How is Under Armour using AI technology to boost in-store retail experience?


March 10, 2022 | By Zubina Ahmed

Retail is on the brink of a new era defined, once again, by technological advancement. In a matter of years, today’s futuristic technologies will become commonplace, with artificial intelligence transforming both back-end operations and the day-to-day customer experience in unfathomable ways. Foreshadowing retail’s digital revolution, the industry’s spending on artificial intelligence is estimated to grow to $7.3 billion per year by 2022, up from an estimated $2 billion in 2018. Most retailers are concentrating on the competitive advantages offered by embracing AI to automate time-consuming, routine tasks and increase operational efficiency. A recent report found 74% of the AI/machine learning technology used in retail targets back-end operations, while only 26% directly interacts with customers. Yet, according to IBM, intelligent automation has the greatest impact in retail when focused on improving the customer experience. 

As retailers decide where to allocate their upcoming tech investments, they should consider the value of AI — not only in automating back-office tasks for increased operational efficiency, but in personalising and simplifying the shopping experience of each individual consumer. 

Under Armour’s largest store located in Dubai Mall highlights its commitment to providing the best products and shopping experiences to athletes by providing consumers with an elevated tech-infused fun shopping experience. Founded in 1996 by former University of Maryland football player Kevin Plank, Under Armour is the originator of performance apparel – gear engineered to keep athletes cool, dry and light throughout the course of a game, practice or workout. Today, the Baltimore-based company has become a $1 billion brand by selling athletic wear and sports equipment to consumers. With $5.3 billion(recheck figures) in global sales in 2019, Under Armour is ranked as the fourth leading athletic apparel, accessories, and footwear company. 

Tech and Fitness 

Located within the world’s biggest mall, the Under Armour Brand House is now the flagship venue of the Middle East, with activations, community engagement and the biggest range of Under Armour stock in the region. Spread across a dedicated floor, the latest store boasts 1,300 sqm built to merge the physical and digital retail experience. Its immersive activations, many of which debut in the region for the first time, includes the brand’s advanced “3D Foot Scanner”. Using AI to create a 360-degree scan of your feet, store staff are on hand to source the perfect shoe to meet your needs, whether it be for high-performance training or everyday comfort. The “Pick and Learn” system also gives customers access to Under Amour’s full range of footwear, allowing them to compare size, fit and price in one place before making a purchase. “Serving as its largest and most technologically advanced retail space in the region, opening the new flagship store in The Dubai Mall is a proud moment for Athlocity and the Under Armour brand. This will be our biggest store in the region and is a perfect fit for the world’s biggest mall.” said Lee Devon, Vice President of Under Armour Middle East. 

The store offers the latest innovations across a range of product categories for training, running, basketball, golf, studio, youth and footwear. Another feature in the store is the access to new smart touchscreens that will allow customers to browse and compare sizes, price, fit and more details. “The ‘Pick and Learn’ system will aid customers in making their purchase decisions. With the MapMyRun App – exclusive to Under Armour – customers can explore customised workout experiences through touch screens in-store. The app includes form analysis as well as tips to improve running performance,” he added 

Running a brand built on making fitness accessible to all using technology-driven solutions, the latest flagship allows users to access a range of customised workouts via touch screens throughout the store. An Under Armour Chill Out Lounge concludes the customer experience, equipped with a charging station and interactive hologram map of Dubai, which offers a perfect place to browse the store’s collection in a relaxed environment. Advanced enterprise AI systems enable retailers to aggregate and analyze the data of individual consumers in order to implement ultra-personalised and timely marketing campaigns. “We have an app, which will then connect to your shoes when you run so you don’t have to carry your mobile phone. The data will transmit from your shoes to your phone, which can then be uploaded and when you come to the store, you can see that data,” he explained.

Moreover, customisation of experience is a really a big focus. According to Lee, most of the consumers are willing to share their data if it will result in a more personalised experience. How can retailers most effectively leverage this data? “In fact, abundant computing power, combined with billions of accessible data points about consumers plus the latest AI techniques can support the identification of hundreds and thousands of micro-customer behavioral segments, which in turn helps us personalise offerings accordingly. By harnessing consumer data with AI , retailers can provide unmatched services to an unlimited number of customers. The untapped potential of retail AI lies in consumer-focused social media applications. We also look a lot into social media marketing through IG, Tik Tok and snapchat especially in the KSA,” he added. 

Brand and celebrity partnerships 

As Under Armour grew, it started collaborating with high-profile NFL players and elite athletes for brand endorsements. In 2016, it announced a global partnership with actor and former professional wrestler, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Dwayne Johnson played an integral role in the creation of a range of products including footwear, apparel and accessories, and he will have a major role in the promotion of Under Armour’s Connected Fitness platforms that recently debuted in the Under Armour HealthBox and Record applications. The first product capsule will feature a Rock-inspired backpack and duffle bag that will launch on the Under Armour website and at select brand houses in the coming weeks.

The partnership was ranked the best celebrity-brand partnership in fashion/retail in August 2018, according to a study from Spotted. Dwayne started his partnership with Under Armour in January 2016 and a Project Rock 1 sneaker released in May 2018, which sold out in less than 24 hours, according to a post on Johnson’s Instagram account. He also starred in Under Armour’s “Will Finds A Way” ad campaign that launched in April. The multichannel campaign featured a number of athletes including NBA star Stephen Curry, Olympic gold medalist Kelley O’Hara, NFL legend Tom Brady and Olympian Michael Phelps. The message pushed athletes to work hard, tap into their inner fire and be themselves. NBA star Stephen Curry’s partnership with Under Armour also did well, ranking 13th on the list and scoring 89.2. Under Armour’s all-star roster includes Stephen Curry, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Misty Copeland, Jordan Spieth, Lindsey Vonn, Andy Murray and Michael Phelps. Stephen Curry wore Nike shoes when he entered the basketball league in 2009 but switched to Under Armour in 2013 in a deal reported to be worth $4 million a year. 

Under Armour was predicted to sell more than LeBron James’s Nike footwear back in 2016, at $160 million versus LeBron’s $150 million. Taking into account these factors, Lee said, “ When done right, products endorsed by, or named after, celebrities can pay back. Once we have a top athlete or celebrity on board, we look to him for more than just endorsements. Ideally, he’ll help us drive product innovation, too. The partnership attempts to position the brand as a leader in the competitive athletic space by tapping some of the biggest names in sports and using their personal biographies to push the message that “the only way through takes hard work,” he said.

“Besides that we have network of about 25 influencers that we work with and every single one of them are hand-picked athletes or fitness enthusiasts, who we want to get on a personal relationship with to get our brand message across,” he added. 

Presence in the GCC 

Catering to athletes of all ages and abilities, the Under Armour brand has 34 stores in the GCC including 13 stores in the UAE, 14 stores in KSA , 2 in Kuwait, 2 in Qatar and the recently launched store in Mall of Oman. “GCC is a very fitness focussed youth market and we look forward to expand more in the future and beyond that. In the next six months, we are looking at the GCC more closely and will expand in Doha especially with the world cup happening there. People in the UAE love to shop within the proximity of their own locations so we have also opened our stores in other Emirates like Ras Al Khaimah and another is opening in Fujairah within the next six months. 

From the e-commerce perspective, it started its website underarmour.com two years back to facilitate a full omnichannel experience to the consumers.  The site features capabilities including buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) and real-time inventory updates to improve the customer experience. “Our strategy is customer convenience. If you want to come to the store we will give you the best experience or if you want to shop online we will try to give our best. So there is always a blend of the two – online and offline. With e-commerce growth last year in the MENA [Middle East-North Africa] region outpacing UK and U.S. markets, true omnichannel is our goal to offer our customers a convenient way to interact with the Under Armour brand and purchase products by launching a localised site. With the support of the global and regional teams, we’re now implementing the Under Armour website in English and Arabic with an option to pay in their local currency,” he said. 

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