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Fusion of Online and Offline: The role of digitalization in the Sports Industry

2020 completely changed the rules of retail. The crisis due to the coronavirus presented the retail of all branches with numerous new challenges. Especially the heavily brick and mortar driven sports industry. Policies disrupted the status-quo and retailers found themselves facing a storm they had never anticipated, with mounting stocks, shortage of delivery and payment obligations. Consequently, many rushed to find online solutions so they can keep the income flowing and survive. Mike Kerbage, Marketing Manager of SPORT 2000 International, sees in the developments of the 2020 a new understanding of the importance of digitalization and e-commerce in the sports industry. Nevertheless it always goes hand in hand with selling sporting goods in person with a human touch.  So whether it’s online or in a physical store, as a sports retail organisation you have to give your customers a feeling of trust, expertise and great product assortment.

During the Corona shutdown, sports retailers all over the world were dependent on selling their goods online. What role does SPORT 2000 play internationally in that matter?

Mike Kerbage SPORT 2000

International Marketing Manager Mike Kerbage

At SPORT 2000, e-commerce is nothing new. Our Dutch market already has an e-commerce platform for some time now. It just so happened that regardless of the corona crisis, we already had plans to launch an international e-commerce platform in March 2020 to further strengthen our brand presence on an international level – with Germany being the first market to connect to this platform. We were lucky as we could offer the German dealers the possibility to sell online immediately and thus, help them ride the wave. Now, a few months after the launch, our objective is to keep optimising our platform, which is designed to be more than just a marketplace. It is in fact an experience platform where brands, retailers and sports lovers meet. It basically is the online version of our soon-to-be launched multi-category specialist concept for brick and mortar. With the experience we already have in the Netherlands and in the German market our plan is to branch out and include other member countries in the near future.

What does the future of e-commerce look like in the sports industry and how does the business prepare for an even more digitized future?

There will always be a debate between brick-and-mortar vs. e-commerce, especially in sports retail. While sales from both sectors have been increasing, e-commerce is clearly grapping more percentage points every year. Also this year it worked as a “safety net” for our retailers since e-commerce was the only solution to stay in business during lockdown. Nevertheless, we do not believe that brick and mortar is dead – it’s far from it. While digital sales are increasing rapidly, people still go to stores to buy their high-end products, talk with the sales staff, try the products and enjoy the experience – that’s something a screen can never replace.  This is what we, at SPORT 2000, thrive to offer in our stores. We are the retailers with the Human Touch on- and offline. With that said, we firmly believe that the share of e-commerce in the future will be massive. This is why we are working hard on improving our online sales offer, streamlining the customer experience and checkout process all the while offering the users this community feeling and expert advice which they look for when entering a real shop, by providing unique content and product reviews with our partner brands.

How do you create this ideal link between online and brick and mortar?

We view any point-of-sale, whether online or a physical store, as a place to give our customers a feeling of trust, expertise and great product assortment. It is in our DNA. It is the exact way we built our current e-commerce platform online and also our future Multi-Category-Specialist stores. The best way to connect these two worlds is by complementing the physical stores with the possibility to offer products online that are currently not available in the store. At the same time, we offer stores who do not wish to sell online to participate in the click-and-collect option. This holistic approach to sales enables us to connect both worlds and offer our customers a rewarding shopping experience.

Apart from e-commerce, what opportunities does digitalization offer sports retailers, especially in terms of marketing?

The main advantage of online marketing is the ability to track the campaigns, to have measurable KPIs and thus, have a quantifiable ROI analysis. It also enables us to reach our customers with up-selling, re-targeting and customer loyalty campaigns. These tools help improve sales and build a connection with our customers in an otherwise faceless online environment. But in order to be successful selling online, we must ensure that our infrastructure is top notch. Customer experience can break or make a website. More than 60 % of carts get abandoned due to slow loading websites, unpleasant checkout process. We also want to help the visitors make better purchasing choices by offering them unique content in the form of in-depth expert advice and product testing.

What significance do social media have for digital marketing in sports retail from an international perspective?

Social Media are, definitely, very important to reach new customers, retain and nurture current ones and connect with other partners. The possibility to track the campaigns and the results help us invest wisely, as one can burn a lot of money on social media advertising. Working with influencers also helps reach new customers. Indeed, influencers have loyal followers who trust their advice. Many of our member countries carefully select the influencers they collaborate with as we need to make sure that our message and products are advertised by people we trust. And the results have been very positive, as we see in Germany and Bulgaria.

At the moment, trade shows are happening online all over the world. Is this development in the B2B market also promising for the future?

We organised our first ever online trade shows due to the restrictions imposed by the corona-policies. While the results were very positive, surveys we conducted did show us that retailers, brand and consumers still prefer the physical trade shows and I tend to agree with this. However, there are many advantages for online trade shows, like reduced expenditure due to less travelling and no need to build expensive booths.
It also is convenient for participants who can, from the comfort of their home or office, download all information, view the catalogues, book meetings, organise calls. In fact, many partners who usually do not participate in our trade shows due to time and travel difficulties, did indeed take part in our online alternative. Consequently, I believe that in the future, we will have a mix of both online and physical trade shows, which is something we have already planned with our industry partners.

Photo credits: Miguel Á. Padriñán/Pexels.com