ARTICLE BY Minh Vuong

How Augmented Reality is Changing Sneaker Releases

GOAT Air Jordan 1 Travis Scott AR
GOAT

Augmented reality (AR) is currently revolutionising the sneaker industry. The past decade has seen rapid innovations in Internet-based and digital platforms, making it easier than ever to buy, trade and discuss sneakers. And while there were plenty of ways to buy sneakers before the Internet existed, the application of AR has ultimately improved the shopping experience. Whether it’s new ways to tease product, provide in-depth info, or simply try new technology, the end goal will always be customers copping a new pair of shoes. Not that that’s a bad thing!

Social Media

The integration of social media into brand and retailer identities has created an on-demand customer service experience available 24/7. Chat bots have actually existed since the mid-1960s, but 2020 patches are a bit more sophisticated. Facebook Messenger chat bots and e-comm shopping assistants have become tools of the savvy shopper.

Brands have also taken advantage of platforms like Snapchat to introduce upcoming releases. In 2017, Foot Locker created a filter to allow Snapchat users to virtually unbox the Gatorade x Air Jordan 1 pack. Many brands have followed suit since to preview upcoming product.

Momofuku x Nike SB Dunk High
The Momofuku x Nike SB Dunk High was released via AR.
Momofuku x Nike SB Dunk High
Scanning these posters loaded an AR SNKRS experience.
Momofuku x Nike SB Dunk High Menu
Scanning the Fuku East Village menu worked too.

Scavenger Sneaker Hunt

The 2010s were a bit of a Wild West for app development, but increased investment and consumer demand meant bugs were getting coded out. Nike are one of the few leading the charge with the SNKRS app.

Back in 2017, they got it working for the Momofuku x Nike SB Dunk High collaboration. The shoe itself was a fairly simple denim theme, but its release was quite interesting. It required SNKRS users to open the in-app camera over an image of the Fuku menu or special posters outside Momofuku locations, which loaded an interactive 3D model of the shoe, and an option to purchase it. This added a bit of a 'treasure hunt' aspect to a limited release.

Foot Locker and GOAT have similarly conducted AR sneaker scavenger hunts to promote particular launches and sales events since then.

Smart Home, Smart Sneakers

Voice-controlled smart home devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa are able to perform tasks like announce the weather forecast and turn on the lights. Did you know they can also handle sneaker releases? In 2019, Nike conducted the first-ever voice-activated sneaker release with the Nike Adapt BB: asking Google Assistant about the shoes during their on-court NBA debut gave a lucky few early access to the teched-out sneakers.

Not long after, Reebok teamed up with Amazon Alexa and Google Home for a promotion known as the Reebok Sneaker Drop. Using the voice command ‘Alexa/Google, get my Club Cs’, it put users in the running to score one of 50 pairs of Swarovski-encrusted sneakers.

Try Before You Buy

Companies are also using AR to help potential customers try shoes on for size, and buy them, without ever needing to step foot into a physical store. The Nike Fit function within the Nike app uses the smartphone camera to scan feet to determine shoe size, then filters sneakers available in that recommended size to buy. Who needs a Brannock Device?

Want to see how particular sneakers look on-foot? Apps like Wanna Kicks project 3D renders onto the feet via the camera. In fact, the app's developers, Wannaby, provided this tech for Gucci to implement and use in their own app with their Ace sneaker. The GOAT app also has similar functionality.

Game On

Video games have long broken the fourth wall, but they also broke the sneaker wall too! In NBA 2K13, Nike set up a virtual Innovation Kitchen complete with NikeiD program. By customising your sneakers in-game, you could then purchase them IRL!

Sneakers are becoming so prevalent in video games that some releases can only be obtained by playing certain titles. A recent example was the ‘Gamer Exclusive’ Nike LeBron 17 that required gamers to complete certain challenges in NBA 2K20 to unlock the shoes IRL. And just last month, adidas used NBA 2K21 to reveal the Dame 7, as opposed to more traditional means.

Virtual Runways

In keeping with public health policy, UNDERCOVER recently revealed their upcoming Nike colab via a virtual exhibition instead of their usual glitzy runways in Paris, London, New York, etc. Many brands also opted for virtual showings of their new collections. Much like the in-game reveals, this could be the future of the sneaker reveal.

With sneaker technology evolving so quickly, it's no surprise that the way they're introduced to the market is also changing rapidly. But don't worry, traditional favourite brick-and-mortar spots will still be around for a while yet! AR has just given consumers new ways to access shoes.

Check out more industry analysis and in-depth product talk in the Features section here.

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