ASICS’ Director of Digital Innovation Says Web3 Isn’t Going Away

By Meghan Hall |  April 24, 2023

In the fall of 2022, ASICS, the Japanese sportswear company, launched two pairs of running shoes that could only be purchased using cryptocurrency. 

If a customer purchased the shoes, they also received a free ASICS loyalty NFT badge. That badge gives them early access to ASICS’ next Web3 initiative, which has not yet been announced. 

Joe Pace, Director of Digital Innovation, ASICS

Joe Pace, the Director of Digital Innovation at ASICS, said that by launching this collection, the company was looking to explore how Web3 might foster customer loyalty — and that the experiment was as much about the physical product as the digital one. Pace lives and works in Boston, where ASICS’ digital division is based

“For the people who bought [the shoes], because they purchased it with [a stablecoin] cryptocurrency and got our [loyalty] NFT with their purchase, they now have a front-row seat, and they’re first in line to the next thing we do,” he said. “It’s about engaging with the ASICS brand through this NFT that you got for free… We don’t want people to look at it as a thing that’s going to appreciate in value… We want people to think of it as a ticket to something that other people wouldn’t have access to.”

Partnerships and Validation

ASICS, headquartered in Tokyo, partnered with Solana Pay, a Web3 payment system built on the Solana blockchain. It allows users to make purchases using SOL (Solana’s own token) or the stablecoin, USDC (US Dollar Coin). 

Pace said the experiment was all about better understanding new types of customers.

ASICS x Solana UI Collection

“To me, the best way to do market testing is to launch something into the market. The project we launched last November, the UI collection, was our third NFT/Web3 launch,” he said. “We wanted to understand, does Web3 add value to customers interested in our physical running shoes? The UI Collection was our best way of testing that.” 

Customers could choose from “Light Mode” or “Dark Mode” shoes, inspired by the user interfaces (UI) on phone or computer screens. Each pair cost $200. 

The UI project sold about 3,000 units over a five-day pre-order period, Pace said. 

“People weren’t shipped the shoes instantly — we took a produce-to-order approach… That de-risked the project. We said, ‘We’ll produce whatever gets purchased.’ If there were a million of these that got sold, we would have produced a million,” he explained. 

‘Staying in Our Lane’ with Emerging Technologies

Even though the collapse of several high-profile cryptocurrency exchanges and crypto-linked banks has put Web3-related initiatives on ice in some organizations, Pace said ASICS believes in Web3 technology and will continue iterating. 

We have the kindling for a much bigger fire. We don’t have that bigger fire yet, but I think we’ve set up a starting point for a Web3-powered loyalty experience for ASICS fans around the world to participate in.

“It comes down to a belief in the fundamental technology, and what that technology means for the future of making the world a better place and improving existing experiences,” Pace said. “We have the kindling for a much bigger fire. We don’t have that bigger fire yet, but I think we’ve set up a starting point for a Web3-powered loyalty experience for ASICS fans around the world to participate in.”

While much of ASICS’ focus has been on its strategy for Web3, Pace said the company has also been experimenting with VR and has started considering AI use cases as they relate to product design and development.

“We want to stay in our lane and do what we do best, which is providing great sporting goods, running shoes, and apparel for people who participate in the sports that we support,” Pace said. 

When Pace and his team consider launching experiments with emerging technologies, he said, they take an incremental approach.

“Take a half step or one step — and know that one step is a pretty big step. Half steps are nice, because they’re easy for a lot of different stakeholders to wrap their heads around,” he said. “I don’t think the big swing or the big launch is as fruitful long term as people think. A lot of little steps in launching things into the world is far more valuable than one big, giant thing.”