February 6, 2019

Nike’s Byron Merritt Offers Innovation Keynote on the Retail-Digital Convergence

Nike’s Byron Merritt delivers the Innovation Conference’s keynote address. Photography by Erik Bardin.

Byron Merritt, Nike’s VP of global retail innovation, delivered the keynote speech at Interior Design‘s inaugural Innovation Conference in New York City. At Nike, it’s Merritt’s job to push the boundaries of creativity into new territories, reinventing the iconic athleticwear brand experience to stay ahead of the rapidly-shifting technological and cultural changes happening every day. He is a multi-hyphenate creative, overseeing marketing, design, innovation, and how these departments comprise customer experience online and off. During the lunch hour at yesterday’s conference, Merritt talked attendees through what the design industry has to gain as the boundaries between digital and brick-and-mortar continue to fade.

> Watch highlights of his keynote speech.

Merritt kicked off the keynote, titled “The Convergence of Digital and Physical,” with an invigorating film montage of Nike’s biggest athletic talent, captured in the moments before securing key victories. It was an appropriate metaphor to show raw talent amplified by a carefully-calibrated strategy and the best of the best in product design.

Meeting the challenges posed by the rapidly-shifting retail landscape isn’t easy; if it was, everyone would be bringing in the Nike brand’s $34.5 billion in revenue. “Retail isn’t dead,” Merritt informed the audience. “Boring retail is dead.” Rather than meeting the changes brought to brick-and-mortar by e-commerce with dread, his approach is to decide how new technology and more data on customers’ preferences can strengthen the product and retail experience overall.

“I think the things that we’re doing as a brand are about assessing the experience of retail in a way that can make it not boring, right? To serve consumers in the way that they want to be served, to keep pace with the way that consumers are experiencing the world today. And really leveraging the power of digital to do that.”

What does leveraging the power of digital look like in retail, exactly? In Los Angeles, it comes in the form of the brand’s Nike by Melrose concept store. Every aspect of the store, from its exact location to its running-focused product assortment, is a deliberate and strategic maneuver informed by Los Angeles consumer behavior. In New York, Miami, Paris, and Beijing, the brand’s flagship Trial Zones allow everyday athletes to test-drive Nike footwear through a bespoke experience in a high-tech studio simulator of their chosen sport. Online, it comes in the form of the robust Nike+ app, which allows users access to Nike trainers, exclusive events, and the ability to book a variety of in-store concierge services.

Instead of trying to pigeonhole the consumer into they way the brand thinks they should shop, listening and learning from what they do want is the core driver of Nike’s success it seems. “For us it starts with the consumer and the teams that work on digital. [They] start from the same consumer and really understanding that consumer and understanding the path that they’re on and innovating it all on that path. That’s really where it all comes together,” Merritt said.

After the keynote, Interior Design asked Merritt how he defines the word of the day: innovation.

“Innovation for me is looking in the seams and looking between the boundaries of disciplines and experiences and really trying to merge those things together.”

Watch highlights of his keynote speech:

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