Virtual reality is here to stay, says New Balance

New Balance is committed to virtual reality. “I think it’s very real,” Mary Halladay, global head of eCommerce and omnichannel at New Balance, said as she walked on stage at Salesforce’s Xchange event wearing a VR headset.

Speaking at the event in Copenhagen this week, she described how retail used to share a sentiment with real estate: “It was location, location, location,” she said. “Now across all the channels it’s experience, experience, experience.

“That’s where our consumers are and where the bar is set,” she added, explaining how retailers are trying hard to catch up with customer expectations.

One VR experience New Balance offers its customers, is the chance to virtually visit its factories.

“We’re a 100-year-old company and from the very beginning we’ve manufactured shoes in the US and the UK and we’re committed to our associates and the quality of the product.”

But Halladay says just talking about the company’s history and manufacturing process does not resonate with a 15-year-old kid interested in the brand.

“But we can take them to the factory floor,” she said, noting how New Balance will soon be able to use VR to take customers to the factory to see their personalised shoes being made.  

“It’s critical to keep up with the technology and to keep up with the standard being set.”

She described how the store has been the consumer touchpoint all retailers have struggled to digitally transform. “We’re in the digital space and cutting edge, but we’re still figuring out what happens in the store.”

New Balance decided to roll out demonstration areas in seven of its flagship stores, so customers can see shoes being assembled in-store.

She said: “We’re bringing that experience from the factory to the store floor.”

Working with Salesforce over the last year, New Balance has made its loyalty app shoppable, expanded its eCommerce presence into 20 additional European countries and launched a direct-to-consumer website in China.

It has also launched a new ‘direct-to-team’ online business model. “The sporting kid grows up playing football and other sports so it’s critical we get on him or her early,” she said.

The direct-to-team website allows managers to go online to choose the necessary sporting kit each child requires. The parents can then go online to purchase, while also being upsold other New Balance merchandise at the same time.