Sole Stories: What Do People Look for in Sneakers & is Nike the GOAT?

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

FYI: *GOAT= Greatest of All Time

We love Nike commercials. We also love the athletes they endorse (think Michael Jordan, Steve Prefontaine, Serena Williams, Cristiano Ronaldo, Tiger Woods… the list goes on). But what makes Nike sneakers so popular amongst athletes and non-athletes alike?

We looked at nearly 20,000 reviews and 20,000 questions posted by consumers on 19 different kinds of Nike sneakers on a popular e-commerce website between 2008-2019 to find out.

Let’s start with understanding what people typically care about while buying sneakers.

The biggest concern while purchasing sneakers online is undoubtedly the shoe size. This concern made up 57% of questions.

Most questions about shoe size pertained to size translations between the USA and Europe, between product categories, and even shoe size versus sock size!

Here are some verbatim questions:

Right Fit, Comfort & Weight Can Make or Break a Sneaker.

The most important aspects that people seem to care about the most while buying sneakers are fit (23% of the reviews mention this), comfort (22% mention this) and weight (5% mention this).

Some interesting factors mentioned by consumers while reviewing shoes include “shoe squeak” and shoe smell, some of them even offering home remedies to tackle the same!

Here are some snapshots of reviews left by customers:

Durability & Detailing Matters.

Turns out that customers really care about durability and detailing while buying shoes, represented not just by the quality of the sole and material used, but also the tongue and shoelaces.

All these directly impact the “sneaker experience”- from breathability and flexibility of the shoes to the resultant “shoe squeak” mentioned earlier.

Men seem to care about these aspects more than women, while the right fit and good customer service appear to be more important to women.

What Sets Nike Apart?

So what makes Nike sneakers stand out, making it a market leader, year after year?

Customers have consistently given Nike sneakers high ratings, and particularly mention style, flexibility, comfort, and durability as USPs in their reviews (sharing a few examples below).

We also noticed that sneakers with higher ratings (as well as a higher number of reviews) pertain to a higher price category, possibly indicating that the higher-end sneakers deliver on greater quality and satisfaction, such as the Nike Men’s Tajun Sneakers, Nike SFB Field 8 Leather Men’s and Nike Air Force 1 Low GS Lifestyle sneakers.

The more popular sneaker models also tend to have a greater number of reviews posted on them, such as the Nike Men’s Air Monarch IV Cross Trainer, Nike Men’s Tanjun Sneakers, Nike Men’s Revolution 4 Running, and the Nike Benassi Slides (Men and Women).

Further, we decided to study Nike’s marketing strategy and see how customer reviews compare with this. We found it to be both benefits-focused and feature-focused.

For features, it focuses primarily on soles (91% of all product descriptions mention this) and a secondary, but strong, emphasis on lightweight (53% of all product descriptions mention this). Through this, Nike promises durability, but also comfort, flexibility and breathability, and of course, the sine qua non for Nike: style!

The tone of Nike commercials tends to be inspiring, fun, compelling and memorable. They treat everyone as an athlete, and thereby, sell aspiration, rather than products.


Based on the data we studied (a relatively small set admittedly), it appears that the majority of the customers feel that Nike delivers on its promises on various fronts, and this is perhaps what sets Nike apart from other sneaker brands.

If you enjoyed reading this post, you might also like: Lost in Sensation: The Multi-Sensory Experience of Wearing New Shoes

We studied 37,738 reviews of the most popular sneakers on a leading e-commerce website to find out what the deal was when it comes to finding the MVP of shoes.

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