How the wireless consumer is shaking retail to its core

Sports retail, and in fact retail market in general, is changing at the fastest pace in history.

For many retailers and brands this is a scary proposition as one of the reasons for change is that the power has shifted to the consumer.

In the 1970′s and 80′s it was the brands that dominated but by the 1990′s retailers such as Tesco had taken control and were experiencing aggressive growth and exploiting increasing connectivity to the end user through data capture and analysis through schemes such as Club Card.

In today’s world the power is firmly in the hands of the consumer and no where was this more apparent than Christmas 2013.

Brian Hume, Founder and CEO of Martec, believes that Christmas 2013 was the first “Omni Channel” Christmas – “Consumers got it and many retailers didn’t”!

 

OMNI CHANNEL

Retailers in general reported good online business throughout the Christmas period as consumers were able to exploit multiple ways of gathering price and product information, however many retailers reported disappointing store sales – they weren’t able to join up online and store sales.

From data analysis it appears that many consumers researched in November and purchased in December.

This was fine for those businesses that could react accordingly, however it was the clicks and bricks retailers that were caught out most by this change in consumer behaviour.

Stores started to stress about poor sales and potentially heavy terminal stocks and some, such as M&S, began their sales period in early December- unprecedented in recent times – leading to margin erosion.

By mid December, having completed their research, many consumers headed to the High Street only to be confronted by long checkout queues thus driving them back to purchase online and further away from bricks and mortar retailers.

The smarter consumers learned to select products in store and order online, using their mobile devices, as “click and collect” orders where the lines at collection points were much shorter.

When it was too late to be sure of on time home delivery the consumers finally switched to buying in store..

 

THE ALL POWERFUL CONSUMER

These shifting usage consumer shopping patterns and, more importantly, the way that technology was used to adapt to circumstances caught many retailers by surprise and gives us some interesting pointers towards future customer shopping patterns.

Consumers now have the power to research product and price seamlessly whether browsing in store (through 3 and 4G as well as wifi) or at home online.

They can choose whether to have home delivery or click and collect and even, through online stores such as Net a Porter decide when their goods are delivered within a one hour delivery slot.

Drop box sites are growing all over the country giving the consumer additional places to collect or drop parcels.

 

IN STORE WIFI

Many retailers are debating the benefits of offering free in store wifi in a bid to embrace these changes and to enable consumers to have an even stronger in store experience. However the jury is out as to whether the greater benefit is for the retailer or the consumer.

From a consumer perspective free wifi allows them to research, photograph and email/upload products to friends/family/ peers for purchasing advice and, perhaps most notably, price compare.

From a retailer point of view they can understand exactly who is shopping in store, where they are in store, can communicate whilst they are in store and also reconnect once they have left the store.

The price comparison element of this issue is perhaps the most controversial and appears to be driving an increasing own label or SMU strategy for many brands and retailers where products cannot be compared and this retail price points and margins can be maintained.

Retailers are also looking at potentially rolling out digital displays where prices can be changed centrally at head office across all stores to react to dynamic online price changes.

 

TWO PRICE MANAGEMENT SCENARIOS

Ultimately this is likely to lead to two price management scenarios:

a) the consumer price checks and item that they want to buy and requests a price match from the retailer.

The sales assistant uses a wireless device to access an internal application which decides whether to price match in full or how far to go using rules relating to CRM data such as is this customer a frequent shopper.

b) the retailers agrees or not to price match and automatically sends and alert to the company pricing manager who can review whether to make this price change across the chain/region in real time through digital displays enabling them to react to price pressures whether they be on or offline.

What is clear, with either of these scenarios, is that the consumer is instrumental in driving these changes and that the speed with which retailers can react to such situations will become ever more vital in this fast paced world.

This type of approach does not need to be limited to a chain however. There is no reason why an independent sports retailer with a solid stock control and margin reporting system, cannot react in a similar way when faced with price comparison information.

Advances in technology mean ever increasing transparency and, for those that can embrace these changes and develop systems to react accordingly, does not necessarily mean the death of the High Street retailers – sport or otherwise.

Where have all the sports shops gone?

For those that have been in the trade over twenty years the memory of Olympus Sports in their flagship 301 Oxford Street store is still one that burns brightly for many of us.

That was the the era of shell suits when brands like Reebok and Ellesse were dominant, and when the UK sports trade began to really take shape.

The sports multiple began to evolve with names like Sports Division, JJB, allsports all dominant High Street players and where the regionals – Giles, Hargreaves, Warners etc – still had a role to play.

In the 1990′s these retailers grew and flourished as sportswear became streetwear and as trainers became the default footwear.

Sports Division bought Olympus with JJB then purchasing Sports Division. Allsports came and went and Sport & Soccer (later to become Sportsdirect.com) came from nowhere.

Roll forward to today and, whilst the UK sporting goods market has continued to grow aggressively the number of retailer has decreased hugely.

Two sports retailers now dominate – Sports Direct and JD Sports – and continue to set the pace but why did these two, in particular, survive when those around them failed in this growing market.

 

Own Brand Strategy

Perhaps one answer is their own brand strategy thus enabling them to create exclusivity and obtain a higher margin.

In Sports Directs case many of these brands are often bought out of receivership or near receivership allowing the business to very quickly reduce costs and leverage the brand name to the benefit of the Sports Direct business as a whole.

Many see their proposition as “discounting” however, if we look more closely at the product mix then more often than not these products are not discounted versus the competition but, critically, there is an own brand offer that offers value versus the branded product.

Even if these “branded” goods are discounted this does not have to be detrimental to the brand – if confirmation is needed here then we only need to consider that TK Maxx is the biggest global retailer for both Ralph Lauren and Calvin Kelin underwear.

As Sports Direct continue to grow revenue each year, and with profits rising even faster, there appears to be plenty of headroom for the business to continue to grow.

JD Sports own brand strategy is perhaps less clear and is focussed more in the “sports fashion” side of the industry – perhaps one of the reasons why, to date, they have survived when others, most recently JJB, have fallen.

However there are distractions in the overall group, such as Blacks and Millets, which may not help when looking to the future of this business.

Interestingly picking up on the demise of JJB the latest overall market date suggests that the massive hole that was left has now been mainly filled by the two majors however there still remained opportunities in the market as a whole.

 

In a market rapidly becoming more multichannel and international the demand for professional marketing is becoming more paramount

 

Three Key Elements to survive

Patrick Woodhall of Pragma Consulting believes that there are three key elements necessary to survive and thrive in the current sports marketplace:

a) Image

Image and saliency are obviously critical with a global approach becoming more and more relevant.

b) Accessibility

Accessibility need not be multi channel. ASOS, for example, flourishes without shops whilst Primark flourishes without online sales.

c) Offer

The offer is crucial, especially online, where service in all aspects has to be superior to the competition.

The Future

So where will we be in another ten or twenty years time?

Intersport continues to evolve a more integrated global strategy and the UK continues to get closer to Intersport International and benefit from this drive.

DW Sports is adopting an aggressive store opening programme and the trade as a whole waits with baited breath to see if Intersport Sporting Pro, a subsidiary of Matalan, can make an impact.

Decathlon continue to battle Sports Direct across Europe and may see the UK as future fertile ground.

The specialist sports retailers are finding space with clicks and bricks propositions and there are still a large number of highly successful independent retailers who continue to offer advice and service levels that sports multiples will always find difficult to achieve – these are the artisan butchers and bakers of our trade.

 

The market as a whole is still seeing grow however we will continue to lose independents as High Streets struggle to find relevance to the end consumer.

Today’s conclusion however is that it is the business that has been built on value that continues to be all conquering and, certainly in the short term, this shows no sign of changing.

Sports eCommerce Websites. Is it too late to join the party?

In 1999 I was co-founder of one of the UK’s first multi-sport eCommerce websites – sweatband.com.

Back then the view of many in the sporting goods market was that consumers would not purchase their sports equipment online, particularly in sports where they had traditionally visited their local sports store to “check the weight of the bat” or “swing the racket”.

Today, nearly 15 years later, the growth of sports eCommerce and, in particular, specialist sports eCommerce has turned that preconception on its head.

The growth of sites such as tennisnuts, rugbystore, prodirectsoccer, activinstinct, sportsshoes and others is testament to the changing consumer purchasing patterns and the phenomenal growth rates of many of these sites looks set to continue.

All of these sites were spurned from bricks and mortar independent sports stores and many have already celebrated over ten years of trading online.

But is it too late to join them?

Can today’s independent sports shop with zero online presence in 2013 become a leading player in the next ten years and beyond?

 

Challenge

Lets first look at the challenges they face. The first step is to build the website.

A good transactional website, using an off the shelf platform like shopify, can be purchased for as little as £20 per month.

However, its not a case of “build it and they will come” – once built your website must be, as a minimum, on the first page of google results. That means, in the early stages, a combination of using google adwords and a search engine optimisation strategy.

Expect to spend at least 15% of revenues on these and other marketing activities.

The consumer of today demands choice and service. Back in 1999 it was good enough to show a small product image and description and to offer 7-10 days delivery.

Nowadays we expect a raft of products images, videos, descriptions, size guides and information on each and every line. For this content to rank highly on google it needs to be unique and relevant – that’s a lot of time and effort just spent listing your item.

We expect our order to be with us the next day or, worst case scenario, within 48 hours and that means a large stock holding and a substantial cash investment in the stock as well as a slick pick,pack and despatch procedure and good commercial carrier rates.

We want to connect with our favourite eCommerce sites through other mediums such as social media or, perhaps, a mail order catalogue or both. These must all be part of your strategy to build the customer database and drive sales accordingly.

OK. So you have built the site, have stock, customer care, warehousing, pick and pack facilities and social media and google adwords activity.

But what about your competition? How is their price policy and what can you afford to give in terms of discount to compete? Of course, if they have been established for a period of time, their trading terms with their core suppliers are likely to be very good.

To compete you may have to take an aggressive view regarding your own pricing for a period of time until you can grow your business and negotiate improved terms with your own suppliers.

At this point you may be drawing the conclusion that it is indeed too late to launch an eCommerce site.

However there is hope.

 

Opportunity

The success of the local independent has always been based on links within the local community, service and product range.

Many continue to thrive on this basis and the addition of an eCommerce strategy can indeed compliment this approach.

Are you a teamwear supplier? If so then you will probably have long established links with local clubs and, perhaps, even a supply agreement or contract.

Instead of them coming into store and ordering their new kit why not offer them the opportunity to order online and collect in store.

This gives the advantage of getting payment up front, more time to add the embellishment (names, numbers etc) and still drive them into store to collect the goods and hopefully to sell them additional items.

The cost to build them a teamwear store is minimal, the number of items small and no additional spend is required on SEO, marketing or operational issues.

Finally you further secure your position as a great retail partner.

A small investment in team shops can lead to guaranteed long term support from your local partner rugby, football, hockey clubs etc and is not effected by aggressive discounting as the lines sold are bespoke and specific to that team.

Exactly the same principles can be applied to building an online shop for your local school.

Build a relationship, select a core range of schoolwear items that you can supply (ideally that you can back to back through one of the wholesalers) and create an online shop.

The online presence makes it easy for parents to purchase the products and , in store collection allows you to take advantage of additional sales and provides a appropriate window to get the stock in and embellish accordingly.

What about those end of line items that are always difficult to shift?

The opportunities through eBay are well documented and easy to set up, or you may like to consider a clever locally targeted campaign to bring even greater rewards.

If you have built a twitter and/or facebook following then you already have a local/customer database . How about creating a flash sale. Put up one item per week on your website and simply use social media and local advertising to push people to that item.

This will get the consumers talking about you, drive additional footfall, and enable you to move end of line items in a quick and targeted way.

Finally look at the niche areas of your business and see if there is an online opportunity. The niche specialist brands and retailers are seeing healthy growth at present and there are still areas within the sports trade that are untapped.

 

Results

In conclusion the successful independent sports retailer of today, who is unable to invest heavily in a completely separate eCommerce business, can still take advantage of the opportunities that exist in the online world.

Look at the areas of the business where eCommerce can compliment there service levels and add value to their core customer relationships.

Investigate niche product areas, sports and suppliers and explore these areas.

Its not too late to join the eCommerce revolution you just need to be clever in the way that you join.

Good luck!

Its not just about price, price, price

Distribution channels are developing, changing, evolving and converging at an ever increasing rate and sports brands and retailers have to adapt to these changes.

Whilst there are still dominant brand players, in every sports category there is now an ever ending choice of brands for the retailer and whilst it is critical for any business to recognise and react to these changes it is also vital that the business as a whole does not lose sight of the basic principles of marketing – the 4 P’s.

In the 1960′s the marketer E Jerome McCarthyproposed a four Ps classification which has since been used by marketers throughout the world – Product, Price, Promotion,Place.

Today those P’s have expanded to become 7 or 8 (or even more) to address the different nature of services, however their impact on business development and go-to-market strategies should not be underestimated and are equally applicable to the sports industry;

 

Product

This is still key. Whether sports brand or retailer, without appropriate, attractive and relevant product the business cannot evolve.

Over the past ten years we have seen more and more niche areas of the industry being driven by product development as eCommerce, in particular, has allowed retailers to exploit the long tail and push more and more specialist products into a bigger specialist market place.

Innovative product development continues to be a key business driver here as the specialists (retailer and brands) demand more “fit for purpose” products than those in the “general” sporting goods category.

New brands to market are doing so by taking on either a new niche with a ground breaking product or developing something totally unique.

Brands like Inov8 are a prime example of taking a niche area (trail running) of a bigger mature market (running) and using this as a launch pad to drive wider business development once the anchor has been established.

Going back further Under Armour not only invented a product (or re-invented depending on your view) but created an entire new product category (baselayers) in the sporting goods industry.

 

Price

Price is one of the key components when it comes to driving market penetration and there are a number of strategies that can be employed within this category to generate demand:

Market penetration – introducing a new product at a lower price to help gain market share.

Competitive pricing – often used for well-known products or brands that are in high demand. Prices are similar to competitors. To be competitive, retailers must ensure it doesn’t charge higher prices for the same goods (or similar) than other sports and fashion retailers.

Strategic pricing – This might be used to position an exclusive product or brand to make it more desirable for consumers and generate demand or demonstrate value.

In sport retail Sports Direct are perhaps recognised as the finest exponent of integrated pricing strategies and has cleverly mixed these strategies with a wider in-house brand development strategy.

 

Promotion

It is the authors view that, as an industry, the sports trade can still learn from our FMCG cousins in this area.

If we compare brand and retailer activity with, for example, that of the grocery trade we often fail to address some powerful tools that are available to the brand and retail businesses.

Added value promotions, Buy One Get One Free (BOGOF), voucher redemptions, staff incentives, gondola end promotions (or equivalent), and direct call to action initiatives are all areas that we recognise as end consumers in other marketplaces but not necessarily throughout the sports market.

When used strategically these types of tools can be extremely beneficial and allow additional points of difference versus the competition.

 

Place

Often you will hear marketers saying that marketing is about putting the right product, at the right price, at the right place, at the right time. It’s critical then, to evaluate what the ideal locations are to convert potential clients into actual clients.

From a brand perspective this might be a trade show, shop visits or dealer trips.

For sports retailers it may depend on your route to market – shop, mail order, eCommerce, event – but the same principles apply.

This fourth marketing P is the one that on the surface appears less relevant but is the one that, arguablyis having the biggest impact on the sporting goods marketplace. Put simply the “places” where goods are being purchased are changing.

Channels are merging – running and outdoor; embroidery/embellishment and sport; mail order and eCommerce etc. For sports brands to evolve they must address these changes and “find” this new business and the “place” where this new business exists.

With a continued decline in the sports independent base and a consolidation of sports multiples these changes will be fundamental for sports businesses to evolve.

 

It may seem simplistic to view our industry within these basic four parameters, however if explored in depth then the answers to all successful business sales and marketing strategies can be embraced under these umbrella terms.

In recent years new P’s such as Passionate People, Packaging, Performance, Persona and more have been put forward as being equally and/or more important than the four terms outlined in this article, however it is clear that whatever your final list of P’s the discipline of reviewing your business in these terms may just help you find the answers you are looking for to help grow your business.

The Future of the Sports Shop

The sports retail industry is being confronted with unprecedented change. Technological advances, changing consumer spending patterns and economic turmoil means that the sports retail landscape is changing quicker than some retailers (and brands) are able to react.

Today’s consumer has vastly different and more sophisticated expectations of product, service, value and environment than five or even three years ago.

In the new multichannel reality, the boundaries between virtual and physical space are becoming blurred and retailers are being forced to question the role and function of stores in an environment where their relevance to the connected consumer is increasingly subject to challenge.

Whilst the role of the store is undoubtedly changing most commentators are not predicting the demise of the sports shop, however is is highly likely that the “Sports Shop of the Future” will look rather different from those we see today.

Todays shopper has vastly different expectations from the shopper of yesteryear and, in order to survive, the UK sports retailer must understand and embrace these changing expectations.

The solution will not be the same for every retailer, but those who fail to realise the fundamental transformation required may struggle to survive.

 

SURVIVAL

Ian Geddes, Partner, UK Retail for Deloittes comments;

The store becomes a brand and product showroom – Retailers need to re-define the store proposition and identify how they can best address the changing customer needs within the four walls of the store. Going forward, the store needs to be an embodiment of the brand and a ‘destination’ for consumers where they can do much more than simply browse and transact; it will no longer operate as a silo but as an integral part of the multichannel experience.

As fewer stores are required, the store portfolio needs to be reset – As the traditional retail model changes, retailers will need to reassess their store portfolios. The increasing costs of operating stores, changes in consumer behaviours and the growing online opportunity suggest that retailers will need fewer stores in future. Over the medium to long term we will see significant downsizing of store portfolios. This will vary markedly depending on the retailer’s category but reductions by as much as 30%-40% are foreseeable over the next 3-5 years.

Ripple effects will be felt throughout the organisation – The changing role of the store has far reaching implications both within the four walls of the store as well as for the overall retail organisation. Fundamental changes will need to be made across the organisation in all functions in order to support the operation of the store of the future.

In this new reality, incremental adjustments to the store format and portfolio will no longer be sufficient to survive, a radical rethink of the purpose of the store in the consumer shopping journey and the number of stores required to reach the consumer is necessary.”

 

THE FUTURE

So what are those changes likely to be and what will the future sports shop really look like?

In a truly mulitchannel world the sports shop will become a complex relationship between the retailer and consumer looking, perhaps, more like a brand and product showroom with revenues being driven across all retail platforms and channels.
The Sports Shop will need to redefine itself as a destination – think apple store meets the sports trade.

Its is already apparent that those retailers that are embracing this change are seeing the advantages. Specialist retailers offering a wide selection of products, excellent service and the ability to interact through social media and ecommerce continue to perform on an otherwise challenging High Street.
Staff Product knowledge becomes key– Deloitte research shows that conversion rates increased 9%6 when customers were assisted by employees who possess a high degree of product knowledge and demonstrate strong interpersonal skills.

The better the advice the more likely the consumer will (a) return and (b) recommend

 

In store technology becomes vital – consumers will demand immediate access to product information through their mobile devices through interactive experience such as bar code scanning to augment their product and brand information.
Connected stores for connected customers – with the demands outlined in the previous point the sports shop of the future will need to offer wi-fi as a matter of course as retailers follow the lead taken by coffee shops and hotels.
Independent retailers will face more competition from the sports brands themselves.

As the barriers between retailer and brand become blurred more stand alone branded retail environments will emerge leveraging the brand marketing to maximum effect and allowing the shopper to become fully emerged in the brand experience.

PROFITABLE GROWTH

Against this backdrop retailers will need to work hard to drive profitable growth and need to think hard about the demands of their local customer base and how they can maximise their appeal and improve their interaction with them.

Without a local social media strategy the retailer will begin to lose touch with the core market.

New technology will emerge to assist the consumer and the sports shop of the future must keep up with these changes.

The shop itself is no longer the sole touch point for a shopper and the importance of multi channel options will become increasingly vital.

The solution will not be the same for every retailer, but the impact will be felt throughout the organisation.

There are winning propositions out there but, in particular, the sports independent must address these changes now. The rules of the game have now changed and what worked in the past cannot and will not work in the future.

Good luck!