7 February 2018 Issue 21 Feb/Mar

Convincing brands to sell customised kicks

Big brands such as Nike are increasingly offering custom-made products. Shoesie wants startups to do the same – but can it convince brands that the numbers stack up?

Tech startup Shoesie wants to enable footwear brands of any size to offer their customers personalised products.

Its platform lets brands plug in every single fabric and colour from their inventories. When a customer has chosen a combination they like, materials are picked and manufactured into a pair of shoes.

If Shoesie can sign up enough brands, it could democratise a market Nike has monopolised for the best part of two decades.

Of all Nike shoes purchased online, around 35% are personalised under its Nike ID brand. Some 15% of shoppers in the UK have purchased customisable footwear, according to Deloitte.

Selling personalisation

It sounds promising, but Shoesie has found it tough to convince brands to add personalisation to their offerings.

The perceived complexity, along with the small trickle of income from selling one-of-a-kinds (compared to the cash injections bulk orders provide) partly explains why some brands haven’t been tempted.

The customer comes first

When pitching the platform to brands, Simeon Bird, Shoesie’s co-founder, says he was initially emphasising the benefits of customisation from the buyer’s point of view.

‘As much as this is a retail opportunity, it’s a marketing opportunity for brands to connect to customers on a deeper level than just clicking “purchase” on ready-made products,’ he adds.

Marketing teams were keen on the concept but, according to Bird, their colleagues in strategy or e-commerce were resistant. ‘For them, it’s all about numbers at the end of the day,’ he says.

New tactics

Shoesie soon realised it would need to change the way it presented the service.

Now, instead of pitching the service as a brand engagement tool, Bird communicates the tangible benefits brands themselves can expect.

‘You can improve your average order value, you can get customers to visit your website more often, and [they’ll] stay on it for longer,’ he says.

Shoesie can also collect data on how customers are using the platform, which could sway brands keen to get better at forecasting. ‘We can see popular colour combinations for that specific brand, and across the industry as well,’ he says.

Bird is also quick to point out that products don’t need to be 100% customisable – it’s just about providing enough options so customers feel like they’re creating something unique.

Launch client

In October 2017, Shoesie went live with its first client, ethical footwear brand Po-Zu.

Having a solid example of a happy customer using the platform has helped with its sales pitch. Since the launch, Shoesie has lined up meetings with Dr Martens and one of the UK’s largest footwear retailers to discuss whether they can use the platform.

Bird also says that the same day as launching with Po-Zu, Shoesie was approached by another personalised shoe brand, Shoes of Prey, about a partnership.

Shoesie now has access to Shoes of Prey’s manufacturing facility in China. The deal appears to be a win-win for both companies: Shoesie can now take care of manufacturing for smaller brands, charging £1,100 to set up a new product, with deliveries fulfilled in eight days, while Shoes of Prey can use Shoesie’s tech for its own range.

Bird hopes speed will give its platform an edge over bigger brands dabbling in personalisation. ‘Nike takes as much as three months to get a product online,’ he points out.