Big Interview: Chris Walsh, Vice President UK, Adidas

When asked how Adidas can expect to fare through Covid-19, its UK vice president Chris Walsh told Retail Gazette it was a "million dollar question". The sportswear brand and retail giant is continuing to open new stores despite the crisis as there remains a "long term appetite" for bricks-and-mortar.

Adidas Chris Walsh new store lockdown covid-19
Chris Walsh.

Chris Walsh is confident the high street and demand for bricks-and-mortar stores will always be present.

Speaking to Retail Gazette just before Christmas and the ensuing national lockdowns that came in place for all four UK countries, the  UK vice president for Adidas said the sportswear giant was constantly speaking to consumers, and that every action the business took was consumer-led.

Walsh added Adidas was continuing to open stores in the UK in response to customer feedback – even if there has been and continues to be an acceleration of people shifting to online shopping.

Adidas Chris Walsh
Adidas said it would continue to open new stores despite the pandemic.

“Society everywhere at the moment is asking us why we’re continuing to open stores in the UK, but we’ve spoken to our consumers as a brand and we know what they want,” Walsh said.

“There’s still a long term appetite for stores.”

He added that Adidas stores were concentrated on “hype”, with products being based on storytelling and community-based elements.

A few weeks before England entered a second national lockdown in November, Adidas launched a concept store on London’s Carnaby Street. It offers an Originals record store and a Spezial pool table, as well as the sportswear giant’s first gender-neural retail concept.

“This is very much a long term project,” Walsh reflected.

“It is strongly committed to London because the city is an investment priority for us.”

Walsh himself oversaw the concept store and praised Adidas’ resilience in enduring Covid-19.

“We’ve got a huge fleet of stores across the world that we’re looking to refine to make sure that process is safe,” he said.

“The interesting thing is that these plans were launched before Covid-19.

“The health and safety of our colleagues and our team is absolutely vital.

“We strongly feel that spaces like these do the storytelling, which is kind of missing in today’s world.”

Adidas Chris Walsh
Adidas launched a concept store on London’s Carnaby Street in October.

“People want to know where their products came from that,” Walsh added.

“It’s more than looking at a website and clicking on a hype launch.

“Our products are about storytelling, we can see the engagement of the consumer, we can see it in a kind of primitive way through sales.

“We also have expert staff in stores to help customers better understand the product, and we can get a lot of feedback from this.

“We believe that it gives us a much more literal translation of our brand and how to interact, which we don’t believe many of our rivals are doing.”

With the sportswear market proving incredibly competitive, Adidas is facing pressure from consumers to offer something unique.

In October, when Adidas’ concept store opened, fashion analysis firm Edited said the number of sportswear items sold online over the past month had increased by 17 per cent compared with last year.

“Our products are about storytelling”

Walsh told Retail Gazette that ecommerce and online sales remain crucial to Adidas, particularly at a time when non-essential in the UK remains under lockdown for a protracted period of time.

Last year in June, Adidas ramped up its digital innovations in the UK by becoming advertising partners of social media platform Snapchat. This was for a new ecommerce offering designed to “simplify the consumer purchase journey and drive measurable return on investment”. Adidas said at the time that the partnership further accelerated its digital business in the wake of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, Walsh hopes Adidas’ new sustainable and gender-neutral offerings will place it ahead of rivals in a difficult trading climate. Recently, it launched a fully recyclable running shoe UltraBoost DNA Loop as part of its Made to be Remade project.

“Sustainability is a key element to our brand, so it’s very important for us to have a physical expression of our brand,” Walsh told Retail Gazette.

“Everything we do is consumer-driven. We’re a brand that works with young people, we’ve always been a youth brand. Young people are increasingly leaning towards sustainable offerings.

“We take what our consumers feel really seriously, as you would hope.

“It’s all research driven. If we look at the very traditional thinking once upon a time, we kind of found that we were increasingly producing products.”

Walsh went on to say that Adidas’ gender-neutral concept was in response to its research that found that women were asking store colleagues whether certain sizes could be found.

“Product is product, however anyone wants to adopt and use, it should be up to them,” he added.

“We definitely do consumer research, and we see that more men are asking for pastel coloured shoes again, which is traditionally seen as being feminine.

“It’s very important that we present our product range in a way that lets the consumer decide what they want to do.”

According to Walsh, while Adidas does a lot of its consumer research through social media, it also has a “big community engagement programme” which helps conduct research through sports communities.

“What we have to do is make sure that we bring all the research together from our team in Germany – who are constantly researching what we’re learning, what people think – and try to make sure that we’re building products that people want, and also that we’re acting in a way which is right for our brand,” he said.

Adidas Chris Walsh
Adidas does a lot of its consumer research through social media.

Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Walsh said Adidas was determined to continue launching products to keep consumers interested.

“How will Adidas continue to trade during Covid-19? That’s the million dollar question,” he laughed.

“There’s a lot of things that have been very successful for us in 2020, and there’s been areas that have been tough in the market for obvious reasons.

“We’ve seen good results and we’ve learned a lot about how consumers behave.

“2020 was a great year for sport. People are more active now thanks to the pandemic and we expect that trend to continue in 2021.

“Although many are working from home, sales of running shoes skyrocketed as people found time to go running and keep fit.”

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