Last month’s restock of the Air Jordan 1 “Lost and Found” on Nike’s SNKRS app did not go according to plan. After Nike teased the shoe’s return a week in advance, the April 20 restock was marred by checkout issues that made the sneaker feel even more unattainable than expected. At a media event at the Nike’s S23 studio office in New York on Wednesday, SNKRS VP Lucy Rouse discussed what went wrong with the drop.
“We had a challenge with a third-party scaling issue, which basically prevented us from being able to handle the traffic for that particular launch,” Rouse said.
When the SNKRS group realized there were error messages in the app bombarding users during the launch, they activated a triage team and went back to the third-party vendor to try and fix the problem, according to Rouse.
Rouse has led SNKRS since April 2022, when she took over for longtime SNKRS boss Ron Faris. In her current role, she also oversees Nike NBHD (short for “neighborhood”), which is an ecosystem of partners that includes the stores carrying the brand’s most hyped products. Rouse wants to leverage those groups to support an engaging, progressive, and inclusive community that exists online in spaces like SNKRS and in-person at physical stores and events.
Nike has historically been reluctant to acknowledge the occasionally rocky launches on SNKRS. Concerns around the app have been raised internally at the brand, but rarely in public. Rouse’s comments represent something of a shift in how Nike communicates about how the SNKRS app functions. She says SNKRS is committed to fairness and transparency, which means addressing the factors it has to defend against.
“A ton of different things can happen and every situation is unique,” Rouse said, “whether it’s bad actors scraping the backend of our platform to leak when drops are launching or third-party partner tools breaking down. And, of course, our apps are also constantly tested by record traffic from legitimate users and bots, driven by continued interest in our most coveted products. As such, we sometimes encounter new and unexpected bugs, but are committed to continue to innovate in the ways that we support our users and update our experiences to handle the scale that we see on a daily basis.”
Bots on SNKRS can typically comprise 50 percent of the entries on any given high-heat launch and hit the app with an average 12 billion monthly requests to try and cheat the release process. Nike, Rouse said, has up to a 98 percent success rate in filtering out bots on SNKRS.
In the past, the brand rarely acknowledged that there were bots threatening to compromise its launches. More recently, SNKRS has published info about the rates of bot usage on the app.
The transparency has a limit, though. Rouse said Nike wants to “provide enough info so that we’re giving consumers confidence” without giving an advantage to botters looking to game the system.
The app makes headlines for releases that go wrong—like the “Lost and Found” Air Jordan 1 restock—but it’s been able to recover. Just this past week, the SNKRS drop for the Travis Scott x Air Jordan 1 Low “Olive” was smooth, despite the product being more sought after than the Chicago-colored “Lost and Found” Jordan 1s.
Per Rouse, the demand for the rapper’s sneaker collaborations exceeds that of anything else on SNKRS.
“Travis Scott is without fail the most entries we ever get,” she said. (Nike’s indicated this before—a September 2022 launch of Air Jordan 1 Lows from Travis Scott set a record for entries on SNKRS.)
Because the supply of relatively limited-edition sneakers like Travis Scott’s Air Jordans is still lower than the demand, most of those who entered for a chance to buy the sneakers likely weren’t able to. But the launch for his most recent pairs was at least a stable one.
As interest in these kinds of special-edition sneakers hits an all-time high, the distribution channels for them have felt the pressure.
This exists across all sneaker brands’ launch platforms, but none of them became a flashpoint for consumer joy and frustration like Nike’s SNKRS app. For the SNKRS team, addressing the pain points, and figuring out how to serve the most passionate community of Nike’s shoppers at scale, is a constant journey.
“We know we can be better,” Rouse said.