Still Confusing After All These Years

I’ve been a critic of Nike’s online presence since the first time I tried to find out about a shoe seven years ago and was greeted instead with a confusing Flash movie having nothing to do with shoes and leading me around in circles until I had to go to Google. “Design vomit” is what I call that stuff, and most things Nike did back then reeked of it.

Over the last few years, the company seems to have gotten more web-savvy and now produces a good mix of design-driven and utilitarian interfaces depending on what the marketing goals are for any particular sub-site.

Wanting to give them another shot, and needing a pair of running shoes now that I actually have time to run, I checked out and found this really cool shoe that you can custom design for yourself online.


I spent the next 10 minutes choosing the colors of every single element of the shoe, right down to the lace eyelets, through a very slickly done Flash interface. I went to the University of Washington for my undergrad degree so the shoe I created was black, purple, and gold. The process couldn’t have been any easier… kudos to the Flash team on configurator:

Then came the breakdown.

There was no “add to cart” button anywhere. There was a “store locator” button so I assumed they wanted me to go down to Niketown or something and try it on first and then maybe order it from the store. Luckily, I have a Niketown about a 15 minute bike ride from my place so I pedaled down there and tried on a non-configured version of the shoe. Size 11, great. I asked the guy how to go about ordering the customized version and he told me to go online.

I said “You mean you actually do the ordering online?”

He said “Yep.”

I said “Ok, I’ll look again, but I didn’t see that option.”

He said “Yep, that’s how you do it.”

So I ride home and reconfigure my shoe from scratch again. I hit the “Review” button and up pops this error:

Eh? A non-specific error message? According to the message, the item is either unreleased (which I know is not true since I just saw it in person) or, whoa, they “reached their made-to-order limit for the day”???


I don’t even know what that means. Why wouldn’t you just put my order in queue and manufacture it as soon as you can find the requisite child-laborers to build it?

So instead of putting my order through and shipping it to me when it’s ready, Nike instead gives me three options:

1. Try again tomorrow when they’ve “reset their capacity”?

2. Email the design to someone… presumably with the accompanying note “Hey, look at what I can’t order from Nike!”

3. Print the design out so I can hang it on my wall and be reminded of how much I want it.

I just don’t get it. I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of exactly why Nike would put such an error message up and I can really only think of one possibility: whoever designed the database and backend for this system built it so that it can literally only store X number of orders per day. This just seems ridiculous to me though as databases should theoretically hold an unlimited amount of data.

Any ideas?

51 comments on “ Still Confusing After All These Years”. Leave your own?
  1. Su says:

    I think it’s probably just a really(really) ass-backwards way of controlling the flow of orders. If they do have a daily capacity, letting people continue ordering beyond it would theoretically eventually create an impossible backlog.
    But if there really is a hard limit on what the database can hold, can you imagine the developer’s reaction? “You want me to do what?”

  2. Jeff Croft says:

    That’s one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard of. Why would they not at least let you save the configuration for order another day, or place it in a queue to be “ordered?”

    (Editor’s Note: They actually do let you save the design into a “locker” if you go through the process of setting up a account. Still though!)

  3. Mike D. says:

    Su: Yeah, that’s possible I suppose. You’d think they’d just do a simple equation in that case though where they could take the number of outstanding orders, divide by capacity per day, and then tell you something like:

    “Due to the high volume of orders, your shoes will take approximately X weeks to arrive”.

    Anything is better than closing the door on me and telling me to come back the next day.

  4. Keith says:

    That’s crazy…and stupid. I wonder how many sales they lose to that? Why can’t they just queue it?? Sounds like they didn’t think it though. Typical.

  5. Dave Simon says:

    Their sweatshops can only turn out a certain number of shoes every day, Mike. Give ’em a break. ;)

  6. Phil Scott says:

    Back when I did some web development training, one of the sales people wanted me to head down to his church to give them some IT help to 1) see if we couldn’t impress them and get some business and 2) get me to join their church. Needless to say, I wasn’t going. Now, this was one of those beasts of a church, so large most people in town call it Six Flags over Jesus. So they have a fairly large IT staff with their own web servers and everything.

    So the problem they were having was with their order taking system for their easter pagent. It seemed that the application would only be up for maybe two hours a day, and the rest of the day they had an error message saying that they had taken all the orders they could for that day.

    So my sales guy heads down there, by himself, to check out the operation. So he asks about the order taking system that’s having a problem, and for some reason they show him the machine. Well, normally looking at a machine won’t tell you whats wrong, but in this case we had something so stupid even our sales people could troubleshoot: They had the order system sending orders directly to a printer. No database, no xml, not even a csv file. Just print the order out, and someone gathered the orders up and processed them by hand. And once the printer ran out of paper, they program some how gracefully failed and said “sorry, we’ve taken all the orders we can for now.”

    Amazing. So maybe that’s what has happened at Nike

  7. Don says:


    May I suggest you are making a mistake. Order a pair of New Balance shoes. They come in widths, aren’t nearly as expensive (still a good price tag, don’t get me wrong) and if you do it right, you will go run on trails and get em all muddy and stuff anyway. I have not seen the New Balance store on-line, but I suggest to you the way to buy running shoes is this:
    Find the store the real runners go to in your town … it is not a big box store … they probably have a treadmill or will examine your existing shoes to see how they wear.

    Have them figure out what kind of runner you are … do you pronate, supinate, or are you a stable runner. They will get you the right tool for the job you are proposing, running.

    What you are doing is the equivalent of going to the computer store and buying a computer because it looks good even though it might turn out to be a windows based machine when you are a Mac guy. You need to try a shoe on to get the right one. Even the same size often feels different if you try two pairs!

  8. Chris says:

    Error messages like these suck.

    When I code a PHP app I have a file that defines errors so you can use “error_45” for example. That wat if something does go wrong the user knows what and can then tell you about it.

    And why would they let you make a show you can’t buy? They should have a big message in the corner saying “Design Coming Soon” or something.

  9. ro says:

    You guys are too busy counting the pine needles to see the forest.

    “Why wouldn’t you just put my order in queue and manufacture it as soon as you can find the requisite child-laborers to build it?”

    You aren’t just condoning the use of sweat shops through your purchase of a nike product, but you are taking a sarcastic swipe at the practice as well.

  10. Tony Summerville says:

    I’ve played around with the shoe customizer a couple of times but never actually ordered anything. The interface is pretty amazing.. too bad about the ordering system, though.

    How did the shoes feel? Does it feel like you’re barefoot? I like the commercial for those shoes. I need to try a pair on..

    Also, be sure to check out the “Training Log” over at Nike Running. Talk about another sweet interface…

  11. Mike D. says:

    Phil: Ha!

    Don: Yes, you are totally right. Luckily, however, I am not a “real runner”, but just a schmuck who does a three mile jog every so often. I totally agree that buying shoes based on looks/ability-to-configure-online is not a good idea, but as a designer, I have a serious bias towards the well-designed. I even buy food at supermarkets based on how nice the packaging is. Yes, I know… it’s an affliction. Maybe someday I’ll get over it.

  12. Mike D. says:

    ro: Yes, definitely a sarcastic swipe, but Nike has cleaned up their act since the child labor fiasco of several years ago. I wouldn’t really be buying the shoes if I thought they were being produced under unethical working conditions.

    Tony: The shoes felt great at the store. Definitely a lot lighter than most shoes I’ve worn. But as Don said, it’s possible there are even better shoes out there (viz. New Balance).

  13. Chris says:

    I even buy food at supermarkets based on how nice the packaging is.

    wow… talk about feeding the eye before the mouth.

  14. M.e. says:

    Try it now, man. I just ordered one.

  15. Ryan says:

    If you’re more of a casual runner, the Nike Free probably isn’t the shoe for you. It’s more a training shoe, to help strengthen your feet. There’s a huge review of the shoe here:
    From the last paragraph:

    The Nike Free is not for everybody, but it is adding to not only the research but knowledge that we have of the foot and how it works. The key to understanding Nike Free is that this shoe is more of a training tool, or a conditioning tool, than a piece of running footwear.

    Saucony and New Balance are always popular recommendations, and lots of people have Adidas and other Nike shoes.

  16. Matthew says:

    I wore a pair of Saucony’s for almost three years, took them wade fishing sevral times and the things are still going strong. The soles are still completely on, they have a few rips inside but nothing major and could use some new insert pads. So I can first-hand they are great shoes and very well made.

    I even buy food at supermarkets based on how nice the packaging is.

    Wow I’ve never met someone else who does that…My wife hates it because I can never pass up anything “Organic” with a nice package.

  17. Matthew says:

    On a side note, Saucony’s also come in a wide variety of colors and are very nicely designed.

  18. i agree with Dave Simon on this one, there is so much the sweat shops can produce…..another reason alltogether to drop buying overpriced sneakers just cause they feel and look great! or the fact that you can have them tailor made! give me a nice pair of old style converse any day…wait a second…are they also made in china? hmm

  19. Beth says:

    Is Nike all about the elite? If yes, it’s likely they’ve limited the number of shoes per day to make it elite. If only a few people can buy the shoes a day, then it’s very exciting for someone when he or she can actually successfully buy a pair.

    They’re limiting supply and increasing demand… :-\

  20. Scott Hyndman says:

    I don’t understand how you could want a shoe knowing how it’s made. It doesn’t bother you at all? Sickening.

  21. Scott Hyndman says:

    I saw your replies further up. I retract the comment.

  22. JY says:

    Well, clearly you haven’t read Jenniver Government (to which the only sane response is, why not?). Artificial shoe scarcity creates demand.

  23. Beth and JY may have it right — I used to do freelance for a firm in my early days that did work for Nike, I would not doubt they would go so low as a simple supply/demand campaign… even if it wouldn’t be that successful.

    Either way, their site has always been lame. I have similar problems when I try to buy converse. I’m amazed these large companies design such user disasters! How much potential money and users are they losing by their own lack of knowledge and initiative?

    37signals should start a Defensive Design for the web website so we can submit this garble…

  24. Why buy Nike shoes in first place??? Go with Asics, they make great shoes for running! Problem solved! :)

    It sounds like the people that make the Nike website have never tried to order shoes off it. Maybe the people that make the website are buying Asics for running. :)

  25. Dan Mall says:

    Nike is definitely the way to go for running shoes. As someone who has worked at a high volume sneaker store for 3 years—and yes, I actually did watch the videos—you can’t go wrong with a brand that started because a track coach wanted improved shoes for his runners. Despite the poor contigency design of the site, the shoes are still well designed (ergonomically).

    You’re best bet is probably the Nike Air Pegasus (2003 over 2004) if you can find them. Both voted 2 of the top running shoes, they don’t look too good, but they’ll do wonders for comfort when you run. If you’re feeling extra spoiled, try Spenco insoles as well.

    That’ll be 2% commission, please.

  26. Kevin Tamura says:

    I agree that they should have done something better about the over capacity menu, the vague please come again message is utterly useless heck they don’t even tell you when they reset the counter (are they goign by Eastern or Pcific standard time. Even better, they should tell you at the get go that they’ve reached their limit for the day before you go through and spend the time creating your shoe.

  27. Maaike says:

    I’d still feel uncomfortable about buying Nike shoes –

  28. Rick says:

    You should read the book Jennifer Government. Although fiction, I believe after reading the first couple of chapters, you will see exactly what is going on.

  29. Guido says:

    Sweetshops be dammed, those are some sweet Laker colors!

    Being an ecomm developer these things frustrate me the most. All Swede and no Finnish .. You can have the best visually appealing and functional system in place but if you can’t fufill the basic “send me the damn item” premise what’s the point.

    If they want to create this demand, why not take the flip marketing approach and actually show how many shoes left that day that can be customized – before you start customizing. This would provide the “push” approach they are after, instead of pissing people off after the fact.

  30. Jeni says:

    Interesting. They’ve got an “Add to Cart” button now.

    Someone heard you.

  31. Chris says:

    Jeni – It has always been there? I used the service in March and it was there then.

  32. Eric Thompson says:

    I don’t buy Nikes simply because I’m cheap, but the “sweatshop” outrage has always bothered me. Right now, the alternative to children working in western-owned factories, even sweatshops, isn’t “the kids going to school and parents getting better jobs” – it’s “the kids going hungry or doing much worse work, like subsistence farming or child prostitution”.

    If a kid’s working in a stifling factory making shoes, it’s because that kid and that kid’s parents didn’t have any better options.

  33. Dan says:

    You know, I had a similar experience. I went to an Oakley store and thought that the products that they had were pretty cool. I saw a wallet, actually it’s a money clip with a card organizer that part of the money clip slides into behind the counter and they said, “Oh no, we don’t have those in stock, but sometime soon.” So for the next month every couple of days I would call and see if they had them. They said that the web site would have them before the store would. So I checked the web site constantly — I know it’s a wallet, what the heck am I thinking… ;-) But I thought it was really cool and it fit my system needs for a walley (yeah, so I think strangely…)
    Finally, one day in February this year it suddenly is available online, so I order it, figuring that it will show up in the mail a week or two later. The last week of February rolls around and I called Oakley’s customer support, they said that the item should never have been available on the site and that they’re not quite sure how my order got through into their financial system. I asked them to leave it as an open order.
    So the month of May rolls around and in my mailbox a conspicous package arrives, yes, my money clip wallet from Oakley has finally made its appearance. I went and checked the web site, it’s no longer there. Funny… you’d think that with a product that everyone wants that they might go and make more… strange me thinks.

  34. michael says:

    I enjoy my nike free, and the site but the problem makes no sense. They are light as hell.

  35. I even buy food at supermarkets based on how nice the packaging is.

    I’ve actually bought books that way(judging books by their cover :P). This being when I need something new to read and really can’t be bothered to really search. I figure, if all else is equal, why not reward good design?

    As for the Jennifer Government thing: not exactly the first time they’ve tried it.

  36. Mike D. says:

    Nice, looks like Jennifer Government is going to be the next book I read. Thanks for the recommendations.

    Ryan: Thanks for the link to that review of the Nike Frees. You’re right, it looks like more of a training shoe than a competition shoe. We’ll see. I might be kind of a weird case though because I actually like running in Teva sandals more than super-padded running shoes.

    Jeni: I think that “Add to Cart” button automatically appears if they haven’t reached their capacity yet, but I’m not sure. I just got it this morning too and successfully ordered the shoe.

  37. I think its funny how you got loads of hassle but nike has got a whole load of free publicity then you buy the trainers so they also get your money, good marketing I suppose.

  38. Dave says:

    Hmm bizarre. Although it could be an idiotic way of controlling how many orders they do recieve per day.. i mean if the queue becomes to vast you would have to wait a long time for your order to arrive, still doesn’t make alot of sense.. i mean if you just put a notice “We can add your order to the queue but unfortunatly we have reached our maximum daily production of shoes so your order will have to be placed in queue” and all would be fine..

  39. If you’re going to read Jennifer Government, though the subject is different, read Syrup as well, a much more professional novel for the up and coming writer.

  40. Stéphane says:

    I just went to the site and to my amazement, I CAN’T see the website in french if I live in north-america, after all there is only more than 6 million of french speaking people in the province of Quebec !!! I could be from the Czech Republic and speak french but not from Canada :-(

    Too bad, I won’t go shop there.

    p.s. It’s not that I can’t speak english as you can see, it’s just insulting, Canada is not even listed anywhere and as far as I know there are Nike store in Canada !

  41. flyguy says:

    I’ve had the same experience for too long with lots of “style over common sense”, or “arty farty” [as I also call ’em] sites.

    My resolve? Boycott the buggers, and dont give them your business or trade.
    I think you’ve just helped point out [with this excellent article] how poor they are at having any interest in thier customers other than wowing them and [the press] spending their massive profits on silly web sites.

    Shop elsewhere. The shoes would probably cost a fortune anyway!

  42. If Maseratis were affordable, I would wait a decade to get one. As it stands, I can’t afford one, so why bother putting my name on the list?

    Instead of controlling the number of orders per day with a server-side script (or database limitation), why not just raise the price?

  43. Even if you’re not a professional, hardcore runner, I agree that I think you should go to a specialty running store. Their prices are usually competitive, and the salesmen are guys that know their stuff — not someone that just pulls your order from the back warehouse. They’ll watch you walk, look at your old shoes, listen to your needs and preferences, and really help you get a shoe that’ll help you. The right shoe can make a big difference in how well your body holds up both over the course of a race or more long-term. If you’re just getting back into running, you might find your body doesn’t bounce back as well as it used to! I know I’m having that problem… time keeps marching on…

    Here in Dallas, we have a place called Run On.

    Looks like it’s just local, but I’m sure there’s something similar up in the great north. Good luck with getting back in the groove!

  44. brent says:

    Majik –

    I went and tried the free’s right when they came out and loved them. This shoe definitely makes you never want to go back to traditional running shoes. I ended up going for the Free Trainer 5.0. I do some trail running and found that they are a bit more stable for cuts on switchbacks. The trainier’s can’t handle (aren’t designed for..) even semi-tough terrian in my opinion, so I stick to trails in the Seattle area and switch up if I venture out of the city. They’re certain fun shoes to wear though. Love the site man.


  45. Peter says:


    I recommend you skip the website and go to Super Jock-N-Jill for some good advice. Their sales people are great, they are a real running store. It’s right next to Green Lake, although I can’t remember the exact address (haven’t lived in Seattle for several years).


  46. Diane says:

    If you think sucks you should check out you can’t even order products from its web site.And being that Canada is apparently to far from the U.S to ship too we cant even order anything online from
    No personalized shoes for Canadians.

  47. jerral says:

    i wont to make my own trainers

  48. John says:

    From now on, No more nike products for me. ALthough i LOVED the personalize ur own shoes @ . But too bad i live in canada .. can’t order it from here i supposed. :(

  49. Ryan says:

    I personalized my own dunks and then spent half an hour trying to find a way to ship to Canada. I guess you can’t which is frustrating seeing as how they can ship to every other country on this planet it seems.

  50. Nike is very backwards, incredibly, when it comes to ordering from Canada. I placed an order with Nike 3 days ago- couldn’t do this on line, because my credit card is in Canada! Called Nike, who did a “workaround”. I was told the order would be shipped to where I will be in the U.S. no problem. I also ordered shoes from 2 other sites the same day- could not have been easier, and the shoes are already delivered. But not so with Nike, which seems to be trying to imitate an East German company circa 1950. Called today and was told many many times that it takes 3-5 business days to accept an order from Canada!! Can you imagine?? No idea as to whether the order will be shipped, or when. Could have ordered an Ipod and taken delivery from China by now. Nike cannot even place the order, before other huge companies, such as, have completed the delivery. Nike sells a lot of shoes in Canada, portrays itself as an international company without barriers, and the acts like this. I cannot count the number of apologies I got in a 10 minute phone call, which produced no result. Hey Nike, catch up, it’s 2009, and JUST DO IT!

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