and offer customized products. This approach aims to create a unique shopping experience and foster a sense of community engagement.

The following class discussion questions (suggested answers below each) might be done in assigned for discussion board posts, in-class small groups, paired partners, or simply a full class discussion.

  1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of Nike’s direct-to-consumer strategy versus traditional retail partnerships?

Instruct students to consider factors such as control over the customer experience, brand visibility, and profitability. Afterward, reconvene as a class to share and compare their findings.

Advantages of Nike’s direct-to-consumer strategy: Greater control over the customer experience, including branding, product presentation, and customer service. Higher profit margins by eliminating the middleman and reducing distribution costs. Enhanced access to customer data and insights, enabling personalized marketing and product development.

Disadvantages of Nike’s direct-to-consumer strategy: Limited reach compared to traditional retail partnerships, potentially resulting in reduced market penetration. Lack of physical retail presence may hinder customer touchpoints and opportunities for in-person experiences. Strained relationships with key retailers can impact brand visibility and access to a wider customer base.

  1. How might the strained relationships with traditional retailers impact Nike’s overall brand image and customer perception?

Nudge students to consider how partnerships with established retailers can influence brand credibility, reach, and customer trust. Encourage them to provide examples from the article and their own insights.

The strained relationships with traditional retailers could negatively impact Nike’s overall brand image and customer perception by: Potentially leading to reduced availability of Nike products in popular retail locations, frustrating customers who prefer to shop in-store. Creating negative associations with Nike if key retailers publicly criticize or distance themselves from the brand. Diminishing trust among customers who rely on the credibility and reputation of established retail partners to validate a brand’s quality and legitimacy.

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