There is perhaps no pickier sub-group of shoe enthusiasts than runners. The average distance runner goes through three pairs of sneakers per year – and most keep several different types on hand, so they can rotate them between workouts.
Runners also tend to be more brand-loyal about their shoes than other buyers, and are more likely to shop at a local, single-proprietorship specialty shoe shop that specializes not just in the right running gear, but also hires associates that ensure proper fit and talk running strategies with consumers.
In short, runners are seeking to join or build communities when they go in to buy their shoes.
It is an effect that Amazon-owned Zappos would like to recreate in the digital world – an online hub where runners can not only buy the shoes they want, but also get advice, accessorize and connect with other running enthusiasts.
“One reason running stores work offline is because they're authentic. Our idea is to replicate that authenticity and realness ” Joe Grusman, general manager of eCommerce marketing for Zappos said in an interview.
That push to be the digital place for runners is the reason Zappos created the Run-on-One program last year, and continued it this year. For the next 30 days, Zappos will be really personalizing digital retail, with staff members actually calling customers who sign up for the program to offer them words of encouragement. The point of the program, according to Grusman, is to help avid runners and novices alike commit to the 2019 running goals they set for themselves at the beginning of the year – right about the point when humans begin drifting away from their New Year’s fitness-related resolutions.
The program, according to Grusman, was an outgrowth of analysis of data drawn out of consumer fitness studies Zappos had distributed to better understand the motivations of their runner customers.
“We wanted to know what were those consumers’ view of running? What drives them?” he says.
What they saw in their data was a diverse field of reasons. Fitness and exercise was obviously a leading reason, as was meditative purposes. But what caught our eye was the large cohort of customers for whom the primary motivation was building a community.”
Zappos also looked into why people stopped running – which, it should be noted, most people do after about two months. Lack of motivation was the second most commonly cited reason, only beaten out by lack of time.
Time, and giving customers more of it, is above Zappos’ paygrade, according to Grusman.
“Lack of time is hard for us to deal with,” Grusman says. “But we figured we could help with motivation.”, he said.
And that small community Zappos built last year did manage to stay more inspired and motivated than average. Of last year’s participants in the Run-on-One program, about 40 percent managed to keep running for the full 30 days. One participant reportedly even went on to complete a marathon.
This year, Zappos is growing the program to 500 participants, in hopes that the majority of participants will keep running. From there, Grusman noted, the goal is even more growth: 1,500 participants in 2020 and as many as 5,000 by the year 2025.
And while Grusman admits that the runner-centric program is absolutely a marketing campaign, he was adamant that it is different than the traditional type. Zappos is less interested in collecting data on its running customers and more invested in using this type of program as the cement to hold a long-term relationship together.
The data the company has already gathered tells them that beyond the right pair of shoes, runners often just need a reason to keep running – even in the frozen dog days of January, when the outside world seems hostile to the activity. Giving customers that reason, Grusman noted, is the most effective way to both keep them on track with their fitness goals and keep them coming back to Zappos to buy the gear they need to do so.