Michelle Bitran
Head of Content @ Yotpo
June 17th, 2018

Disrupting Luxury: How GREATS Changed the Face of Footwear

“The customer feedback loop helps improve our customer service and inform our product offering.”

— Kristin Sword, GREATS Marketing Manager

Table Of Contents

A pair of fresh, white GREATS Royales stand out in a crowd. They represent the classic, cool, clutter-free vibe that stands at the core of the brand — and its customers. As with any accessible luxury brand, GREATS shoes are designed with a certain savvy consumer in mind.

However, unlike traditional luxury apparel and footwear brands, they’re not relying on smart editorial photoshoots and heavily branded campaigns to reach the right audiences. Instead, they seek out content — on social and in hyper-relevant publications — from enthusiastic customers and industry reviewers.

As the first vertical sneaker brand, GREATS spurred a shoe revolution that has taken off over the last four years. According to a Business of Fashion report, the global sales of sneakers rose 10% to $4.13 billion in 2017, taking them from a sporty trend to the fastest-growing category in fashion.

GREATS founders Ryan Babenzien and Jon Buscemi, each of them seasoned figures in the footwear industry in their own right, started the Brooklyn-based company in 2013. They had a vision of providing the best classic sneaker styles to the most people, at the lowest cost possible.

Their high-quality, timeless designs feature Italian leather and workmanship, comparable to a pair of $500-dollar designer sneakers, but at a fraction of the price. Although GREATS is an online-first business, they just opened its first two stores — one in Los Angeles and one in New York — this year.

With its expanding brick-and-mortar business and massive growth (300% in its first year alone), GREATS has become a model for new DTC brands entering the footwear fray. Speaking to the challenges of overnight growth, Marketing Manager Kristin Sword says that the most important lesson has been how to scale “in a way that still keeps the excellence in service, product, and everything in between.”

As they continue to dominate the sneaker scene with limited edition collaborations and new twists on evergreen silhouettes, Sword shares how their customer-centric approach has allowed them to make their mark on the luxury sneaker industry.

Cultivating the right community

Confident that their target audience would appreciate the value of their products and spread the word, GREATS began to build a strong brand community through word-of-mouth. Since the customers sharing their experiences genuinely loved the brand, the photos, captions, and reviews shared supported the GREATS aesthetic and value prop while transmitting authenticity in a way that a branded ad never could.


luxury footwear greats

This example of a review for the Royale sneaker shows just how much their customer community appreciates the hole GREATS has filled in the luxury market:

These are hands down the most comfortable and luxurious shoes I’ve ever worn. I can’t believe I’ve gone this long and walked all these miles without these puppies on my feet. They are beautiful, truly a work of art. And the quality is insane. These really should cost $200-$400. Now that I have them, the $169 price tag seems like a steal.”

This kind of praise only solidifies Sword’s claim that “it doesn’t matter how great your marketing is, there’s nothing stronger than somebody loving your product and telling their friends about it.” For GREATS, that sort of enthusiasm runs so deep that the brand boasts a 50% repeat purchase rate. Not only that, 60% of their online sales come from shoppers who engage with content from past customers displayed on product pages.

The direct-to-consumer model as bespoke

While couture might seem a long way off from high-quality sneakers, the direct-to-consumer loop actually puts brands like GREATS in a similar position to bespoke brands, giving them an opportunity to tailor their offering in response to customer preferences.

Without middlemen obscuring the customer feedback process, GREATS has revolutionized the affordable luxury footwear market by making a point of leveraging their direct line to customers and their control over the supply chain.

“We collect feedback about how our shoes fit and publish those reviews so other customers know how to order their shoes best,” Sword says. “This customer feedback loop helps improve our customer service and inform our product offering.”

GREATS’ radical attention to feedback is evident in their hyper-customized product catalogue, which goes as far as to offer half sizes only for certain shoes, based on customer requests. Controlling production makes this kind of customization possible.

Similarly, when colors begin trending or customers request certain colorways, their vertically integrated model allows them to turn around any shade of shoe within months. Traditional luxury and mass retailers can take upwards of a year to do this — and they have to bank on the colors staying in style.

In keeping with their customer-driven product approach, the team at GREATS also focuses on creating experiences that delight buyers from discovery until they’re ready to buy their next pair of shoes, and beyond. They’ve been known to send handwritten notes along with purchases and to deliver packages personally to customers in the neighborhood.

These elements define the new era of accessible luxury. While old-school industry fixtures keep the focus on exclusivity, brands like GREATS are steadily outpacing them by listening to their fans to refine a super high quality product and helping those fans spread the word.

Learning from the GREATS-est

GREATS bet on discerning sneakerheads trying out their sleek designs, noticing their quality, and sharing their experience. But they didn’t leave it at that. The days of setting and forgetting a product are over —  today’s customers increasingly expect their feedback to be heard.

For Sword and the team at GREATS, nothing can replace a model that continuously innovates how to bring more value to customers — and nothing can create more buzz. Simply put, it’s the only way “to cut through the noise online.”

Read more about how GREATS powers their business with customer content here

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