Heidi O’Neill, President of Nike Direct, looks to the future of brick-and-mortar retail and sees it closer than you may think.
I was 11 years old when I saw retail pivot for the first time.
Growing up, my parents owned a sporting goods store, Portside Sports, in my hometown of Charlevoix, Michigan. I remember spending afternoons waxing skis and stringing tennis rackets — I loved it.
At the time, downhill skiing was all the rage, but cross-country skiing hadn’t really landed in Charlevoix yet. My dad got excited about the opportunity there and started stocking cross-country skis. But there wasn’t much awareness, and business was slow.
So, one day, during a particularly bad snowstorm, he asked if I’d brave the conditions and cross-country ski to school. Dad always had a good head for publicity, so he also called the local newspaper, the Charlevoix Courier, to meet me at the end of my journey.
None of the other kids made it to school, and the next day there was Portside Sports on the front page. Soon we weren’t just selling cross-country skis — we were also running a cross-country ski club out of the store.
Today, as the President of Nike Direct, I get to think about the evolution of retail every day, as we craft our vision of a modern, digitally transformed store. It was just three or four years ago that the industry declared brick-and-mortar retail dead. If you believed the whispers then, we wouldn’t have any physical stores — just a grim landscape of empty storefronts as far as the eye can see.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the death of retail. It turns out, when you actually talk to consumers, they still want to shop by touching and trying on. They still want to connect, to step into a space and feel something.
At Nike, we focused on what consumers were telling us and stayed true to our belief of serving them completely. It’s a concept that began 25 years ago when we opened our first flagship store. We didn’t wait for an industry trend or shift. We believed we could reinvent retail by making it experiential, by elevating the power of our brand and by bringing storytelling to shopping in a way that other retailers hadn’t done.
A funny thing happened on the way to the death of retail.
Many of us remember the exact moment we first walked into a Niketown store, how you felt the brand come to life in that way for the first time. We think it’s time to restate that feeling.
This month, we’re opening our new Flagship store, Nike NYC, on Fifth Avenue in New York. It is the most confident moment for Nike Retail since our first Niketown opened 25 years ago.
Nike NYC makes real our vision of living retail — a dynamic and active shopping experience in an environment that’s as responsive as digital. It’s the end of monolithic flagship: a living, breathing store that lets us serve consumers in a premium and seamless way both individually and also storewide, as we can swap out assortment and furnishings to change the store’s personality or purpose overnight.
Throughout Nike NYC are features of our Nike Live concept that brought a data-driven and personal approach to retail, as can be seen in our Nike by Melrose store in Los Angeles. Nike NYC takes that inspiration, convenience and speed and accelerates it on a much greater scale, with Instant Checkout, Speed Shop and more.
Nike NYC makes real our vision of living retail — a dynamic and active shopping experience in an environment that’s as responsive as digital.
We’re Nike. We’re at our best when we’re just uniquely us. That’s what gives us the power to lead … to reinvent and disrupt ourselves. I see Nike NYC as a stake in the ground – a challenge to anyone’s past definition of what retail can be.
All the best retailers are moving toward experiential environments. But our competitive advantage is and always will be the joy of sport. I love retail that causes shoppers to think “Only here” when they walk in a store. Nike NYC — a human and authentic declaration of our values of health and activity — is an only-here moment.
We can’t wait for people to check it out. We’ve long dreamed of taking our foundational commitment to innovation and pouring it into retail. Here, finally, is a flagship of our own ingenuity.
What’s the future of retail? My honest answer is: we don’t know. But I do know, no matter what the future looks like, we can build it here, in Nike NYC.