Recently while watching a documentary about the rise and fall of Napster on Netflix, something occurred to me. The battle between corporations and customers isn’t limited to piracy on the internet. It’s happening right here at home between retailers and computer savvy customers.
We don’t often post editorials on Cop These Kicks, and everyone who’s been following us knows how we feel about resell rings, bots and ATCs (*cough bottom-feeders*) but after watching this cat and mouse game for a few years, I feel like we’re at the precipice of an all out war where the shoe game will suffer the most casualties.
The end result of Napster vs the RIAA was the entertainment industry, like a cornered animal, turned on the very customers who built them into the multi-billion dollar a year industry they are. Ridiculous lawsuits ranging from thousands to millions against kids, their parents or even grandparents made the RIAA seem to be nothing more than a child throwing a tantrum because they didn’t get their way. As technology progressed, these industry giants refused to move forward. Offering affordable legal copies of music electronically was delayed almost a decade. It took the genius of Steve Jobs and his invention of iTunes to finally bring entertainment into the 21st century.
Now altho there are no lawsuits… yet, I’d say we are in those dangerous “napster” days of the sneaker world. Starting with link scrapers/exploit finders like TheNikeDestroyer aka SOLEMARTYR and now with new bots and ATC services popping up every day, the Retailers are sluggish and defensive rather than proactive to solve this issue. Resellers flourish by gobbling up stock of hot new releases before the average sneakerhead even sees the the product while refreshing launch pages. Sites crash sometimes for hours at a time, coupon codes get used leaving the recipients with a worthless string of letters and numbers, and 15 year olds walk around as “businessmen” selling “carts” on launch day.
The sneaker world has gone mad, and nothing is being done about it.
When I say noting is being done, I should specify. Nothing constructive is being done to stop the “problem”. While punishments are being handed out to individual customers for using these bots and exploits, nobody is interested in looking into what the real issue is or how to resolve it.
Lets take a look at a few examples.
Example 1 – ENDclohing. END is a UK based retailer and Tier 0 Nike retailer. With a strong customer service record and impeccable shipping practice END was a go-to for those in the know. In the spring of 2014 an exploit was discovered that allowed a customer to gleam links to products and individual size SKUs prior to release. When used with a valid add to cart token you could checkout an item hours, sometimes days, prior to launch. Soon nearly every limited release was sold out before it ever went on sale. We personally contacted END to see if they were aware of this issue and ask if they needed any advice on resolving the problem. We got no response. Not long after TheNikeDestroyer publicly released the exploit which resulted in the “worst launch ever, ever“. Again we contacted END clothing and asked if they needed help dealing with the exploit. Here is their reply.
While we could have easily created backdoor links, we never did, and only shared them once they became public. The “dealt with” issue continued for 4 more months before we received an email for retweeting fragment links which read “This is unacceptable and we cannot allow you to continue“.
Their “fix” for this issue? Banning us as well as hundreds of customers who clicked the links. Good call END, punish the community and do nothing to fix the issue.
Example #2 – Concepts. The concepts story is much shorter, and less complex. Like many sites CNCPTS used the Shopify eCommerce system. As it turns out, a toddler could easily backdoor products from a site like this. Enter SOLEMARTYR who regularly would host chat systems giving out back-door links for major releases to those in the know. After a few launches, as well as some public twitter banter, they figured out what was happening. Their response? Ban and cancel if you’re following TND. Unlike END they have a long history of completely heinous customer support which is topped off by a policy of downright ignoring customer support requests and refusing refunds for damaged products. The bottom line? Punish the community and do nothing to fix the issue.
Finally lets talk about the big dog, Nike themselves. Nike has a slightly different policy, and perhaps is the unlikely hero of the story. While Nike has tried hard to combat exploiters and resellers, they also managed to capitalize on it. Lets do this like a timeline.
-Bots -> Twitter Link Only
-Early Links -> Captcha
-Captcha Crashes site -> Remove Captcha
-Resellers corner market -> Raise Prices
-Deadlocked Releases -> Captcha… Again
-Bots Bypass Captcha -> Remove Captcha
-Deadlocked Releases -> Countdown Timer
-Countdown Ruines Everything -> Remove Countdown, TLO again
-Early Links -> Raise Prices… Again
-Massive returns as hype dies -> Restock Restock Restock
-Deadlocked Releases -> Countdown… Again
-Hype Burnout -> Freak out on retailers w/”new rules” Raise Prices… Again, Again.
-ATC services (aka 14 year old w/a bot) -> SNKRS
-SNKRS Exploit -> what’s next???
Well, here’s what I’ll say for Nike. They’re generally pro-active. Often forced to play catchup with technology instead of dragging their heels like some companies. On rare occasions they lash out as their support community and customers but quickly refocus on making the shopping experience a better one. They’re the definition of a marketing genius using supply checks and strategic advertising to continually revitalize a near ancient brand. One thing is overlooked, their marketing and continual battle with exploiters is hurting the community. Less and less kicks make it into the hands of the faithful while long time sneaker enthusiasts are going broke to keep up with this larger than life inflation and reseller market.
Nike more than has the money and resources to work with the exploiters and bot makers to level the playing field again. 1/100th of the Kevin Durant endorsement could make this problem go away forever. It begs the question, do these companies even want to solve the problem or do they see a self destructive cycle of cartel like secondary markets as a boon? Either way, one thing is certain. You cannot fight progress. Somewhere out there there is a 14 year old prodigy, or a 22 year old Computer Science major who is smarter than a multi billion dollar corporation. Rather opportunists or commercial anarchists, they are the true sleeping giants and complacency will get you nowhere.
Hear me now all you retailers who want to cancel, ban and block your way to the “good ole’ days”. It’s not going to get any better. The sneaker industry has already peaked and it’s up to amazing sales tactics, inventory control, brilliant advertising and excellent customer service to level the downward slope. If you alienate your base customers who have been with you since childhood, when all is said and done, you’ll be left with an empty store and lonely twitter account.