How Snipes’ Tech Base Enables it to Master AI and Manage ‘Black Friday Every Week’

European lifestyle brand Snipes kickstarted its U.S. debut in 2019 through the acquisition of KicksUSA, which gave the retailer access to 63 stores and an ecommerce platform. However, reaching its current level of success — 308 U.S. stores and 12X digital revenue growth over the past few years — has required Snipes to reimagine the approach it took in Europe while powering operations with a strong technology stack.

If you asked our CEO pre-pandemic who we were, he would say we are a marketing and entertainment company that happens to sell shoes,” said Jenna Flateman Posner, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) at Snipes in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “We are very focused on getting physically in front of our consumer, and in Europe the strategy there is around very niche markets like dance, BMX, etc. When we came to the U.S. market, we had the autonomy to redefine our go-to-market strategy.”

Snipes’ heavily urban footprint has made community involvement a natural fit for the brand, from sponsoring haircuts during back-to-school season to opening community computer centers. The brand still appears at festivals and sponsors NBA teams, but that is complemented by strong efforts to support the communities where its stores are located — as well as a strong omnichannel presence.

Generative AI Lets Copywriters Focus on the Human Element

Technology has played a role in helping Snipes get its community-driven message across. The retailer has been developing its product description pages (PDPs) using generative AI tools for the past seven months, and these solutions have proven particularly useful for a company with regular product drops.

“We have a big dropship strategy that we’re launching, and so you’ve got to have the ability to write up and enable thousands of SKUs sometimes,” said Flateman Posner. “The manual effort that would have been needed has now been shortened tremendously. We’re seeing roughly two weeks’ worth of work done in about two hours.”

Properly used, AI doesn’t impede creativity but rather enables it, according to Flateman Posner. The company’s copywriters have taken on the role of editors, and the time saved using AI-generated copy for PDPs enables them to focus on more valuable tasks.

“AI has really created more room for the human narrative,” she said. “Copywriting is a function; it’s not necessarily an art. We have to describe the shoe in a way that makes it SEO-optimized — that’s really, really important — but if a machine can do that, we can free up copywriters to write more dynamic, compelling, emotionally driven content that machines can’t match. Then it’s like we just doubled up. We get the efficiency of the copywriting and the ability to scale PDPs, and then we also get the benefit of our copywriters spending less time on not-so-exciting copy. That’s where we get to really lean into that differentiation, where we get to talk about those community events and the impact that we’re having and the ways in which we engage with our community. That’s the most compelling part to us.”

‘Black Friday Every Week’ Invites Stress, but also Opportunity

Messaging is just one part of a retailer’s operations, and Snipes has utilized technology including Salesforce’s Commerce Cloud, MuleSoft and Service Cloud to help it overcome challenges ranging from the stress of rapid growth to improving shoppers’ ability to update their orders.

An important ingredient in Snipes’ U.S. success has been scalability. The retailer was already a well-known brand based on its status in Europe, and its entrance into the U.S. via acquisition gave it a strong foothold, but its ability to grow despite upcoming challenges has proven vital.  

“We really built a foundation from which we knew that we could scale,” said Flateman Posner. “We knew that our success in the European market was a huge indicator of how we were going to do in the U.S. market, but I knew that we were going to have to have a really stable foundation in order to scale. We did, because when the pandemic hit it was game on. So we were very lucky to be in a very scalable environment that was able to handle all of our growth, all of our velocity.”

That need for speed is most evident in Snipes’ weekly “hype selling events” that showcase high-demand, low-quantity items. These launches mean the retailer’s operations are regularly tested by a crowd of shoppers eager to get the latest styles — which presents both a challenge and a golden opportunity.

For us, it’s like Black Friday every week,” said Flateman Posner. “We have the benefit of really stress-testing our infrastructure and our technology so we can learn really, really fast. We can see the gaps in our abilities where most retailers on this planet have to wait for the really high volume times, or do really disruptive load testing that they can never do enough. In that respect, it’s a bit of a gift that we can really see where things are bending or breaking.”

Order Management Upgrades Put Shoppers in Control

Flexibility is another important part of operations. Snipes’ order management system (OMS) was already very good at planning routes for efficient fulfillment, but the challenges of modern ecommerce mean that good routing isn’t enough. Snipes wanted to put more power in customers’ hands to make it easier on both parties for them to alter previously placed orders, but many OMS systems are a “black box” that can be difficult and time-consuming to change.

“There’s nothing worse than having a customer request to add something or request the cancellation of an order and we don’t get to it before it ships out,” said Flateman Posner. “It’s a nightmare. They’ve requested a cancellation but we’ve sent it and captured their payment, and it’s going to be very hard to get that customer back. There’s a lot on the line.”

Innovating to support functionality like this in a legacy POS system can take six to nine months for the roadmap to catch up, according to computer community centers. However, the company was able to adopt Salesforce Service Cloud to provide more power to both customer service representatives and customers, giving shoppers the ability to better serve themselves and cutting down on negative interactions.