Digitalisation is a big subject and isn’t one that can be tackled by one company, trade body or industry association alone. Let’s not forget that as we in the sports industry prepare to digitalise, other industries are doing so too. So too are the companies who supply us, the farmers that grow the cotton, the factories that make our products, the companies that ship them to us. The supply chain and commerce will never be the same again for anyone.

Undoubtedly the leading voice on digitalisation in the sports industry is ISPO. However, it seems that the positive and somewhat inspirational message about what is possible has been overshadowed by the narrative of ‘you’re not doing enough!’

Most of us are aware of things like AR, AI, VR etc and some of the benefits they offer which is all well and good in the hands of an Adidas or BMW, who have the budget and staff with a comprehensive understanding of digitalisation. But for the small sporting goods retailer or the mid-sized brand, it’s simply unthinkable to implement such technologies right now – isn’t it? These companies are still working with excel line lists, print catalogues and some are still trying to get online.

In all fairness though ISPO are doing a great job of highlighting what’s out there, showcasing how the giants are grabbing the opportunities digitalisation presents. This was on show for visitors to the ISPO digitize summit in June. However, I feel like they’re missing a very important angle. There needs to be a definitive voice that says, “here’s what’s available, here’s WHY it’s relevant, and here’s HOW to implement it.” At the moment it’s a one-way conversation comparable to someone coming into your office and shouting “AI! AR! VR! 3D printing! Digitalization! Do it now!” then just leaving with no further explanation.

However, hope is not completely lost. ISPO recently released the results of the ISPO digital readiness check in a new whitepaper. Although parts are difficult to understand, for me the most valuable pieces are the interviews with Kan Kegelberg of SportSheck and Marcus Trute of Keller Sports. They both do a fantastic job of clearly explaining how they think retail is changing and what they have done to stay relevant. If you want some clarification and inspiration for digital strategy I’d recommend downloading the whitepaper. Here’s a brief overview of what they had to say with some retail digitalisation examples.

Digitalisation Examples – Kan Kegelberg and Marcus Trute share all

The main messages from both in the whitepaper are the importance of adopting a customer centric mindset and that without a strategy a digitalisation project is likely to fail.

Another point made by both is that “stationary retail will become just another platform”. They make a great point. In fact, my colleague highlighted this in his ISPO Digitize report.  If ‘stationary retail’ continues trying to emulate online shops, they will not be successful. You need a USP and if you have a retail store it must extend your brand in a way that’s valuable to your customers. It’s this point that helps to clarify where digitalisation becomes relevant to many retailers and how new technology can be integrated to enhance the customer buying experience.

Digitalisation Example #1 – Keller Sports

The Keller Sports e-commerce positioning is as a premium sportswear retailer and their retail outlet is a clever extension of this market positioning. They haven’t just filled their store with product, the store offers an experience that a customer simply couldn’t get by shopping online.

One way they have achieved this is with a 3D foot scanner. If you’re buying premium running shoes, then you’re probably a serious runner. Getting a personalised footwear recommendation based on your foot scan is really valuable for their target market. If I had to choose between visiting a store which had one of these and one that didn’t, I know which I’d choose.

The Keller Sports store therefore becomes an integral part of the customer journey and gives the store a purpose other than just being a physical version of the online store. It helps to build loyalty and define a USP. Another way they achieve this is through ‘new brand experience events’.

“Experience and shop the latest collections up close and personal, participate in exciting lectures and meet & greets and train with motivating coaches – in the Keller Sports Store you can expect exclusive brands and events on a regular basis.”

Again, it’s clever innovation and interaction like this that sets Keller Sports apart from their competitors and ensures their bricks and mortar retail offering stays relevant and continues to be valuable to the customer.

Digitalisation Example #2 – American Golf  

Another good digitalisation example in a retail store setting is multi-channel golf retailer American Golf. They have thousands of products available in their online store which would be impossible to stock in their physical outlets. Rather than simply stocking a reduced range and nothing more, American Golf offer valuable in store services only possible through offline channels.

One of the key in-store digital offerings for American Golf is Trackman, a device that maps your golf swing.

“We offer a wide range of state-of-the-art technology to make sure every golfer is fitted with their perfect golf club. Once you step into the hitting nets, one of our PGA Pro’s will test your swing speeds, distance trajectory and a plethora of other techniques and then match you with the idea golf club to help enhance your skill set.”

American Golf offer a very personal experience which is exactly what consumers want. Whether it’s running shoes or golf clubs it’s vital that every channel has a clear and distinct answer to the question “Why does the customer need me?” Again, in this instance you’d surely choose the store that offers this service over one that doesn’t.

And American Golf don’t stop there, their omni-channel offer is on point too. Buy online, click and collect instore or return your online purchase to any store. The experience you offer and the interactions at every touchpoint are just as important as the products you sell.

What about going online?

There’s a lot of talk about what’s happening with digitalisation in brick and mortar retail, probably because the technology is more exciting but what about going online? Is it essential to your success? Not according to Marcus Trute.

“I don’t believe that every stationary retailer needs to sell goods online, as long as they create a great customer experience at their location. What’s important is being aware that digitalization still does play a major role to that end.”

Again, the point comes back to customer centricity and strategy. There’s no point opening an online store just because you can or think you should. Does the customer need you to be online? What’s the USP? If it means you can offer a wider range of products, expand to overseas markets or reach new customers then of course it’s worth seriously considering, but Kegelberg reminds us that no single channel provides a comprehensive answer.

“Investing in digitalization without knowing what goal you’re trying to achieve won’t bring success. The question ‘Why does the customer need me?’ has to have a clear answer. In other words: Without a clear USP, no online or offline value can be generated. That’s why you first and foremost need not a digital strategy, but a clear customer strategy. This is the basis for survival in specialist sports retail.”

More of this please ISPO

So, as we know there is no magic solution to digitalisation. We didn’t need the ISPO Digital Readiness Check to tell us that. But the key to formulating and implementing a successful digitalisation strategy is the adoption of a truly customer centric view. The outcome may include investing in an ecommerce solution or may mean getting that body scanner in store. Either way, if it adds genuine value to the customer experience and gives you a USP then you’re more likely to be successful.

And with regards to ISPO, the digital readiness whitepaper is a big step towards answering the “here’s what’s available, here’s WHY it’s relevant, and here’s HOW to implement it” questions, if only in the interviews they’ve included. They shine a light on how significant but smaller players are approaching digitalisation which is a really valuable insight for retailers and brands big and small.

The ISPO X Adidas partnership is great in the sense that it highlights all that’s possible with digitalisation. But Adidas themselves say they have an obligation to ‘move the industry forward’ which suits them and it’s not really their responsibility to ensure every one of their retailers up their game.

What it does mean though is that it can be intimidating, complex and irrelevant to retailers who are trying to navigate this digitalisation minefield. Just because Adidas are creating VR showrooms doesn’t mean we should all be doing that right now. Let’s get the basics in place first and let Adidas ‘not just be the best but also be the fastest!’ 

ISPO exists to support the industry and there’s a risk that the faster they move; the more people get left behind. I think sometimes a more inclusive approach would help to accelerate the industry rather than a scaremongering narrative of ‘you’re being left behind.’ Smaller retailer case studies like those in the whitepaper and more details about the relevance of such technologies would be a great way forward. More of this please ISPO.

Read more about the June ISPO Digitize Summit in our ISPO Digitize Visitor Report