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Course Correction: Rebooting Customer Service in Sneaker Releases

By David Blackmon / @Jusdave3_2

Background

Most diehard and long-suffering sneaker collectors with little to no clout, have had to endure a campout situation for some of their most coveted pickups. These campout situations have gone from very local, sociable gatherings born out of the love most enthusiasts have for various sneaker silhouettes and collaborators, to stressful, tiresome, and often panicked release situations. Current enthusiasts must contend with long lines, grueling weather conditions, line-cutters, back-door “inefficiencies”, as well as a slew of other customer service inequities that hinder or discourage any consumer with a sense of shop-loyalty or refinement from engaging directly with their local sneaker shops.

Picture via  Kicksonfire.com

Picture via Kicksonfire.com

Sneaker shops in turn deal with declining residual sales, all while things such as security costs escalate. Carrying the hottest new sneaker releases is necessary to stay relevant, but doing so can become problematic when it hurts local brand/shop loyalty. Arduous campouts can drive away specific segments of a target audience. Young as well as older adult enthusiasts working traditional 9-5pm jobs can be alienated from sneaker releases as can school-aged adolescents. The lack of a replenishing pool or the premature elimination of sneaker and streetwear fans from a local sneaker shops loyal patronage can almost in itself eliminate the need for a brick and mortar store.

While all these outcomes are certainly not the definitive outcome for all sneaker shops and boutiques who release the latest and greatest in footwear, the mounting struggle of dealing with campouts for sneaker releases has created a new reality for enthusiasts and a new niché for individuals like Mike Dabbs (@thecamp0ut).

Consumer First

Simplifying the first-come, first serve and the raffle process using technology seems like an obvious answer to a problem that has begun to plague streetwear boutiques and sneaker shops since the dawn of the social media age, however Dabbs appears to be the first individual to fully take on the task with a more consumer focused way. “The simplicity of scanning-in in an instant is better than going in to get a raffle ticket, then writing down your name, your phone number, all this (other) information, when you can easily be notified via your phone or an email. I feel like that is the way to simplify the process”, Mike explains. Allowing patrons to come in-store during a preset time and scan in using their ios device or look up an individual if they’re using an android device cuts down on the need for excessive security to stabilize and control a restless line of consumers for long periods of time.

His self-titled application, the Camp0ut, hopes to improve on the rapidly declining customer service exhibited by many shops, notably during popular sneaker or apparel launches. For consumers looking to catch the newest release at their local sneaker shop it’s as simple as downloading the app or registering online, finding the shop closest to them, finding the upcoming release they’re interested in and clicking “follow”. As the shop updates on the release format, the consumers following the release are notified via email or phone alert. Should the release be a campout or lineup situation, rather than handing out wristbands or causing a ruckus by trying to randomly assign numbers, the shop can scan in all the consumers and randomly assign numbers and a return time. If it’s a raffle, shops can raffle based on people registered for the event. If a consumer wins a release, they simply can come in store, scan their phone with a salesperson and then receive a notification as to when their shoes will be ready for pickup and checkout.

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This transparency allows stores to treat their consumers with an added layer of respect and efficiency. Consumers then can plan their schedules accordingly and not worry about the inefficiencies and inequities of a barbaric in store release. “Give it back to the consumer”, seems to be Mike’s guiding principle when conceiving his application, “the idea is to simplify the process of waiting”.

Back to the Future

When asked about the future of the application and what comes next Mike spoke optimistically. “I have two stores that are interested in using it (the app)”, he omitted candidly. Presumably one of the shops is All the Right in Queens, New York which announced shortly after that they’d be using the Camp0ut app this weekend for their Air Jordan 1 Shadow release. “There are a couple of implementations within the app already as far as messaging”, he says, “I want it to be primarily something you go to to find out about releases”. Other unflushed out pieces to the app include a bracket-style scoring system within the user profile to track your past numbers at raffles and releases you were able to purchase.

Other future wish list items include coordinating with a funds transferring site like PayPal so that stores can invoice consumers who would like to purchase shoes, streamlining the purchase process for consumers into a pickup scenario. As the app tracks user sizing, coordinating release sizing to consumers is another possible functionality that can be utilized in the future.

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Reseller Friend or Foe?

Addressing resellers and getting sneakers into the hands of the consumers is one of the biggest challenges facing local sneaker shops. “The randomization option is something we hope shops will utilize to address this”, Dabbs opines. Out of the gate randomization isn’t something that gives traditional consumers the utmost confidence in the process, but Mike insists that it’s just the beginning. Rewarding loyal local customers like the way Extra Butter will sometimes do with additional raffle tickets is something he envisions. While not something that’s already built into the app, allowing stores to track customer purchases and creating a system to reward brand/shop loyalty seems to be something Dabbs may not be averse to taking on in the future.

Other reseller deterrents focus on localizing the experience and forcing individuals to put in a “little work”.  Rather than competing in an online/internet based release system where the pool of people can be watered down with people from across the country, local patrons have the best opportunities to win releases as they’re only competing with other local patrons.

What It Doesn’t Do

The Camp0ut app is primarily focused on improving the local consumer/sneaker shop relationship. Streamlining and eliminating the frustrations that neighborhood customers encounter with contemporary in-store releases is something Mike’s app seems to do extremely well, however rural and other “non-local” patrons are still at a loss for now. “For the rural customers without a local sneaker store I can understand (their dilemma), but there’s usually an online release,” Mike says, “and the stores (Nike, Adidas, etc.) should worry about their online release on a broader spectrum”. As the app doesn’t specifically cater to these groups, enthusiasts not near a sneaker shop can hope for the dwindling of similar localized releases by large brands through offerings like SNKRS Pass, if mom and pop shops can utilize applications like the Camp0ut. Until then though, flyover country and smaller markets like much of New England will have to contend with the poor online release offerings of boutiques and major brands.

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Synopsis

Navigating in-person releases has become an exhaustive and laborious process. The numerous shutdowns, line brawls, and sketchy line-compatriots make the prospect of camping out or lining up for a significant period a non-starter for multiple demographics within the sneaker enthusiast spectrum. Coupling that with the jaded approach of the salespeople at multiple sneaker shops can make in-person shopping a daunting and unpleasant experience for even some of the most die-hard local sneakerheads. The Camp0ut application may be the next step in an ever-evolving landscape of sneaker release systems. As online shopping proliferates and brick & mortar stores increasingly continue to become relegated to the fate of cassette tapes and floppy disks, a resurgence of in-store consumerism seems highly unlikely, but the promise of interactions with like-minded enthusiasts and jovial sales associates throughout a seamless and relaxed purchasing experience could be just the revival local sneaker enthusiasts and boutiques have been missing.                                                      

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