Last month, Nike announced it would be pulling all of its products from Amazon in a bid to refocus its distribution strategy and “elevate consumer experiences through more direct, personal relationships”. 

Leaving one of the world’s biggest e-commerce platforms after a two-year pilot is a bold move. So what does the divorce mean for the sportswear giant?

In leaving Amazon, the company is joining a roster of others, from IKEA to Birkenstock, who have tried and failed to make it work on the platform. Amazon has developed a poor reputation when it comes to how it treats its sellers – and it’s doing very little to change it. But as retailers depart the platform to deliver a more personal customer experience – while keeping a tight leash on their product offerings – the e-commerce giant needs to start thinking damage control.

Selling on Amazon comes with an ever-changing set of challenges. While it has been busy expanding its fashion offering, the website is still designed for the convenience shopper, and not the one looking to be wowed or to discover a new favorite brand. Search ranking results can be confusing – for example, searching for sports shoes will not necessarily bring up the Nike sneakers immediately at the top of the page, even though it is a market leader. It is also often hard to find out whether you are buying the item directly from the brand, or a third-party seller.

Then there is the big elephant in the room: counterfeiting. Recently, The Wall Street Journal wrote that the website “increasingly resembles an unruly online flea market.” For the US site, it is now attracting Chinese sellers to post their goods directly to consumers, rather than through North American middlemen. This means a proliferation of sold goods that are deemed either counterfeit, or banned or unsafe for consumption, which are virtually impossible to keep track of.

But Nike’s exit is coming from a privileged position. It has built a community outside the retailer’s website, and will exist just fine without it. For brands of its caliber, this is a good chance to take a leaf out of the direct-to-consumer rulebook and create a distribution approach that not only gives it more say, but enables more direct conversations. 

Nike is now working on strengthening its relationship with other smaller retailers. At Foot Locker’s new NYC flagship, for example, NikePlus app users can reserve shoes in advance and pick them up from dedicated lockers.

On a direct-to-consumer level, it is launching services like the Nike Adventure Club, a sneaker subscription for kids aged 2-10 where for a monthly fee, they receive a certain number of sneakers a year. The brand is targeting time-strapped parents who live in areas that perhaps don’t have a shoe store nearby. Instead of restoring to the convenience of Amazon when their child has moved up a shoe size, Nike is hoping these parents will choose a box service with a trusted brand instead.

This is also a chance for the brand to test out the subscription model, and potentially apply it to other consumer groups in the future, says David Cobban, general manager of Nike Adventure Club.  “We’re starting to think about what other athletes have problems that could be very easily solved by a subscription,” he said. “This is the beginning of something pretty exciting for Nike.”

For all of the sales volume that Nike will be losing by exiting Amazon, the sports brand is hard at work building a tight strategy where convenience meets personalization, which will likely pay off in the near future. 

This is perhaps where Amazon continues to falter – both in the eyes of its vendors and consumers. Next day delivery and low prices come at the price of the user experience, which still leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to discoverability and bringing up (relevant) recommendations. 

Consumers may currently be fully onboard with the endless hamster wheel of speed and low value, but only time will tell if that will be enough to fulfill their more nuanced needs, such as creating emotional connections. Nike is betting on the latter.

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