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Hibbett | City Gear

Heady built a proprietary raffle system for athletic retailer Hibbett Sports, democratizing hyped sneaker launches while supporting an award-winning omnichannel shopping experience.

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DEPARTMENTS
  • Strategy
  • Development
  • Product Management
  • Design
PLATFORMS
  • iOS App
  • Android App
  • Web

Partner

With more than 1,100 stores mostly located in small to mid-sized markets, the Birmingham, Alabama-based brand does a brisk business catering to small town sneakerheads with an insatiable thirst for the newest releases and hottest colorways.

Founded in 1945, Hibbett is one of the oldest names in sporting goods and has evolved from a family-owned brick-and-mortar retailer to a publicly traded company with more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

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In 2017, the brand dove head first into digital transformation — and while its foray into online shopping may have been 10 years behind its biggest competitors, Hibbett’s new ecommerce business quickly began to gain traction. With shoe sales comprising approximately 75 percent of its business, growing its footprint in the sneakerhead sphere was crucial to the brand’s continued growth.

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Hibbett had to not only keep up with the feverish demand for sneakers, but also continue to provide an elevated customer experience in order to set itself apart in a crowded field.

In a world where hyped sneaker launches are rife with resellers, bot takeovers, and scores of disappointed customers going home empty-handed, what's a brand to do?

As it dove head first into serious digital transformation efforts, Hibbett needed omnichannel capabilities that would give customers a uniquely personalized digital experience while also driving them to brick-and-mortar stores. They also needed an innovative solution to democratizing hyped sneaker launches for fans, whether they were in Los Angeles or Peoria, Illinois. 

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Strategy

Strategy

Opportunities

There were two primary avenues for Heady to accelerate Hibbett’s digital transformation.

The first was to do sneaker launches better than all of its competitors by building a reliable and fair raffle system that could also withstand the heavy traffic (and relentless bot attacks) that hyped launches attract.

The second opportunity was no less lofty: to make Hibbett a true omnichannel retailer by creating a smooth, frictionless experience for BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) and ROPIS (reserve online, pick up in store) that was tailored to each user’s needs and wants.

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Strategic Challenges

When it came to building a reliable and fair raffle system, it was clear we had our work cut out for us.

Raffles for hyped items in general — and sneakers in particular — are overrun with bots and resellers that snatch up the goods and quickly flip them for inflated prices, creating a frenzied sneaker resale market that often puts the latest releases out of reach for regular people. Ensuring that Hibbett didn’t become a prime target for resellers armed with legions of bots would take significant strategic and technical prowess.

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Then there was the challenge of giving Hibbett robust omnichannel capabilities. It wasn’t enough to simply give customers the option to buy online and pick up in store. We had to provide a seamless and streamlined experience that had the flexibility to best serve users’ needs in the moment without distracting them from their initial goal (AKA making a purchase).

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We also needed to find ways to introduce more users to brick-and-mortar stores while simultaneously providing a stellar online experience that would turn them into Hibbett loyalists. At the same time, we’d have to tackle the many complexities of building for a retailer with more than a thousand stores, such as inventory management.

Product Management

Product
Management

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Business Analysis

Business analysis is often seen as a step to check off in early stages of the product development process: identifying why your project is needed, and for whom. 

Here at Heady, it underpins the entire digital product lifecycle as we perform ongoing business analysis at all levels of the organization.

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Our QA team regularly reports in with their insights about the Hibbett user experience, and we utilize analytics to provide data-driven recommendations:

What’s going well? What’s not going so well? Where can we improve and where can we capitalize on our successes? Where are there opportunities for new features or functionalities to advance the Hibbett brand, and how can the latest developments in iOS, Android, and other platforms and technologies be used to their best advantage?

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Collaboration

Providing clients with dedicated teams that feel internal is one of the things that makes Heady, Heady — and our close working relationship with Hibbett is a prime example. As our longest-standing client partner, we’ve built a strong and trusting bond with Hibbett’s team.

Constant communication and transparency is built into our process, with weekly standups and show-and-tells and our product managers touching base daily for raffle operations. Heady is Hibbett’s mobile product agency of record, but as an enterprise brand with 1,100-plus stores they have several partners that we work closely with to ensure cohesion.

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Product Roadmapping

As Hibbett’s long-term partner, we’re constantly thinking ahead to the next launch, the next year, and the next big thing that will improve the user experience and drive business growth.

The development and rollout of new features requires close coordination between the app and website teams, as features are rolled out first to the Hibbett website and then to the mobile app to ensure a symmetrical omnichannel experience.

In addition to ongoing app maintenance and enhancements, we’ve recently developed a couple top-secret (for now!) internal apps for Hibbett that will be publicly unveiled in the coming months, revolving around a greater focus on store experiences and giving staff the best tools to provide a top-tier customer experience.

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The Heady Difference

We’re your thought partner, not just your dev shop. 

At Heady, we don’t just do what’s asked of us. We proactively seek out new ways to do what’s best for our clients and their business. We build truly custom solutions that solve client needs, and we also serve as the thought partners in how those solutions can meet strategic business goals.

Hibbett wasn’t looking for just a dev shop. They needed an expert technology partner that could understand the big picture of their business, then strategize and execute bespoke solutions that would not only fit their current needs but also accelerate their growth as a respected brand serving the sneakerhead market.

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“They’ve successfully built and managed a stable customer-facing raffle system that has proven to be a major driver of revenue.”

Bill Quinn

Senior Vice President,
Digital Commerce, Hibbett Sports

Design

Design

The sleek and fashion-forward look of the Hibbett app is reflective of Heady’s tailored approach to designing for each client individually. We didn’t just copy their website: We designed uniquely for the app to create an experience that felt familiar but elevated and perfectly tailored to mobile.

We’re currently undertaking a visual refresh to move toward a more sleek, minimal, higher-end experience evolving the design along with the brand while always staying true to Hibbett’s roots and ensuring long-time customers aren’t alienated.

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Design Approach

At Heady our design ethos is “Design with, not for.” From the very beginning of our partnership back in 2018, Hibbett has been heavily involved in design and we’ve established a collaborative process that leaves room for creative innovation while staying focused on satisfying business needs.

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Specializations

Systems Thinking

With a project of this scale, ensuring that everything we design for Hibbett feels cohesive requires systems thinking. That means every aspect of our designs revolves around intentional thinking around the larger Hibbett business plan, including who they are now and who they want to be as a brand. With numerous new features as well as other apps for Hibbett currently in development, it’s essential to keep the entire product ecosystem in mind when we design to ensure consistency across the brand. As we work to evolve the brand visually we maintain a user-centered approach, ensuring that our designs remain familiar to long-time Hibbett customers.

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Design Process 
Summary

Overview

Through ideation sessions, design reviews and frequent check-ins, we work closely with Hibbett to create the best possible designs. When it comes to designing for new features, our process typically begins with meeting with their internal design team. Robust user research is part of Hibbett’s ongoing strategy for growth, the results of which they pass along to us, enabling us to devise strategies and design solutions that implement their findings.

Our team then presents their proposed designs to Hibbett’s product managers for feedback and direction on any further iterations. Next, we ensure the desired design is feasible from both a technical and resourcing standpoint before granting final approval to move ahead with a particular design.

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Versions vs. Variations

One important component of Heady’s design process involves versions vs. variations. While versions are an iteration on the same thing (e.g., different ways of presenting a carousel), a variation is a totally new take on how to address something (e.g., not a carousel at all but a completely different way of displaying the desired information).

Focusing on variations over versions allows us to enter a new dimension of creativity that’s sometimes lacking in technical design processes. It’s easy enough to design around Hibbett’s requirements, but instead we strive to think outside the box with creative design solutions that visually solve problems. Exploring iterations that may not be “the one” can nevertheless help us expand our design thinking and stumble on new ideas that we wouldn’t have otherwise discovered, ensuring that the Hibbett app always feels fresh and innovative.

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Development

Development

Technical
Challenges

The team’s biggest technical hurdles revolved around the Launch Raffle.

Namely, accommodating a huge amount of traffic due to demand for hyped sneaker launches, as well as safeguarding against sophisticated bots in order to ensure the raffles are fair for all. The stability and smooth operation of the Launch Raffle was critical to the Hibbett Sports brand.

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Technical Solutions

Hibbett’s Launch Raffle is a complex feature that involves tens of thousands participants vying for shoes in various sizes, for pickup at one of hundreds of different store locations. With multiple raffles being held every week, giving Hibbett the tools to manage their day-to-day Launch Raffle operations in-house was essential, and it required a custom solution. That’s where our proprietary content and feature management platform, AMS, came in.
We created a custom AMS build for Hibbett that allows them to control every aspect of the Launch Raffle with ease, from setting up and testing new raffles to confirming inventory to enabling store associates to serve customers who are picking up their wins. AMS also facilitates Hibbett’s omnichannel capabilities, serving as a single source of truth for both the website and mobile app and ensuring users have access to the same data and inventory regardless of where they’re shopping.
On any given day, Twitter is flooded with complaints from hopeful sneakerheads who were bested by bots or fell victim to yet another site buckling under the weight of hyped release traffic. Scaling Hibbett’s database and servers to handle the sneaker raffle traffic was no small feat, but it was crucial to distinguishing them from their competitors. Our solution is based on AWS cloud capabilities and adjusted and iterated month after month until we found just the right configuration to make the raffles run as smoothly as possible.
We also support Hibbett’s bot protection efforts and ensure that raffles are fair through robust reporting and integration with their bot protection partner. Our custom reporting via AMS includes every entrant’s details in order to help Hibbett identify and stop bad actors. If a reseller manages to get through the bot protection, the reporting serves as a manual layer of additional protection to ensure no one wins more than one pair of sneakers.

Technologies & Partners

Building custom solutions is what we do, but big brands like Hibbett will always need to seek out specialty third-party vendors for certain capabilities and functionalities.

We’re dedicated to helping partners find the right tool and building quality custom integrations to ensure they all work together seamlessly. The Launch Raffle in particular involves numerous integrations between different product databases, inventory sources, and Hibbett’s payment processor.

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Here are some of the standout partners we’ve integrated into the Hibbett apps:

Salesforce Einstein 


This is an AI-enabled recommendation engine that we used to design a useful tool for sneakerheads to gain insight into market demand, an in-app feature called “Trending For You”. It’s designed to suggest more items a user will like based on what they’re browsing and buying as well as what’s “hot” with other users. Our Hibbett product recommendation system was the first beta use case of Einstein AI for mobile. Salesforce highlighted the success of our integration at its Dreamforce conference, calling it a top 2019 mobile innovation.

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Stylitics


Stylitics is a visual outfitting and styling solution that powers an outfit recommendation engine to create outfits based on Hibbett’s inventory. Looking at a pair of flashy red and white Jordan 1s? The mobile app will suggest a head-to-toe look to style your footwear of choice to perfection, from a stylish pair of sweatpants to a matching fitted cap.

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Raffle Fairness


Ensuring shoes make it into the hands of deserving sneaker enthusiasts and not resellers requires a robust process to tell robots from humans. With Heady's integrations and support, Hibbett is able to employ leading bot mitigation technology and leverage insights from custom analytics to determine who's a person and who's a robot. We help Hibbett to analyze suspicious activity but also to verify users' identities to avoid blocking valued customers. Hibbett and Heady care about and serve people; robots don't need sneakers.

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Solutions & Features

Heady built a custom Launch Raffle for Hibbett that makes hyped sneaker launches fairer and more accessible, distinguishing the brand from its biggest competitors and solidifying its reputation as a respected name in the sneakerhead community.

While some retailers try to determine who “deserves” the shoes the most based on who’s spent the most (which often means resellers), Hibbett instead funnels energy into determining who is a bot versus who is a human — putting hot new sneaker releases where they belong, into the hands of individual fans.

It’s all supported by a powerful custom solution that gives Hibbett the capabilities and autonomy to manage its own day-to-day raffle operations, from entrant registration to comprehensive reporting that serves as an additional layer of protection from any would-be bad actors. 

 

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Our head-to-toe makeover of Hibbett’s ecommerce apps elevated the retailer’s omnichannel capabilities, ensuring that users can seamlessly move between browsing online and buying in-store (or vice versa).

Shoppers looking to upgrade their look can discover on-trend shoes, match them with a head-to-toe outfit, and search local store inventory for same-day pickup, all right inside the app.

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The Hibbett | City Gear app includes more than a handful of innovative features — here are some of our favorites:

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    Lightning Round
    Hibbett raffle winners must confirm their win within three to four hours of their name being selected for a particular product, ensuring that hyped releases go to only the most enthusiastic buyers. With some less hyped items, users would sometimes confirm their win but fail to pick up their shoes in-store on launch day, causing inventory issues with leftover shoes. The solution we devised to tackle this challenge while also keeping user experience at the forefront: Lightning Round! For raffle products that still have inventory remaining after two rounds, Lightning Round comes into play: a third round where users enter their payment information ahead of time and their win is automatically confirmed and charged, eliminating inventory issues.
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    Project Content
    Hibbett doesn’t just want to sell customers the hottest new sneakers; they also want to become their trusted source for the latest sneakerhead news, trends, and advice. Enter a feature we refer to internally as “Project Content”: articles about relevant topics like how to clean your sneakers or the best ways to lace Air Force Ones are displayed to raffle entrants, keeping them active in the app longer while building brand affinity and cementing Hibbett’s authority in the sneaker world.
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    Complete the Look
    Fueled by an integration with Stylitics, the Complete the Look feature helps customers build a complete outfit based on what they’re currently browsing. Displayed on individual product pages, Complete the Look suggests complementary products, such as a Nike fleece pullover and joggers and a Lacoste hat to go with white New Balance 550s. Think of it as an AI personal shopper to help users build head-to-toe sportswear looks (and increase average cart value).
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    iOS Home Screen Widget
    Die-hard sneakerheads can keep a watchful eye on what’s hot with the Hibbett iOS home screen widget. The “Trending Sneakers” widget allows users to see at a glance what’s trending in real time, then shop it in the Hibbett iOS app with just a tap.
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    One-Tap Checkout
    Inspired by the Amazon functionality we’ve all become accustomed to, One-Tap Checkout does exactly what it says: allows customers with stored payment information to secure their newest kicks with a single tap.

Results & KPIs

Hibbett | City Gear now offers a fully omnichannel shopping experience: Users can buy online, reserve items to be picked up (or just tried on) in-store, or simply log on to see what’s new and hot in the sneaker world.

Omnichannel communication capabilities means they can choose to interact with Hibbett through email, text, or push notifications, ensuring the brand reaches customers where it’s most convenient for them.

Hibbett’s omnichannel mastery isn’t going unnoticed: In October 2022, they nabbed the top spot in a retail industry analysis of omnichannel competence, a not-so-small feat for a brand that only entered ecommerce in 2017.

All Hibbett stores now participate in the Launch Raffle, a critical sales channel. Meanwhile, we’re working behind the scenes to ensure they remain fair and accessible: In the face of improving bot technology targeting the hottest sneaker launches, we regularly defend the app against attacks of up to 200,000 requests per minute.

Even more critically, Hibbett is now widely perceived as the most fair retailer for hyped sneaker launches. As a way to measure our success in this, we monitor popular reseller platforms and can say with confidence that the biggest resellers are no longer targeting Hibbett.

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Hibbett | City Gear climbed the ranks to become a Top 100 shopping app and currently enjoys a near-perfect 4.8 star rating on the App Store with more than 47,000 reviews and over 1 million monthly active users. 

Staying true to our commitment to long-term client relationships, we’re just getting started: Now in our sixth year of partnership with Hibbett, we’ve recently developed two internal apps that will enable store associates to serve customers better than ever. Stay tuned for more as Hibbett continues to make leaps and bounds in the athletic apparel and sneakers world, and Heady gives them the tools to do it.

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