How Adidas Moved to Smart Customization & Personalized Coaching

A Journey from Mass-Produced to Smart Customization

January 8, 2009

Adidas pioneered in custom footwear and was an early leader in mass-customization. This brief case study describes the history of customization at Adidas from removable studs to just-in-time personalized coaching. Online, in stores, and at sporting events, Adidas provides many ways for customers to tailor the fit, performance and style of their shoes. Now Adidas is moving up the value chain with personalized online coaching for better fitness and performance.

Adidas Pioneered in Providing Custom Footwear

Adidas has been a true long-time pioneer of mass-customization. The company has tried many different approaches over the years and has learned a lot from all of them. At the MIT Smart Customization Seminar in November 2008, Alison Page, Manager of Customization at Adidas, gave a great presentation covering a few of the highlights.

Adidas sprang to fame when, in 1955, the German soccer team beat the favored Hungarian team to win the World Cup. This upset was dubbed “The Miracle of Bern.” The German team was wearing Adidas boots with removable studs. When the rain came, they screwed the studs onto their shoes and won the match against the Hungarians.

Customizing Sports Performance Shoes: High Tech/High Touch

Although Adidas had always kept up the tradition of designing customized shoes for top athletes, it wasn’t until the late 1990s that Adidas decided to make customized shoes available to the mass market. mi adidas, the mass-customization operation, was piloted in 1999 and launched in 2000 to bring custom footwear to the common person.

The Adidas approach to the custom design of performance shoes relies heavily on well-trained knowledgeable experts—people who understand both fit and performance and can truly add value to the co-design activity. Starting in the late ’90s, Adidas outfitted a number of its retail outlets to provide custom fitting and custom design services. They also brought the custom design skills and technology to major sporting events. I described the approach in my book, Outside Innovation1, quoting from a case study co-authored by Frank Piller:

“‘The company provides a service that, until now, was only available to top athletes…Customers’ feet are scanned using a foot scanning system, in order to determine the exact length, width and pressure distribution of each foot.’2 This information is entered into a software program at a sales kiosk to determine the best-fitting shoe. The customer is then given prototype shoes in the right fit and style to try on. ‘Once satisfied with fit, the customer designs the color elements and selects material preferences. All of these steps are performed with the help of a sales kiosk leading the customer through the codesign process, supported by a sales clerk.’3 The shoes arrive within three weeks.”4

Over the years, Adidas has continuously refined the technology assists that it provides its personnel to custom design performance shoes. In 2006, Adidas opened an Innovation Centre in Paris which includes a pressure sensitive treadmill used to capture runners’ gaits as well as the use of touch screen and handheld technology for customers and trained associates to capture fit and to select and to customize the shoe designs. Here’s a YouTube link5 to a video describing the experience.

Custom Design for Fashion-Conscious Consumers

Many of Adidas’s customers are more interested in fashion and originality than they are with sports performance. In 2008, Adidas piloted a new in-store design experience for Adidas Originals shoes that is targeted to its most fashion-conscious customers, the trend-setters. This new Adidas experience takes its inspiration from Tattoo parlors. The customer/designer sits in a comfortable “Tattoo chair,” surrounded by examples of artwork and shoe designs. S/he uses an in-store system to design a shoe with a custom and even personalized look. Here’s a YouTube link6 to an ad for the Mi Originals boutiquewithin the recently redesigned Zurich Originals Adidas store.

Designing Your Custom Shoes Online

Adidas was comparatively late in enabling customers to customize their own shoes using a Web site. Other brands have offered online customization and ordering of athletic shoes for some time: Converse (2005), Reebok (an Adidas sister company, 2005). Today, Adidas offers a state-of-the-art online customization and ordering experience, including the unique ability to order left and right shoes in different sizes.

Streamlining the Supply Chain to Support Mass-Customization

Since 2006, Alison Page has been leading a team focused on streamlining the supply chain for the custom manufacturing operation. As Adidas has perfected and experimented with front-end technology to enhance the custom shoe design experience, Alison and her team were streamlining the custom manufacturing process. “We’re constantly tuning our infrastructure for speed, flexibility, and lot size one; for example, being able to download orders to the factory daily vs. periodically was a major change to our production operation.” Distribution costs are also a challenge, Alison explained. The costs of air freight are high, yet customers want fast delivery. Raw material management is a big challenge. Supporting true mass customization requires internal change management....


*** references***

1) Seybold, Patricia. Outside Innovation: How Your Customers Will Co-Design Your Company’s Future. New York: Collins, 2006.
2) Berger, Christoph; Möslein, Kathrin; Piller, Frank; Reichwad, Ralf. “Cooperation between Manufacturers, Retailers and Customers for User Co-Design: Learning from Exploratory Research,” published in a revised version in the European Management Review, No. 1/2005: 70-87, [] DOI: http:/
3) Ibid
4) Seybold, Patricia. Outside Innovation: How Your Customers Will Co-Design Your Company’s Future. New York: Collins, 2006. p. 279
5) Mi Adidas Innovation Centre in Paris:
6) Adidas Originals Store Reopening Zurich:


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