Covid-19: how sneaker company On handled pandemic-level demand

When Swiss running shoe business On created a 50% discount voucher for health care workers, its ad-hoc offer quickly went viral and the company soon found itself overwhelmed.

On was founded in 2010 and has since attracted a following among sports enthusiasts around the world – including tennis star Roger Federer, who came on board as in investor and designer last year.

“When lockdown started and we saw more infections throughout the world, we began to get inquiries from customers asking about discounts for nurses,” Verena Strunk-Wenzl, global head of customer experience at On, tells Essential Retail. “So we decided to create an offer and just gave the voucher out whenever a health care workers approached us.”

But in the space of 48-hours all the stock it had set aside for the offer sold out and the company was swamped by inquiries asking why the code wasn’t working. Its head of eCommerce also got in touch to ask why there was a sudden spike in sales, she says.

“We were shocked and surprised. It was going so viral – it was shared through newsletters, Facebook groups… and had landed on a coupon site.”

So the company decided to extend the scheme and create a dedicated landing page for health workers approaching them, which also asked for proof they worked in the medical sector.

Unprecedented demand

But the number of order inquiries via the landing page rose by 3,200% to 40,000 in just a few weeks, mostly from the US and UK.

In order to to cope with the huge volume, On worked with its technology partner Digital Genius to automate 90% of its responses. Questions about refunds and exchanges also increased by 300%, which it was also able to resolve as its technology integrated with carrier. So it could take an order number and tell customers where the package was.  

During the medical heroes campaign in April/May, On had a 34% uplift in web sales. But that also includes an increase in regular customer demand. It was a busy time, says Strunk-Wenzl.

“The downside when you see such a huge increase in sales from one day to the other, is the warehouses are not prepared. When you see such an increase, they couldn’t manage the volume. We were then getting a backlog of orders not shipping out in time and customers asking where they were. And other customers also asking about their orders.”

That was compounded by everything moving slower due to social distancing and a decrease in the the number warehouse staff. The company also had to react quickly so its eCommerce site could handle the spike. “We had to improve the loading experience for the customer,” she says.

“It was a tough time,” she says. “But it has brought us to a new audience that didn’t know about us before.”

Next time it embarks on a campaign, she says it will ensure the company doesn’t get overwhelmed in the same way. “This experience made it much clearer to us as a business how important automation is and how powerful is for us. Before we thought this was just a project, but now it has become a key pillar for the growth of the company.”