Wednesday, June 25, 2014

J.Crew x New Balance Collaboration

There is a really great read over at the Complex about J.Crew's collaboration with New Balance (click here to read in its entirety):
What the J.Crew x New Balance 998 Sell Out Means for Sneaker Culture
By Matt Welty
June 18, 2014

Before I started working at Complex, I was a part-time sales associate at a J.Crew store in central New Jersey. I hated my job. The discount was nice, but the women and men who would only shop the sale section would wreak havoc on my patience.

From my experience, people shop at J.Crew for one of four things:
1. They got a new job or have to attend a function and don't want to look like a schlub.
2. Their girlfriend dragged them there to dress them like the men they fantasize about dating.
3. They want to get into the ye old Americana trend.
4. They want items that are an extra 40-percent off.

And the majority of the aforementioned people are all a little bit of number four on that list.

When New Balance released its second true collaboration with J.Crew, the "Independence Day" 998, online this morning, I expected them to sit around for a bit. Not because the sneakers weren't great, but J.Crew shoppers tend to lack a sense of urgency. And on top of everything, this release was priced at $175, $15 more expensive than the other exclusive 998s available at J.Crew.

But to my surprise, the sneakers were virtually sold out. And this was at 7 a.m. as I viewed the brand's e-commerce site from the comfort of my bed. This seemed impossible. It's not like sneakerheads are designing online bots to instantly pillage J.Crew's digital stock.

The sneaker had previously released at select J.Crew locations this past weekend, and the brand, which overshadows independent sneaker stores in size, made its collaboration feel like something small and special. A national brand had captured the excitement and feel of a boutique working on a silhouette and theme that meant something to their respective story.

Maybe J.Crew had put together the holy trinity of sneaker collaborations: The "Independence Day" 998 was tied to the 4th of July, it was Made in USA, and it came in a colorway that appeals to nearly everyone.

Or it could be something completely different. J.Crew has worked with New Balance on expressly made products since 2011, but this year has signaled the first time that the two have put their heads together and formulated cohesive collaborations—giving them nicknames, a calculated release strategy, and all. (The first was the "Inferno" 998 that released earlier this year.) The previous sneakers hadn't sold out right away. The sat on shelves and were available for multiple seasons.

But, there was something different about the "Independence Day." The "Inferno" felt like a flash in the pan, and it caught me by surprise. I wasn't sure if J.Crew and New Balance would continue working on real collaborations. But when the "Independence Day" press release hit my inbox, I immediately knew that J.Crew wasn't just stocking suede New Balances that complemented its selection of oxford shirts, slim-cut chinos, and unstructured blazers. The retailer had made the sneakers the sole focus of the email. They were really trying to sell a product that wouldn't be available anywhere else.

The "Independence Day" 998 was made in Skowhegan, Maine. It also tied back to both New Balance's heritage in the U.S., and what we would expect from late-'80s and early-'90s runners. But this sneaker wasn't a desperate cry to bring back sneakers of yesteryear—much like how J.Crew's "traditional" clothing doesn't feel trapped in the pages of Take Ivy.

The sneaker collaboration had legitimately crossed over to mall brands—not that Converse and Undefeated hadn't tried before. It felt like our niche sneaker culture—that thrived on overseas sneaker boutiques and websites that would need translation—had made its way to mainstream fashion.

But J.Crew wasn't just slanging these New Balance sneakers to guys looking for chambray shirts they picked up with an extra 30-percent off coupon. It had now targeted sneakerheads directly. The sneakers had been posted on almost every sneaker blog. And if anyone needed evidence that limited sneaker releases had crossed over to the national conscious, this release was it.

J.Crew put its sights on roping in its #menswear crowd which had a newfound interest in sneakers. It also attracted the average sneaker consumer who might not even pay attention to how their pants fit. And if J.Crew can make sneaker collaborations a surefire win, there's a bigger opportunity for retailers, if done the right way, to get in on the fun.

We have an insatiable hunger for products with stories and that are limited. J.Crew exploited this, and I'm not mad at all. There isn't much difference between a J.Crew collaboration and one from the list of boutiques that we continually champion. It just feels that way right now.
I thought this article did a great job explaining how J.Crew "got it right" when it came to a single pair of New Balance sneakers. Not only did they get the sneaker detail right, they were able to market the limited number of sneakers to the right customer base. A customer base that was excited to pay $15 more than similar shoes on J.Crew's own website!

So why the fuss, Alexis? It's no secret that J.Crew is currently struggling with too much inventory and not enough sales. I believe J.Crew has the ability to turn things around by learning the lessons of the successful launch of a single pair of  J.Crew x New Balance sneakers. I know, I know, easier said than done. But still, it's worth a double take for them.

Lastly, I love the break down of J.Crew shoppers! I am certainly guilty of all four... HA! For tomorrow, I will post the article that breaks down the 10 types of J.Crew shoppers. ;)

What are your thoughts on the article? Disagree or agree with J.Crew's marketing techniques to go after a niche market? Do you think J.Crew can recreate the "magic" on a wider scale?


  1. it's nice for j. crew that the sneakers sold out, esp. bc those women's new balances earlier this year - the ones in the neon-color range - also sold out, so that seems like a good partnership for them. but ugh, this article was so pretentious otherwise. as one of the people who exclusively shops sale at j. crew, I found that so unnecessarily elitist. the reality is that most, if not all, j. crew items hit sale, and if people want to buy them at a lower price, what is the problem with that? clearly I'm taking it too personally, but I feel like if your store offers sale items, then people are going to buy those sale items - and they shouldn't be judged for that.

    1. I completely agree with your comment. The article had an unnecessary tone of judgment which added nothing to her point about the collaboration.
      As for the sneakers, they are very nice and I am very glad that the collaboration was a success. I love NB and look forward to seeing more from them. I would love to see it done for the kids lines too.

    2. And what exactly is the reason sale shoppers bother the former associate so much? I read the article twice.

    3. yeah, it was fairly irritating. I mean, I've worked retail - I worked at american apparel for four years, and of course there are shoppers who always annoy you. mine were the strippers who came in and tried on clothes without wearing underwear. on the range of irritating customers, I feel like that is definitely more frustrating than people who just shop sale items. come on now.

    4. I agree, I was turned off right away by what felt like criticism. While the points about marketing the NB sneakers are well taken (know your market, branch out, direct market, etc) I felt like the author was saying that only people willing to pay full price and who urgently need to have an item are worthy customers. And what is the author doing on the JCrew site at 7AM when he clearly has disdain for the brand and the customers? Suede NBs that match the oxfords are silly to him, but these aren't? And JCrew shoppers don't have a sense of urgency because JCrew has trained us to wait and wait and wait for a better price--why does that make us annoying or undesirable. Yes, JCrew can take a lesson from this, but ideally, SA can take a lesson too--don't be so judgey!

    5. Yes, if this associate is bothered by people shopping merchandise he needs a serious case of get over yourself. Honestly J. Crew has trained their shoppers to wait for a sale because of their own poor choices (too much inventory, bad execution of designs, prices high for what they should be on a lot of items). If the items are perceived as scarce or special or just plain awesome people will pay retail or just at a slight sale price but when item after item is just okay or there's just way too many of them it's hard to justify not waiting for a sale. J. Crew does such a fantastic job with prints but they put them on items that don't work for most and hence they languish in the sale section, put them on practical items and I'll snap them up. I love the blue crab print but the top is just off in many ways, why not put it on a casual cotton dress or even a pencil skirt, why some thick polyester top? Same goes for a lot of their stuff. It's a topic that's been rehashed on here but J. Crew is to blame for their customers not buying unless something is discounted.

    6. Yikes! How unhygienic. I am definitely a sale shopper and consider myself low maintenance. I could care less if an SA helps me and prefer to be left alone to peruse the sale rack. I can see if you are someone who tries on a whole bunch of stuff and leaves a giant mess in the fitting room for an SA to clean up but I do my best to hang everything back up. I rarely ask for them to check in the back for something on sale unless they offer. Not sure what the big deal is either??

    7. Agree with all of you...snob level 5000.

  2. Oh, dear. I am really trying to restrain myself. I did wonder, however, exactly how much time the writer had lived under capitalism. He seems unfamiliar with the "willing seller, willing buyer" principle. The stores in the US and Canada are free enterprise from both sides, buyer and seller - people are not required to turn over money for what is offered, but they are free to do so if they happen to like what the merchant has to offer. There are, after all, other stores, other merchants. Moreover, consumer goods are not rationed in this country. Thus, if one group of customers is not buying, a change in price, a change in style, a change in attitude of the sales help - may make the merch more enticing. Or not. And yes, sometimes merchants guess wrong. That's why there are close-out sales and peculiar promos and overflowing clearance racks. And that's where the old joke "How do you start a flood?" came from.

    There's a fifth group of JC shoppers that the writer didn't mention - those who turn their backs and leave the store rather than deal with clueless, sulky and ill-mannered help.

    Well, I'm glad the writer found something worthy of his feet at JC, and I hope he's not too cool to wear those sneakers on July 4th, if not to show enthusiasm for Independence Day, at least as an ironic fashion statement.

  3. I guess I have a different take. What this tells me is quality products appeal to shoppers. I'm not a "sneakerhead" but the New Balance suede sneakers are very nice and I can size down. In fact, the J. Crew men's collection is much nicer than the women's, so I've been looking at theirs more and sizing down or even altering! The men's vintage oxford cloth is much much nicer. I don't want to dress like a man but give me that thick white scrunchy white oxford cotton and I'm all over it. I'll wear that with a nice white or denim jean, a women's sandal and jewelry. They have the cotton hoodie's and quality designer collaborations. Women's? It's frequently disappointing.

  4. WHy the judgment about sale shoppers? If you are so bothered don't work in retail !

  5. I think the author's comments about sale shoppers at J. Crew are intended more to highlight the retailer's success in overcoming the sale shopper syndrome in marketing this particular product. Though being familiar with J. Crew's screwy online inventory which shows items as "out of stock" and then magically reappearing fully stocked in a day or so, I wouldn't be completely surprised if stock magically reappears.

    Hearing the former insider perspective on the types of shoppers who frequent J. Crew, though, is rather revealing of the company's current state and appeal. As we are all familiar with, J. Crew tries to project itself as a high end boutique (fancy lighting that Jenna wanted for stores, VPSs, Collection items, etc.), but it doesn't look like their marketing is panning out as hoped.

    And come on, this guy went from being a retail slave to peddling his thoughts online--not exactly rags to riches--so this poor writer needs a slightly provoking hook to make people read his story.

    I am no less guilty than most on all four counts of the J. Crew shopper profile in this article. :) Look forward to chuckling with JCAs on Alexis's next post on 10 types of J. Crew shoppers!


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