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Under Armour / Under Armour Experience

by Contagious I/O


Apparel brand ushers in Asian expansion with storytelling-focused retail experience


Apparel brand Under Armour has opened its first Under Armour Experience, a retail store in Shanghai's Jing An Kerry Center that the brand hopes will serve as a base for its Asian expansion, while simultaneously redefining the apparel retail experience. Designed by Brooklyn-based agency Hush and Marc Thorpe Design in Manhattan, which worked with Under Armour's in-house creative team Tight Shirt Productions, the 2,000 sq ft store devotes more than 80% of its space to experiential elements, rather than racks of clothing and product displays. As Under Armour founder Kevin Plankportrayed it earlier this year, the experience is part store, part roller coaster.

As Hush describes the experience: 'Upon arrival, visitors see a highly angular, closed-off retail façade designed to contain the energy within - an enigma compared to the open glass facades of the surrounding stores. Visitors then enter a sensory decompression chamber, created with a tunnel of bright LED walls and directional sound - a bold contrast to the mall's polished interiors.'

Once inside, visitors to the Experience are greeted by swimmer Michael Phelps, a tour guide of sorts, who walks them through a six-minute video communicating what it feels like to train and perform like a world-class athlete. On a massive, 270-degree video screen, Phelps and other top athletes showcase their abilities in nearly immersive fashion - NBA star Brandon Jennings takes visitors through a basketball workout, while boxer Canelo Alvarez takes shots at a punching bag. The vignettes are meant to communicate the complete athlete experience, showing visitors the serenity of rooftop yoga in Shanghai alongside the rush of adrenaline that comes from running onto theTottenham Hotspur football pitch at White Hart Lane.

When the video experience is over, shoppers are led to a small retail-oriented section of the store, which features core Under Armour products in a gallery-like space that Hush describes as a 'minimalist shrine'.

Under Armour has opened half a dozen stores in China since 2011, but the Under Armour Experience marks a new tactic for the brand - one that acknowledges a different consumer base found in Asia than in its home market in the US.

Contagious Insight

Under Armour has recently announced that it plans to double its international business by 2015, and retail experiences like the one in Shanghai play a big role in that growth. As the store's emphasis on theatre rather than retail belies, the brand understands that it must first introduce itself - particularly to a Chinese population not accustomed to exercising the way Americans do - before it can push products.

'For many athletes in China, this will be their introduction to our brand,' noted Plank in an announcement that accompanied the store's opening. 'This is our way to give back to athletes in China and build meaningful relationships that will last for years to come.'

Under Armour showed its smarts - and flexed its impressive roster of under-contract athletes - by using Michael Phelps to anchor the Under Armour Experience. Phelps is of course an internationally regarded athlete, but he is especially well-known in China due to his dominant performance in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. In those games, Phelps won a record-breaking eight gold medals, posting world record times in all but one of his races. Chinese consumers, who saw his feats first-hand, may have a strong connection with his experience as an athlete.

The store's emphasis on experiential retail shows that Under Armour is more concerned with establishing itself as a brand than it is about selling apparel; not necessarily surprising, given that the brand only recently began developing its direct-to-consumer business in addition to selling its wares through other distributors. With 'showrooming' now a pervasive behaviour - a recent SDL report found that 77% of consumers admit to visiting retail stores to see products but later buy online - it makes perfect sense that Under Armour would spend its efforts on winning the hearts of buyers and then letting the dollars follow.

As Plank recently outlined in Under Armour's Q3 earnings call: 'One of our big goals with this new retail experience is to help educate our Chinese consumer on what it's like to be an athlete. In order to do that, we had to break the traditional model a bit. While most retailers are more like 80% product and 20% storytelling, we flipped that and are really concentrating on storytelling as a primary focus of the store.'

This story originally appeared on Contagious I/O. Contagious I/O is our bespoke trends, inspiration, insight and analysis service, providing daily innovative marketing intelligence across a comprehensive range of sectors to brands and agencies across the world. For more information about Contagious I/O contact