In 1996, Under Armour’s prototype shirt—affectionately dubbed “the Shorty”—introduced a new type of garment to the world of sports and fitness. Soft and stretchy, it was made of synthetic microfibers that wicked sweat and clung tightly to the skin, as if the shirt and its wearer were a single organism custom-built for athletic prowess and efficiency.
One could apply that same description to the retail experience currently being developed by Under Armour as a brand: efficient, customized, collaborative, and futuristic.
“The landscape and role of physical retail is evolving,” says Megan Anderson, Under Armour’s director of global retail future concepts. “The consumer expects there to be synergy between a brand’s online experience and the physical experience within the store. At the same time, the store needs to offer something above and beyond what can be experienced in a solely digital environment.”
With an eye on the future, the Under Armour team has outfitted several DTC stores in both the North American and Chinese markets testing interactive features—the goal being to elevate the customer experience to one that’s more seamless and creative.
Most intriguing of these new advancements is the concept of in-store customization. Currently available in three stateside stores, it essentially allows consumers to customize their own shoe.
The process starts with the customer visiting the store and picking a blank, white sneaker. They customize their design using an iPad, selecting from a palette’s worth of prebuilt textures, fonts, and graphics corresponding to the current season’s products. Once they’ve created the perfect look for their footwear, the design is printed on-site in real time. They can walk out of the store with their customized shoe in as short as 10 minutes.
“That’s not something you can do in the digital space,” Anderson says. “Near instant gratification and customization: it’s a reason to come to the store.”
In-store customization will remain in testing mode through the end of 2021. Customers at the test stores can also design their own Under Armour masks using the same process, and the company is evaluating what other types of product are a good fit for the technology.
Under Armour’s second in-store innovation will affect an even wider range of customers—not just those seeking a customized sneaker. Described as connected fitting rooms, the initiative (currently being tested in both the United States and China) totes a number of interactive features designed to push the Under Armour shopping experience into new territory.
When a consumer enters the fitting room, they encounter an interface that registers all of the product being brought into the fitting room for try-on through RFID recognition. Through the interface, customers can explore additional product details for each of their items, such as if that product is available in a different color or recommendations for complementary products.
But the interface will also allow them to electronically notify a sales associate if they need assistance, such as a different size with acknowledgement that the sales associate has received their request. That way, they don’t have to worry about redressing or venturing back into the store while they’re still in the middle of trying on clothing.
“We’ve all had that experience of awkwardly peeking out of the fitting room to see if anyone’s there to assist,” Anderson acknowledges, laughing. “This is about leveraging technology so that our sales staff can be as efficient as possible and offer exceptional customer service. Fitting rooms are a key area for driving conversion, where consumers decide to buy.”
In a way, projects such as in-store customization and connected fitting rooms foster a team mentality between everyone inside an Under Armour store, regardless of whether they’re a teammate or customer. One of the brand’s core values is to “love athletes,” by providing the tools to make every athlete “legendary,” alongside the company vision of “Under Armour Makes You Better.” This becomes a lot easier when the shopping experience is that much more seamless.
Anderson strives for a similar non-hierarchal environment in her day-to-day work. Seeing as she’s been at Under Armour for nearly 15 years, having started out in 2006 as a graphic designer, the importance of collectivity isn’t lost on her—or her partners.
They’re quick to point out how her methodical approach, attention to detail, and even contagious passion make her the right fit for overseeing these initiatives. “When I think of best-in-class, I think of Megan Anderson,” says Nick Travelstead, president of Travelstead Transportation Group. “She consistently strives for and achieves perfection. There are few people that possess such a comprehensive skill set that they can be an expert across business functions. Megan is that rare talent! I am proud to call her a friend and professional partner.”
Still, the director remains humble. “I’m privileged to lead a team,” Anderson says. “It’s a huge responsibility, and I take it as such. When making a decision, I want to make sure I’ve heard all of the voices in the room so we can all collectively decide on a path forward. How do we all create together from a design standpoint? How do we respect each other’s points of view and decide how we’re going to deliver together?
“Sometimes it’s your idea,” she adds. “Sometimes it’s my idea. Sometimes it’s a combination of everybody’s ideas. And that’s OK. We’re all allowed to be ourselves and everyone’s contributions are appreciated.”