Adidas: Taking a lead in the digital age of fashion retail

“We’re all kind of addicted to digital, aren’t we?” Stephanie Peterson, Digital VP – Planning and Activation at Adidas, remarked as she opened the Drapers Digital Festival’s keynote session in May. And using this global digital addiction, fashion businesses wanting to become leaders in the digital age need to be continually asking themselves: How can we tap into the opportunity?

Peterson’s background is very much in the tech and digital space. However, when she joined the sports and lifestyle brand a year ago, the perception in Adidas was that digital was ecommerce, and nothing more – something she found terrifying.  “All of us need to embrace that digital is so much more than that; it’s kind of everything and nothing.  It should be everywhere and should be considered in everything that we’re doing.”

Digital creates direct relationships with customers

Adidas understands it comes from a legacy of B2B; it used to sell to big wholesalers and retailers, who would then sell Adidas’ products via their own channels.  This is still a critical part of its business but, with digital as an enabler, it’s now able to create direct relationships with the consumer, and represent its own brand in a way that it never could before – and it is digital that has presented this opportunity.

“I see digital as a true enabler for us. It’s going to help us get out of our own ways, and stop just talking to the public about shoe, after shoe, after shoe.  We need to be the great friend who is having a two-way conversation with the customer, we need to be the great friend who invites you to coffee sometimes, just to ask how you’re doing.”

The new role of digital at Adidas is all about moving beyond pushing out campaigns around product stories. It’s all about building a robust ecosystem that tells customers’ stories that adds value to their lives – whether that’s helping them to run a faster mile or being more environmentally sustainable.

“As digital professionals, we need to challenge ourselves to ask are we having the right conversations with our consumers, are we talking to the right people about the right things at the right moments? And if the answer isn’t a resounding ‘yes’, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves how we can do things a little bit differently.”

Consumer centricity – become consumer obsessed if you aren’t already

Peterson’s approach is all about thinking consumer over channel.  For instance, Adidas relaunched its membership programme, the Creators Club, one year ago and it now has 12-13 million members worldwide.  The programme moves away from driving one-off sales or simply driving traffic to Adidas’ digital channels, and looks to engage shoppers in long-term two-way relationships.

Recent campaigns have included opening up its Speed Factories to super-fans in their Creators Club, allowing them to take over and submit product and design ideas to Adidas.  Its highly-engaged members then vote on these to shortlist a ‘top ten’, with the winning product concept then produced by the sportswear brand as a limited collection of just 400 trainers.  These are then sent to the member but also used to engage its influencers and partners.

“It’s all about turning your operations on their head and letting the consumers design product they love – and yes this means relinquishing some control. If we don’t give up the creative freedom and engaging again with consumers in new ways they are going to get sick of the old model so we have to take on that risk in order to keep the consumer with us and make them feel like they are also part of the game.”

Adidas runners social media

Story telling – it’s time to go beyond great product

Brand story telling is a key part of Adidas’ digital strategy.  In Peterson’s view it’s all well and good having awesome products and services – whether that’s physical or digital – but today’s consumers want more content, context, inspiration and connections with like-minded people.

To engage its ‘sneaker-head’ community, Adidas brought together cross-functional teams to explore how it can show up better and not just sell the product, but tease the product and inform, educate and entertain its consumers in an ongoing way.  “We needed to understand that our consumers don’t come to our digital channels to buy every time – especially when a pair of sneakers can costs $400 plus – and that’s okay.  What we do want them to do is get used to using our digital channels and touchpoints as a constant source of information and engagement on regular life, just in the same way they might use Facebook or Instagram.

Story telling also has to weave in and out of owned channels and social channels so that shoppers can seamlessly consume the stories the brand is putting out, creating a more fluid journey.  “We need to meet people where they are and they only really come to us when there is a value add; if part of our story can be told just as well on Instagram, let’s meet people where they are.”

Sustainability x tapping into tribes

No matter the size of your fashion business, Peterson contends, we all have an impact on people and the environment.  For her it would be remiss if Adidas wasn’t doing things that are good for its brand and consumers, but also for the world at large.

Adidas Runners is the latest sustainability activation from Adidas, which will be taking place for the third time in the UK in June.

One of the key measures that Adidas has committed to is to try and help clean up the oceans and reduce the use of virgin plastic, with commitments in its production and supply chain.  Adidas Runners is a consumer-facing digital engagement initiative to encourage running communities to get out and run together and ‘sweat for the oceans’.  Adidas will then match runners fundraising efforts to give financial aid to ocean schools around the world to help clean up the oceans but also educate children living near the ocean around what they can do to help.

In much the same way as Reebok’s Midnight Runners initiative, which sees organised exercise classes taking place in London after dark, or Nike’s Running Club app, which encourages its community to run their fastest mile, this strategy enables Adidas to tap into tribes – whether its fitness groups or environmentally-engaged communities and runners – giving them a way to reinforce the brand as a part of their lifestyle choices.

There’s no denying the impact of digital

Summarising, Peterson suggested that there’s no denying just how much digital has influenced our lives as professionals and consumers:

“The world has absolutely changed and we would be irresponsible if we didn’t dig into our organisation, and look into what we’re investing into, and reconsider what talent we are hiring and how we’re showing up there for the consumers, because what was working for us 5-10 years ago certainly isn’t working for us today and it won’t be working for us 20 years from now.”


Stephanie Peterson, VP Digital – Planning & Activation, Adidas was speaking at Drapers Digital Festival 2019, 15 May in central London.

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