Innovation & Design

Adidas' High Tech Footwear


The Germany-based sportswear brand opened its Mi Innovation Center on the Champs-Elys?es. It's a tech, fashion, and custom-design wonderland

Inside the new Adidas sports performance store on Paris' Champs-Elys?es, soccer superstar Zinedane Zidane jogs on a computerized catwalk. Sensors embedded in the track can record the exact pressure of his footfall and gauge his running posture. This data, combined with Zidane's exact shoe size??easured with painstaking accuracy??s used to ensure a perfect fit.

He then chooses the look of his shoe by pointing to a massive interactive cube at the front of the store. And using a three-dimensional virtual mirror, he can "try on" his own creations, checking out the shape, color, and cut from every angle.

With the Oct. 25 opening of Adidas' first Mi Innovation Center in Paris, even armchair athletes can enjoy this high-tech wizardry and customization. The measuring and fitting process is free, but if you want to buy your own specially made shoes it will cost between $40 and $65 extra, depending upon the style.

A Shoe Odyssey

At the futuristic 1,750-square-meter store, the largest Adidas store in the world, shoppers can browse the latest trends (Stella McCartney-designed skiwear and faux fur vests from rapper Missy Elliot) while immersing themselves in interactive technologies.

The focal point of the innovation center is a large, sleek black cube. Customers simply point at images on the cube and laser and infrared technologies interpret their gestures, converting them to commands. Radio frequency identification (RFID)-activated monitors give detailed information on Adidas product at the pointing of a finger.

Adidas, headquartered in Herzogenaurach, Germany, plans to roll out the new high-tech concept stores in major cities worldwide, including one in China in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Changing the Way You Shop

For Adidas, it's a chance to showcase the sophisticated technology behind its image. Ever since founder Adi Dassler made his first shoes in 1920, the brand has tried to remain on the cutting edge of sports gear. Recognizing that today's consumers want the newest developments as well as stylish designs, Adidas came up with the Mi Innovation concept to help reinforce the innovation behind the brand, says Karen Feldpausch-Sturm, Adidas' senior vice-president of global retail.

She reckons that the Mi Innovation Center will change both the way consumers shop and what they expect from retail. "The innovative, unique design elements and industry-leading interactive technology will enhance their in-store experience and engage them with Adidas," she explains.

Part of the strategy behind the new store is to lure a younger generation of shoppers who have been brought up on video games. Although Adidas has offered made-to-measure shoes at Adidas outlets and various retailers such as Harrods in London and Athletes Foot in Sydney, it is the interactive concept that Adidas believes breaks new ground.

Trickle-Down Sales

Heinrich Paravicini, the director of Mutabor, the German communication design agency that contributed to the design of the cube, says that technology alone won't draw in shoppers. It's all about the interactive experience. "When people are shopping they don't want to learn," he says. "They want to be entertained."

And Adidas believes the entertainment factor is what will help boost sales. "It's a fun technology," Feldpausch-Sturm says. "It doesn't just sell the Mi Adidas customized shoes; it also helps sell our regular range."

It's certainly a gadget geek's paradise. To the left of the catwalk is a glass case full of the latest Adidas shoes. A scanner and monitor on top of the case mean each shoe can be digitally "X-rayed" to give information about the model and the technology behind it. So, for instance, roll the scanner over the +F50.6 Tunit to learn everything you need to know??nd more??bout what Adidas says is the world's first adaptable soccer shoe. The information is in the form of 3D graphics revealed on the touch screen.

On the Avenue

The cube is the store's nerve center. On its right side, you can browse the latest Adidas products by using hand gestures to control three-dimensional images, with information clearly displayed and controlled through an intuitive interface. The left side allows you to create your own customized shoe by pointing at various colors and styles. At the back of the cube is the 3D animated mirror enabling you to "try" before you really buy. "Think of it as a Savile Row suit, for your feet," says Paravicini.

The location is high profile. Adidas spent five years waiting for a location on Paris' tony Champs-Elys??es, reckoning that the store would attract as many as 150,000 visitors per year, 70% of them tourists. Size was also a factor as Adidas "needed the space to showcase the breadth and depth of its collection as well as the Mi Innovation Center," says Feldpausch-Sturm.

Those who do use the Mi Adidas feature to customize their own shoes won't have to go back to Paris when it's time to get a new pair. They can save their personal measurements to order the newest trends later.

Customer for Life

Is all this just another marketing gimmick? It's really too early to call, but many experts think that Adidas is at the forefront of a major technological shift in sports retailing. "These days if you look around the gym, everyone is their own fitness expert. People know how to use heart-rate monitors and measure their own level of hydration," says Fiona Fairhurst, director of Zero Point Zero One, a sports consultancy in Nottinghamshire, England.

"An individual will steer clear of a brand that doesn't fit properly, no matter how exclusive that brand is," she adds. "If you know that Adidas fits you perfectly and comfortably then they have a customer for life." That's exactly what Adidas is counting on.

Kamenev is an intern in BusinessWeek's London bureau.

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