Known around the world for its dedication to helping athletes, both pro and amateur, continuously assess and improve their performance, Under Armour (Baltimore) recently undertook a similar exercise in self-reflection, completing an 18-plus-month test-and-learn journey to evaluate its brand and how its consumer perceives the shopping experience in its brand houses globally.
Key to the venture was answering the question of whether the brand was effectively communicating its purpose, to make athletes better, in its stores. Explains Josh Denton, Senior VP, Direct to Consumer, Americas, “With the focused performer as our target consumer, we wanted to hone in on those experiences that actually lived up to our promise as well as making sure we stayed true to what a retail experience is. You can shop from anywhere today, and you can get anything delivered to your doorstep, so we have to give the consumer a reason to come in store, engage with the brand and see what Under Armour is bringing to life.”
Creating a seamless experience between online and in store was also top of mind and a logical extension to the continuity the team sought among each of its customer touchpoints. Research showed that U.S. shoppers tend to prefer total engagement with a store associate or none at all, often relying on apps on their mobile device instead. In China, however, the expectation is that the associate serve as a guide to the space, following along to help educate consumers throughout the experience.
“From the start, we asked ourselves, how are we getting people in the store, and then once they’re in there, how are we engaging with them and making them better.” Denton posits. “Our goal is to make it a seamless and continuous experience, by training our teammates how to engage with the athlete consumer. We have about 10,000 global retail teammates who can provide a powerful and personal testimony about how our products make them better; a consumer benefit that can only come from in-store interaction.”
Extensive prototyping and testing of a variety of concepts at its Baltimore-based facility allowed the design and insights teams to evaluate and refine those ideas that resonated most strongly with shoppers, beginning with their first impression of the space at the lease line. Shoppers enter the store via a bright red portal, which, against a newly allocated color palette of black, white and gray, signals to the consumer that they are setting foot in an Under Armour brand house, wherever in the world they might be.
“We want to be the most local of global brands. Our storefront conveys a strong brand presence with the strength in the scale of the wordmark, while our city logo lockup represents this idea of it being ‘my store in my city’ which can offer a photo op moment and become part of the community,” says Sarah Wexler, Director of Global Store Design. “The red portal is our entryway into the space – it frames and centers the product storytelling and is the primary use of red in the store.”
The team also invested time unpacking the fitting room experience – a critical stop on the customer journey with some obvious pain points where purchase decisions are often finalized in store.
“We were really excited to bring an innovative, efficient and helpful fitting room experience to life as a part of our city concept,” says Monika McCommon, Director of Global Store Innovation. “We believe that if our consumers have a great fitting room experience, they are likely to try on more items and find what is best for them. In our initial testing we have seen amazing results. Not only do our consumers love the new technology, but we are gaining insights into our fitting rooms that we have never had before.”
Shoppers at the new concept stores will not find themselves in the unenviable position of peeking from behind a half-open dressing room door to flag down an associate for assistance. Instead, they can reserve a fitting room via digital tablet while still browsing the floor. Once inside their room, with products scanned, they can easily request additional colors and sizes and even explore an expanded assortment including personalized suggestions in privacy.
Another new tool that merges the physical and digital experience is the introduction of a 3-D foot scanner, which is currently being tested and is expected to roll out in 2021 after its introduction in the Baltimore store in December. Its development is the result of research indicating that the majority of consumers are wearing the wrong athletic shoe based on the size of their foot, their arch and how they pronate.
The 3-D foot scanner is an important tool that allows our consumers to see and understand their feet in a way they may not have been able to before. We produce a full 360 degree view of your feet in less than five seconds, and with the help of our teammates, fit you in the right footwear for your sport,” says McCommon. “If you happen to be a runner, which is a high growth category for us, our teammates can pair your shoe to our Map My Run app in store, so you can be fully connected into the Under Armour experience. The new concept connects all of those dots to make sure everything we’re doing at the retail level is making that consumer better.”
Footwear remains a strong category for the brand, and as such, its merchandise presentation serves as a key focal point in the space. Each new concept store, which represent a smaller footprint than previous iterations, features an angled footwear focus wall in the back of the space that’s immediately visible upon entry. Whether a shopper is walking by from the street, or has just entered the store, clear sightlines ensure that their gaze registers first to the back. A large digital screen anchoring the back of the space also helps draw the shopper in.
“When we interviewed shoppers during our focus groups, we asked them what they remembered from their visit. The most consistent responses we heard were the red portal that you walk through to enter the store and footwear,” recalls Wexler.
As the consumer begins shopping the footwear area, they’ll find that product is presented equally on the men’s and women’s sides of the store and then organized by end use – run, train, basketball, et cetera. Key collections, such as collaborations with actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or basketball star Steph Curry, are highlighted on the floor for additional amplification.
Mannequins throughout the space bring product to life and display the full head-to-toe experience. Inclusive sizing and action poses make them more relatable and approachable to shoppers. A new running series will debut in the first quarter of next year. Overall, the new concept has garnered rave reviews from shoppers and should give the brand a clear direction to continue to grow its in-store experience.
“What has been so exciting about the new design is how our brand has come to life in a way that meets the shopper’s needs and showcases all of our product offerings, whether it be our latest gear or our digital platforms.” concludes Wexler. “The shopability is optimal, the fixturing is simple, the marketing is at eye level and ultimately our products and people are the focus.”