As the internet’s role in daily life, more and more companies that make
physical products are trying to find ways to develop online components
that make those physical products more attractive to consumers.

A great example of this has been seen in the toy industry, where a
growing number of products include internet add-ons. Webkinz stuffed
animals, for instance, come with an access code granting access to an
online virtual world.

But internet-friendly products aren’t just for kids. The latest companies going all-in trying to create digital experiences around their physical products: shoemakers.

As detailed by Brandweek, some of the biggest names in the shoe industry, including Nike, Reebok and Adidas, are bringing the internet to some of their shoeboxes.

Late last year, Nike started offering buyers of some of its shoes access codes to online video tutorials from top soccer players. Te idea behind its Soccer+ initiative is to give customers more than just a shoe. The tutorials, which are tailored for the specific shoe the customer has purchased, are designed to offer customers “pro-level training” according to a Nike representative.

Reebok has also tried tying its shoes with content. Its Classic Remix Collection gave customers access to download a free hip-hop track online.

Both initiatives are interesting for sure. Adidas, however, is raising the bar with its use of augmented reality. Next month, special versions of five of its shoes will come with special codes that, when placed in front of a web cam, will give the customer access to an online ‘neighborhood‘ and virtual games.

Adidas’ Chris Barbour told Brandweek, “We think we’re ahead of the curve by using AR in a way that hasn’t been used before—by tying it to a commercial product and online gaming“.

Given the highly-competitive nature of the shoe market, expect Nike, Reebok and others to continue upping the ante. For many of these companies, buying a pair of shoes has always been about the brand association and experience. The internet just gives them new ways to take brand associations and experiences to the next level. The question, of course, is whether the digital experiences they’re building around their shoes will be seen as true value-adds or mere novelties.

In my opinion, companies that sell physical products would do well to look at the internet as a medium in which they can make sure customers are getting the most out of their products. Focusing on utility may prove far more fruitful than focusing on flash. Adidas’ augmented reality experiment, for instance, definitely has the buzz factor, but Nike’s video tutorials seem far more compelling. After all, as a customer I’d probably be more interested in getting tips from a pro athlete than participating in a virtual neighborhood.

Obviously, there will be a lot of experimentation in this area and what sinks and swims might be surprising. But one thing is certain: as more and more industries find ways to combine the physical and the virtual, online product components may become the rule, not the exception.

Photo credit: chrishimself via Flickr.