At 117 years old, Red Wing Shoes is undergoing a tech upgrade.
The Minnesota-based footwear company, known for its rugged work and lifestyle boots, has spent the last five years investing time and resources to more fully integrate technology into its customer-facing and internal operations. Those efforts resulted in two big launches this year.
Most recently, the company rolled out a fully integrated omnichannel solution for its b2b Red Wing for Business program. The service, which went live in July, provides a digital option for the brand’s industrial customers and their workers to purchase PPE and have it delivered at any time.
“What this launch was all about is augmenting our stores and trucks business with a comprehensive online digital solution,” said Red Wing chief marketing officer Dave Schneider. He explained that industrial customers distribute vouchers to their employees, which now, for the first time, can be redeemed online as well as through Red Wing’s 500+ branded stores and its mobile trucks.
“The average consumer logs in with a personal identifier so they’re authenticated,” Schneider added. “That allows us to understand that specific customer’s safety needs and the subsidies involved, so the company may say, ‘We’ll pay 50% or $50.’ Those are very different scenarios in terms of how we actually administer it behind the scenes. There’s a lot of data that sits around it.”
Red Wing spent 18 months pilot testing the b2b e-commerce platform, gathering qualitative and quantitative intel from partners in various industries, such as warehousing, energy and construction. Early customers included Amgen Inc., Great Lakes Coca Cola, Kone, Pike Electric and others.
Schneider said the early feedback from users was overwhelmingly positive in terms of the experience. But there are other benefits for industrial clients. “It’s really important for the safety directors,” he said. “Now we have the ability to report back to them who’s redeeming their voucher, what type of footwear they purchased, when they purchased that footwear. That data is a reporting mechanism to ensure that they are complying to their own safety requirements.”
While the site is out of the testing phase, Schneider said Red Wing isn’t opening the floodgates yet to all customers. He noted there are still some eligibility requirements for partners, as well as financial factors such as payment methods and taxes. “Eventually, as we add more feature sets to the product — which are coming in rapid succession — we anticipate that we would be able to address the total market,” he said.
Aside from e-commerce, Red Wing also has introduced high-tech features within its stores. In March, the brand announced it was teaming with tech company Volumental to launch the AI-driven Ultimate Fit Experience for customers. The service includes hands-on guidance from a Red Wing specialist, and customers can use a 3D scanner to get customized recommendations for their ideal workboot and socks. Also, through a partnership with Superfeet, shoppers can receive insole recommendations and purchase custom 3D-printed footbeds that are mailed to their home.
While most of the footwear market made the digital shift years go, the work boot category has been slower to evolve. However, retail closures during the height of the pandemic — plus the fact that more younger people are entering the trades — has accelerated a major shift during the past few years.
For instance, Zappos has been investing heavily in its own b2b platform, Zappos at Work. And the direct-to-consumer brand Brunt Workwear, which launched in 2020, has grown rapidly, fueled by a $20 million Series B round that closed in February.
And three years ago, Red Wing launched consumer-facing e-commerce sites for its Red Wing, Irish Setter and Vasque boot brands.
Schneider said that digital transformation is essential for companies to meet all of today’s challenges, whether those be changing shopping habits or supply chain issues. “All of that has required businesses at large to really adopt digital technologies,” he said.