At this point, the words "limited edition" at your favorite brands mean one of two things: You'll either wait in line for hours, nervously praying the product you want hasn't been snatched up before you get in the door, or wait online for hours, pressing the reload button again and again until your finger goes numb. Neither situation is fun, and both, even the latter digital experience, feel outdated.
Nike has come up with a smart solution. Since August 2016, the company has operated a digital team called s23NYC out of a New York studio full of custom painted kicks, lights that look like sneaker laces, and lockers with employee names on them. s23NYC's lofty goal: Reinvent the way sneakerheads get their hands on limited edition drops through Nike's SNKRS app.
The first of these updated shopping experience rolled out to the app this past January, and was centered around the release of a cult favorite — the Royal Foamposite. In order to unlock the shoe for purchase, you needed to swipe your finger across the image, digitally "drawing" on it. There was no announcement from Nike, but word quickly spread online as people discovered the Easter egg.
This was novel, but it was only the beginning. The more exciting experiences, which have appeared over the past couple of months, have centered around the creation of an augmented reality camera in the app paired with geolocation. These allow Nike to turn any space — a park, a street corner, you name it — into a makeshift store, minus the sales associates and physical product.
When there's a limited edition release, users will find out about a "SNKRS stash" on the app. Then, they go on a scavenger hunt to find the stash's location at the specified time. When they get to the spot and open the app to the AR camera, it will recognize they're there and pull up a 3D image of the sneaker on the screen in front of them, from which they can unlock the shoe and press to purchase. It's kind of like Pokémon Go, but for buying sneakers.
When Nike released its exclusive collaboration with chef David Chang, the AR sneaker was unlocked by holding the camera up to the menu at Chang's Momofuku restaurant. (In the future, Nike plans to create ways to participate in AR scavenger hunts even if you aren't in a city where they're taking place in order to democratize the process.)
"There's a limitation to the stash when you do it in a certain city — the rest of the world doesn't see it," Adam Sussman, Nike's Chief Digital Officer told Refinery29 of upcoming plans to scale the experiences through AR.
Even though you are shopping for product, SNKRS isn't your standard browsing session online or in-store. The gamified version of shopping won't be for everyone and not all products will be sold this way, but it's exponentially more enjoyable than camping out in line or reloading a screen every two seconds. There's also a certain thrill that comes with finding a sneaker "floating" in mid-air when you've successfully located it with the camera.
It isn't hard to imagine other brands that often sell out of their limited edition collaborations, such as H&M and Target, rolling out similar AR experiences of their own. If Ticketmaster got on board for popular shows, including Hamilton and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, that would ease finger strain around the nation.