Has Sneaker Hype Gone Too Far?
We look into just why it’s so hard to buy the sneakers we like today.
It may seem odd coming from us — we’re HYPEBEAST after all — but, with the triple effect of an aggressive and unpleasant convention, Nike’s SNKRS app crashing under the weight of “THE TEN” release, and Sean Wotherspoon’s Air Max 97/1 release being cancelled, there’s clearly something wrong with the world of sneakers at the moment. And a lot of that comes down to one question: why is it so hard to buy a pair?
The shift towards raffles was originally designed for altruistic purposes. Back in 2015, Nike debuted NikePlus – purposely designed to combat the rise of bots. Now, two years later, launch issues are still regularly causing problems. This time around it started with the brand offering an online draw, which was then cancelled, with Nike releasing a statement referring to technical issues “caused by overwhelming demand,” announcing its plans to instead launch its shoes via the SNKRS app. But, despite its positives, the app crashed under the weight of demand, leaving Nike to issue yet another statement – citing the “unprecedented level of demand,” which saw the shoes sell out in minutes.
We spoke to Paul Ruffles, creative and brand strategist, who explained that the main issue here is simple and fixable. “The demand created by all the marketing hugely outweighed the number of pairs created. Nike could’ve produced 1000’s of more pairs and no one would’ve been the wiser and more consumers would have been happy.”
When it comes to hype, it’s hard to ignore our own role as a site. HYPEBEAST has produced countless articles about the drop dating back to a time when it was nothing but a rumor. We undoubtedly hold some blame in creating the sheer amount of interest in the project: after all, it was this writer who wrote a piece praising the collection while using the dreaded and increasingly hollow phrase “for the culture” in the headline. But, while HYPEBEAST may have had a hand in helping raise interest, of course, we have no say in deciding how many pairs a brand should stock of its new shoe.
It’s usually good strategy to underdeliver on the amount of products to ensure it selling out. However, when a brand tips the scales so far on demand that it crashes two of its main methods of sale in quick succession, it’s worth asking how or why some of the world’s biggest and smartest companies are failing to anticipate just how many people want to buy their shoes.
“I don’t think there’s a real/true understanding or appreciation of the level of demand being created around some shoes and the impact on the consumers and retailers that are selling them,” says Ruffles. “A lot of the brands have become too distant or separated from actually happens — constant queueing, aggressive queues, customer dissatisfaction as not a single website (from what I have seen) can successfully handle the demand.” A larger issue for brands is that their distance from the ground means that they’re disconnected from the consumer experience. “Just watching online or reading a wrap-up report just doesn’t cut it — especially internal ones as they’ll never talk negatively about what’s happening,” he says.
And this lack of consideration for the end consumer is leading them to reach a point of dissatisfaction: moreso than ever before, customers are annoyed by the constant flood of products that they know will be extremely difficult for them to get their hands on. “It’s not fun buying shoes anymore” says Ruffles. “This is an actual quote from a conversation I had last week with someone I respect: ‘buying sneakers currently is like dragging your balls over a street of broken glass and then dipping them in vinegar’, he then went on to say, ‘sometimes I just want one pair to actually wear, sort of feels weird saying that, such is the game today.’” Judging from admittedly unscientific places such as our comment section, this is often the prevailing sentiment across a wide swathe of the community. The question now, is how do you make a limited launch that still leaves the majority of people satisfied?
“There’s the billion dollar question now that we’ve created this beast,” says Ruffles. “I don’t think there’s one solution and definitely not one that’s quick. We could all start by talking more about a wider variety of shoes and not just what is deemed as “hot”. More Innovation and the new products from this put through a lifestyle filter to make them more accessible and desirable.”
“[They] could’ve produced 1000’s of more pairs, no one would’ve been the wiser and more consumers would have been happy.”
A wider issue here is that, due to the customer being trained that the sole success of a product is measured by its selling out, it becomes secondary if people walk into a store and actually see it on the shelves. For Ruffles, brands need to stop “writing off products that don’t immediately sell out — if you believe in them, then stick by them and make them even better and tell their story better” and start “Understanding and appreciating the sheer global demand and volume you are creating and make enough products to satisfy the majority of that demand — I’m not saying stop making limited pairs but there is a misunderstanding as to what limited means now. It’s not going to be a quick change as we’ve built up this self-perpetuating, aggressive and quite shallow ‘culture.’”
Another issue at stake here is whether these limited-edition releases are leading to a trickle down effect for the brand’s mainline. The idea being that if you can’t get your hands on a pair of the rare editions, then a customer will go for a more widely available version. This has rung true for a while now as a system, but even that appears to be undergoing a shift. “This is due to the sheer volume of launches,” says Ruffles. “Why buy the “regular” inline version when there are 30 other launches that week (and every week) which can be bought and we’re constantly being told must be bought as it’s “important for the culture”. This is not a sustainable model, the ultimate ending to this is brands not having a future inline [range] but just releasing product each week and telling the retailer what they’re getting – we’re not actually that far away from this.”
“It’s not fun buying shoes anymore”
So what needs to be done to ensure that consumers can help create future classics? Ruffles talks about how the environment around buying sneakers has changed. “New models used to be gradually fed into the market and allowed to percolate and digest with stores and consumers — why do you think retro models are so beloved? because people were allowed to build emotional attachments to them, now it’s purely transactional — they are rammed into the marketplace with millions of dollars and assets behind them. I don’t believe it’s sustainable.”