But Nike may have a secret weapon against auto-buying tools: augmented reality. The company began experimenting with the technology in June during the release of the SB Dunk High Pro "Momofuku," a model designed in collaboration with famous chef David Chang. Nike made pairs available through its SNKRS app for iOS (sorry, Android folks), and the only way sneakerheads could buy them was using a new AR feature.
To unlock these in the application, you had to go to the product page, tap on a 3D model of the sneaker and then point your smartphone's camera at a menu of Chang's Fuku restaurant in New York City. The tech wasn't limited to a physical menu, so you could also gain access by pointing your device at a web version of it or special SNKRS posters that Nike put up across NYC. AR is all about mixing digital objects with the real world, and this was a great way to show how that would sell product.
Most important (and perhaps unexpectedly), AR became the perfect tool for Nike to fight off bots, since the experience requires a physical interaction with buyers. And that seems to be paying off. Just a few weeks ago, Nike President of Direct to Consumer Business Heidi O'Neill said at Recode's Code Commerce conference that bringing the tech to SNKRS "has come very close to eliminating bots, and taking the sneaker hunt [to] as close to a fair game [as] it is anywhere in the industry." In fact, the experiment has turned out so well that Nike now plans to use it more broadly.
I had the chance to try out one of the latest AR experiences in SNKRS recently, which uses geo-location components to draw crowds to a specific place -- a la Pokémon Go. As part of an early launch of The Ten: Air Force 1 Low, one of the most anticipated shoes of 2017, Nike demoed these features at its new s23NYC studio in Manhattan, where the company is developing "innovations geared toward reimagining sneaker culture and commerce." Along with SNKRS AR, that also includes things like SNKRS Stash (think: a scavenger hunt sans AR) and Shock Drop (an unexpected release).
The entire AR experience worked seamlessly; granted, I was in a controlled setting with about 20 other reporters and some social-media influencers. For this particular demo, Nike posted SNKRS stickers all throughout its s23NYC space, which you had to find in order to buy The Ten: Air Force 1 Low. Once I found one, I took out my iPhone, opened the SNKRS app, found the product page and then tapped the "Start Looking" button. That brought up the camera view and, once I pointed it at the sticker, an "Unlock Now" option came up -- along with a 3D model of the shoe.