Champs Sports: AR ‘Will Absolutely Become A Bigger Part Of Shopping Behavior’

Jason Brown, VP of marketing at Champs Sports

While it’s unclear when physical shopping will snap back to pre-pandemic levels, retailers such as Foot Locker subsidiary Champs Sports, are experimenting with replacement technologies, including augmented reality.

In September, Champs became the first sports brand to test a new AR shoppable lens on Snapchat. The format allows users to virtually try on different sneaker styles with the option to buy directly through the lens. So far, Champs is seeing an 8% average share rate, which is 5x above the benchmark for retailers using more conventional lenses on Snapchat.

“Our rule of thumb is to test any media partner that is relevant to our target consumer,” said Jason Brown, VP of marketing at Champs Sports. “We always try to be out there and first to market to try new opportunities, because there are only so many times that you can see the same sorts of ads over and over.”

Champs, which operates nearly 550 chain stores across the United States and Canada, mainly targets high school-age athletes, and worked with its media agency, PHD, to reach that audience using the interest data available on Snapchat.

Brown spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: Why is AR interesting to you, and is it becoming a more ingrained part of your media mix or do you still consider it experimental?

JASON BROWN: We’re definitely in the infancy stage with AR. Everyone is still trying to figure out how to play in this space, whether that’s for live sports or advertising. But if you think about what we just did with Snap, being able to recreate the store experience in your house – that speaks volumes, especially now.

Some people may not be comfortable going to a mall, so this gives them an alternative way to experience our brand and our products.

How else are you rolling with the pandemic punches?

It’s an understatement to say that brands need to stay fluid and be nimble. When stores had to close, for example, we had to work with our ops and field teams to figure out how to ensure we could keep our associates safe while continuing to provide a safe experience for the customer and removing unnecessary friction points. And then we had to communicate all of our measures from a marketing perspective.

One thing we did was to focus on buy-online-pickup-in-store, which we’ve been ramping up as we get closer to the holidays. Another element that’s been a big shift for us is how we create a sense of community in our target markets. We have a flagship store in Chicago that has a 3,000-foot experiential space that we’ve historically used to welcome groups, like local high school boys basketball teams, women’s volleyball teams and community organizations. Given that we can no longer host events like that, we’re transitioning to virtual experiences. We’re adapting.

In September, Champs became the first sports brand to test a new AR shoppable lens on Snapchat, which enables a virtual tryon experience.Are people actually buying shoes through the virtual try-on experience running on Snapchat, and what are your other KPIs for this effort?

We have had customers make purchases through the lens.

But at the end of the day, it’s engagement. We definitely want to sell products – that’s why we’re in this business. By the same token, though, things like the swipe-up rate, the share rate, average campaign play time and average screen time show us that there is interest from our consumers to engage in this way. All of those numbers have been well above average so far.

What will it take to really unlock shoppable AR? These sort of experiences still feel like a novelty more than anything.

My instincts tell me that augmented reality will absolutely become a bigger part of shopping behavior. I can’t put a date on it, but it’s going to happen and it is happening.

Champs sells a ton of footwear, but apparel is also huge for us. The ability to virtually try on tech fleece or sweats, a favorite jersey, hats – this will become part of the fabric of shopping.

Eventually, we’ll get to the point where we won’t necessarily see as much foot traffic in malls, because you can just do BOPIS or have the products delivered. Of course, some people will still want to touch products before they buy them or see what a design looks like in person. Nothing can replace that. You also can underestimate the in-store discovery component. But the next best scenario is going to be AR.

How does Snapchat fit into your overall media plan?

Hundreds of millions of people in our target audience are using Snapchat. That was also true several years ago, but we as brand marketers had to make sure that we could get a return on our ad spend.

Over the past two to three years, Snap has made significant progress as it relates to being brand friendly and showing us the return on our investment. It’s not an always-on partnership – we’ve tested Snap during back-to-school, the holidays and during other tentpoles throughout the year – but because they’re making it easier for us to see ROI, I’d say they’re in our top three for social media platforms.

This interview has been edited and condensed.