Helping Gen Z Express Individuality at Dick’s Sporting Goods
October - December 2022
Client: Dick’s Sporting Goods
Team RunLab
Project by Akshay Garg, Dina Kaganer, Himanshu Kohli, Anahita Sehgal, Hiloni Sheth, and Harvey Zheng
As a part of my service design class, we had the opportunity to create, test, and pitch an innovation service concept for Dick’s Sporting Goods, one of the largest sporting retailers in the world. Through our research, critiques, and testing, my team pitched DSGN Lab, a sneaker customization experience aimed at helping customers express themselves through their shoes.
Role: Researcher & Designer
For this project, I worked with 5 graduate students to create a service innovation for Dick’s Sporting Goods (DSG). Focusing more on the research and design side, my goal was to learn why current DSG customers shopped at the store, and how I may be able to bring DSG to a wider audience.
Within the project, I helped conduct research through guerrilla interviews at Dick’s Sporting Goods and directed storytelling sessions. I also helped propose and defined the service innovation through brainstorming and creating a concept video. More generally, I also tried to constantly act as an advocate for our audience, which was mainly Generation Z.
The Problem
We were tasked with creating and testing some service innovation concept for Dick’s Sporting Goods that involved some in-store or in-person component.
Ron Polka, a Group UX Designer at DSG, came in and talked to us about particular goals they had that we could focus on, such as:
- Increasing in-store conversion
- Attracting a different customer segment more focused on boutique brands
- Creating awareness surrounding digital tools available to customers
Our first step was to understand the needs of our client and its customers better. To build this empathy, we conducted interviews and informational research to discover why they may have gone to DSG to shop and issues they may have.
I focused on the interview portion, where I helped conduct intercept interviews at a DSG store, as well as held directed storytelling sessions. This was challenging for me, as these were people I had no connection with, which was out of the norm for me.
With our research, we discovered a few key insights:
- Shoppers value brand, curated items, and brand’s involvement in social causes when choosing to shop at a store
- Apparel is often a secondary reason for coming into the store, where most people go for sporting equipment
- Impersonal, distracting, and sometimes slow footwear experience
- DSG stores can be confusing to navigate
Refining and Pitching to DSG
With insights in hand, we individually generated innovation concepts, and then used FigJam to categorize them.
We settled on footwear because we our research insights and the number of concepts we had made it seem like a good opportunity. While considering some customer complaints more in-depth, such as a longer wait for footwear or not knowing what shoes work well, we also tried to consider problems Ron had mentioned.
Through further brainstorming, we landed on a service hypothesis:
How might we leverage information available online to elevate the in-person shopping experience?
From our interviews and digital ethnography, we weren’t sure how well customers were using the DSG app to find information about shoes like one might on Zappos. This includes information such as shoe fit, shoe width, or amount of cushioning.
Our goal with the actual service was to have some kind of scannable tag to help give people a better idea if a shoe was the right fit for their needs. We also wanted to better leverage the app to share what people have bought among their friend circles.
Revising the RunLab
After presenting our service hypothesis to DSG, we realized a number of things:
1. The scale of the idea for our technology (e.g. NFC tags at every shoe in every store) can get very expensive
2. It’s something that can be implemented now—they want something to consider consumer patterns 4-5 years down the road
3. The innovation doesn’t necessarily bring people out to the store, which was a piece we were trying to solve
4. We didn’t even specifically define a persona, outside of “DSG customer”
To solve these, our team had to revisit the drawing board with our service hypothesis. First, we had to outline a user group, and continue to engage with them to ensure we met their needs. Second, we would add an experiential component to try to drive more people in-store and leverage their large number of brick and mortar stores.
Generating a new idea
First, we decided we wanted to focus on people in Generation Z. Further research showed that this generation does a majority of their shopping online. As the generation gains more buying power, we thought it was important to convert them to DSG customers.
Upon doing more research into Gen Z’s buying habits, we found that they were socially responsible — 73% would pay more for sustainable products, and 65% have purchased something based on an influencer’s recommendations.
We tested our service innovation in two ways: first, a mock sneaker customization workshop with people from our target audience (people in Gen Z starting to gain purchasing power); second, a survey to see how willing people would be to customize their shoes. During the workshop, we also did a storyboard walkthrough to see where people may drop off.
I helped organize, recruit for, and run the mock workshop, which ended up including insights from 8 people between the ages of 16 and 21. I’m not one to typically both recruit participants and talk to them, but was a good was to learn how to leverage my connections.
Creating a workshop and actually talking with our target was incredibly useful, and was likely something we should have done sooner. However, we still came away with very helpful findings:
Participants all expressed excitement to go to a studio-styled space in-store to create their own shoe
Participants indicated they were happy to go on their own, but would likely try to go as groups
Participants were not comfortable drawing on their shoes freehand
Participants were willing to pay for the service
With these findings, we finalized our service innovation design.
Final solution
For our final solution, we added a few aspects:
Giving a way online or in-app for customers to customize their sneakers before they start altering them
Add an easy way of scheduling customization sessions to ensure space for groups
Something else we considered was inviting local artists to come in and help offer more inspiration, drive more people to the store, and continue to build a community surrounding shoes. Through a more studio like environment, we also hoped to create a servicespace where people feel like they can express themselves, and in turn, want to come back.
To better illustrate our service innovation, we also created a concept video. With the team, I wrote the script, and individually edited and recorded the video. Compressing what we wanted to show into less than 90 seconds was challenging, but after a few iterations and really honing in on what we wanted to communicate, we ended up successful.
In the end, we fulfilled our goals from our revision. Through our service, DSG would offer our audience a space to customize their sneakers, inspiration, and expert guidance. In turn, DSG would gain potential new customers in their stores (who may then browse), more revenue from customization, and data on how people like their sneakers customized.
Moving Forward
I’m very satisfied with how the project turned out. Through the process, I learned a lot about working with a team, and was able to apply what I learned in the class to something in the real world.
Through the project, I was constantly trying to envision where our service innovation actually may “dematerialize” and “rebundle” value for our customer, as envisioned by the late Richard Normann. Our initial hypothesis, using online information to enhance in-store shopping, did not really “dematerialize” and “rebundle” anything — online shopping already did that for us, and to an even greater extent.
With our finalized service innovation, I thought it did a significantly better job at dematerializing and rebundling a service to provide value. A customer could go online to customize their shoe, take it in store to finalize their shoe design, and walk out happy—no need to order materials, sketch things out beforehand, and potentially make a mess.
There were definitely points where this project pushed me to continue developing my skills or learn new ones, as well as things I wish the group had done differently. First and foremost, we didn’t define our specific audience early on, and until we created the video we didn’t have a specific persona established. One thing I would do differently next time is define a persona early on so we know who we’re building our experience for.
Something else I feel like we could have done better was lean more on service blueprints and concept/service maps. While we loosely used them through our process, there was a time where we struggled with answering why DSG would be good for a service like this, and creating a concept map or a service blueprint likely would’ve saved a lot of headaches.
Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this project and working with my team, and look forward to seeing where I can apply my learnings.
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