Shoe brand Hari Mari has released a new line of thongs in partnership with baseball glove maker Nokona. These aren't just any thongs, though. They have a special chip inside of them that makes them smart. Allegedly.
We say "allegedly" because, sadly, "smart" really just seems to mean "adds buyers to Hari Mari's email list". As reported by Fast Company, the new Hari Mari x Nokona has a sensor inside that connect to an app the buyer downloads:
The embedded chip uses near-field communication technology, meaning it can't track you over long distances. Rather, you can pair it with your mobile app to get Hari Mari's special offers.
Basically, there's a tag inside the thongs - which retail for $US110 - that talks to an app that users are encouraged to download. When paired, the app will then send customers prompts about discounts or special promotions. In other words: Consumers aren't getting any useful information from their fancy new shoes, like, say, fitness data. They're just getting a dumb app.
This sounds a little bit like that classic scene from Minority Report where John Anderton (Tom Cruise) enters a Gap store with the retinas of someone else. Personalised advertising ensues.
Except this tech isn't that advanced. In fact, it's really a beta test that Hari Mari is doing to try to get more information about its buyers. And unlike Minority Report, this really isn't creepy — because it's opt-in and it doesn't track your movements — it's just a way for the brand to potentially send push alerts to customers. But while it may not be creepy, it sure is stupid!
In a phone interview, Hari Mari's co-founder Lila Stewart explained to me that her company sells roughly 75 per cent of its products through wholesale — retailers like REI or Nordstrom. As a result, the company gets very little insight into who those customers are. In contrast, if someone orders a pair of thongs from the Hari Mari website, the company gets an email, an address, a purchase history, and maybe even an age if the customer chooses to share that.
Because the company doesn't get those types of insights from in-store sales, Stewart says it's missing out on a "really big opportunity to engage with customers". This is also known as "we want a way to better advertise to potential customers".
Hari Mari could just pay for emails lists like other brands, but that costs a lot of money and doesn't always get customers actually interested in a product. So rather than buy a bunch of email addresses, the five-year-old footwear brand has decided to see if it can convince users to download an app that "talks" to the shoes instead.
I asked Stewart how her company planned to convince people to do that, and she said that the thongs will have markers to download on the packaging. And to incentivise users into giving up their email and demographic data, anyone who signs up for the app will get free shipping for life and "exclusives" or "first right of purchase" for future shoes that Hari Mari releases.
When I expressed scepticism that anyone would actually do this, Stewart told me that this is a beta test to see if this can work as a way of acquiring customer data. Hari Mari worked with Emmitt Smith's Prova group to put the tags into the shoes. Notably, Hari Mari didn't have to pay for this tech — at least, not now. If this idea miraculously takes off, then Prova will undoubtedly take the idea to other clothing makers as a way to help them build email lists for products sold offline. (We can't wait.)
I understand that "brands" need a better way of getting insights into the types of people that buy their products, but this is a very silly way to do it. For the life of me, I cannot conceive of anyone who will willingly download an app for their thongs. Big retail brands have a difficult time getting consumers to download apps. I can't see a smaller brand — for thongs, no less, hardly something you buy all the time — finding much success, either.
If done correctly — like Under Armor's Gemini 2 sneakers — I like the idea of shoes that can either collect data about how I'm walking or running, and act like a hands-free fitness tracker. Unfortunately, the "smart" tech that Hari Mari is using is really just dedicated to getting more information about the people that buy its products.