Wondering why you can’t get your hands on the latest Jordan sneaker drop? Well, you can thank the overwhelming hype culture around sneakers, the genius of tech and the boom of social media for the commoditized market.
Previously, sneaker culture used to be glorified for its principles of style, community and history that defined a niche industry. And while this remains true, it’s impossible to ignore the shift that’s made consumers the biggest losers of the sneaker business today.
Anyone who’s been truly invested in the culture knows that getting a pair of the hottest sneakers was never an easy feat, but after technology was introduced as a new avenue for brands to sell their shoes, it changed the rules so that consumers now are in an unfair competition with several different apps, websites and technology-based “cheat codes” (better known as bots).
Bots, according to Business Insider, is a term that refers to a software application that’s used to expedite the online checkout process to ensure successful purchases — a pricey shortcut many resellers rely on to cop multiple pairs of limited-edition drops and highly-anticipated collaborations.
This kind of technology is a tool that’s been introduced in recent years, but according to Chad Jones — COO of premier sneaker enthusiast community Another Lane — the internet’s impact on the culture was felt long before these bots took over.
“As soon as you could have a computer in your house, it started to make a difference,” he tells AfroTech.
Michael Sykes, II — a sports reporter at For The Win/ USA Today — echoed this sentiment saying while the culture has always been a special pocket of the streetwear industry, “it started to open up once the influx of tech companies came in [i.e. GOAT, StockX, Stadium Goods].”
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The internet wave is what made local retail locations switch from in-store releases to online drops and raffles — that and the need to decrease violence at camp outs for consumers.
Journalist Michael Butler — who’s witnessed the sneaker industry’s shift firsthand after previously working in retail — explains that the introduction of online releases was both a blessing and a curse in protecting these buyers.
“That started a whole new nightmare for marginalized communities because for a kid [living] in the inner-city, you may not have had as many resources and been computer-savvy [enough] to [navigate] these digital raffles,” he tells us.
This is a common sentiment that many people feel is the reason for the death of that part of sneaker culture, and the rise of a new chapter that has put more eyes on the industry.
“I started to see the access points shifting,” well-known sneaker expert Jazerai Allen-Lord shares with us,”and that was really in response to what was happening at camp outs, line-ups, and brick-and-mortar retail having a difficult time responding to the influx of [wide] consumption and visibility of sneakers in mainstream media.”
Kia Marie — another popular sneaker enthusiast — shared similar thoughts stating, “I remember we had to have multiple browsers open just to get the pair of sneakers we wanted. Bots weren’t a thing [yet] but things were selling out really quickly. Fast forward a couple years later, and here we are where tech and innovation are pushing the culture forward, but at what cost?”
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The internet has undoubtedly become the most influential entity of today’s generation, introducing social media as another key player in the sneaker business. With targeted ads on platforms like Twitter and Instagram influencing the average consumer’s shopping decisions, they lure them into the hype of sneaker culture, making them vulnerable to some resellers.
Hype culture has become consumers’ biggest issue today, and for those who don’t have disposable income to splurge on shoes, it makes it even more difficult for people to purchase sneakers as some resellers are responding to the high demand with even higher prices.
“The way you combat resellers is if they bring their prices down to a level of normalcy and if people stop spending the excess money,” sports, entertainment and culture reporter Jarod Hector says. “Something only has value up until the [highest] price someone is willing to pay for it.”
This isn’t to say that resellers are bad for the sneaker business, in fact at this point, they seem absolutely necessary.
“[Reselling] has always been a part of the culture,” Another Lane co-founder Adena Jones says, “it’s just now technology is allowing people to do it in mass.”
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This practice of some resellers has become comparable to flipping properties for profit. And while some of them do their jobs out of love for the culture, others view it as an opportunity to get as much money out of consumers as they can — preventing others from scoring on these highly-anticipated sneaker drops the first go-round.
According to Sykes, II, accessibility has played a huge role in how difficult it is for people to purchase a pair of sneakers nowadays, and it doesn’t help that brands feed into the free promotion by pulling back on the amount of sneakers they produce for any given drop.
Yet and still, this hasn’t changed consumers’ addiction to entering raffles on apps like SNKRS in hopes that they may suddenly get lucky on the gamble they play week after week.
“I’ve never seen consumers get treated so poorly in an industry and still continue to spend their money,” Allen-Lord says. “That’s what you see in sneaker culture because there’s this emotion wrapped up in the storytelling and collecting of shoes so [people] continue to go back, but [these brands] are really not serving us as consumers.”
While many people point the finger at resellers, bots and online retail platforms as the source of the problem, we should be directing our attention at brands who manipulate the current state of the culture into doing the work for them.
Will we ever see sneaker brands shift this unbalanced dynamic to better cater to consumers? Only time will be able to tell, but with enough pushback and the right approach, consumers still have a chance to change this phase of the culture in a way that gives them a better advantage to come out on top of new releases.