It’s a quiet morning before the first customer rush of the day at the Nike Campus Employee Store in Beaverton, Ore. Manager Mike Tourijigian is taking advantage of the downtime to educate himself about a new shoe just added to his inventory. Logging on to www.skutrain.com, Tourijigian enters the Nike Sports Knowledge Underground (Nike SKU), a Flash-animated, multimedia learning environment created to mirror an urban subway system, with each “stop” representing a training activity. On an interactive subway map, Tourijigian finds the “Central Station,” traces the route from there to the “Footwear Union” and clicks on the subway stop for a new shoe.
Immediately, two small, animated characters pop onto the screen and lead Tourijigian through a short, three-minute course explaining the architecture, benefits, features and top selling points of the shoe. At the end of the animated session, Tourijigian takes a brief quiz to ensure that he has absorbed the information and can immediately use it in customer interactions on the retail floor. He then prints out a technical spec sheet to reference when answering customer inquiries about the new shoe.
Later that morning, Tourijigian’s staff, as well as retail associates at Nike direct stores and partner retailers across the country, will repeat the process. They will log on to Nike SKU on back-office PCs, point-of-sale terminals and even home computers and scroll through engaging, high-impact lessons on Nike products and selling techniques, all designed to help them educate customers and increase sell-through.
“One of Nike SKU’s central goals is to positively affect the dialogue between retail sales associates and customers at the point of sale,” said Michael Donahue, e-learning manager and program manager for Sports Knowledge Undergound. “Increasing sales associates’ comfort level with the technical performance aspects of Nike products motivates them to proactively share that knowledge with customers. The end result of more positive customer interactions like these is increased sell-through.”
Like most retailers, Nike has the traditional challenge of a young, highly transient retail associate population selling its products. Job turnover is sometimes as high as 400 percent, challenging the company with an almost constant ramp-up of store staff and the need to rapidly transfer knowledge and information about Nike products and how to sell them. Nike’s solution to the problem is anything but traditional.
Hip, visually engaging and playing a little like a videogame, Sports Knowledge Underground was developed based on a keen understanding of the demographics of the average store associate—young, tech-savvy and used to absorbing information in short sound bites. “I think most people in training are familiar with the saying, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ but we also know that is most often not true,” Donahue said. “You have to build something relevant and appropriate for your audience, something a little edgy, something that entertains while educating, and then they will come. And they’ll keep coming back. SKU’s participation rates have been phenomenal.”
“I’ve noticed huge differences in our store associates,” Tourijigian said. “The system is easy to follow and perfectly tailored to the age range of the staff, and to what they need to know for their jobs. They’re like sponges in water when they log on. I can see the information and skills they’re learning coming out during the selling process on a daily basis.”
As a store manager, Tourijigian can prescribe particular training to his staff to get them up-to-speed on new merchandise or to teach them specific skills to increase the store’s sales. All users’ training history and results are tracked and stored in a database. Tourijigian uses the data to report back to management, prescribe new training and determine promotions and other incentives.
Originally intended for retailers selling Nike alongside competitive products, SKU has generated such positive customer satisfaction and sales success that Nike has expanded it to directsales stores like Tourijigian’s. It’s paying off. An early comparison between external retail partner stores using SKU and those not using it showed a minimum 4 percent increase in sell-through at participating retail locations. Store associates have taken more than 253,000 modules to date, with a completion rate of more than 98 percent. With approximately 800 stores currently using Nike’s Sports Knowledge Underground and with aggressive deployment plans in place, Nike expects to quadruple the number of users within the next year.
“This is the most powerful solution we’ve ever had to get new store associates up-to-speed on the huge depth and breadth of Nike product information,” Tourijigian said. “It helps us keep pace with seasonal changes in product lines and frequent changes in store staff. And it makes those changes invisible to our customers, who leave happier, more educated and more confident in their purchases.”
Kevin Oakes is president of SumTotal Systems. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.