Ready, set, go: Sports retailers

With Australia’s growing obesity rate and the introduction of international players, it’s an interesting time to be in the sporting goods retail industry. We chat with three businesses about the sector’s unique challenges and opportunities.

Stephen Younane

CEO at Retail Prodigy Group

Nike

How would you describe the sports retail landscape in Australia?

It’s a competitive and cluttered market with the combination of local and international retailers with both mono- and multi-branded stores, spanning from the promotional to the premium end of the price/value spectrum. We have also seen a huge growth in the online space across the category. 

The challenge this creates for retailers is to carve out a differentiated and sustainable market position in a country that has low population numbers and a high cost of doing business in terms of wages and rents.

How has the sports retail customer changed over the years and how have retailers responded?

With the growth of athleisure, many fashion apparel retailers jumped on the sporting bandwagon with their own product collections. This was treated mostly as a fashion trend and is now less prevalent in the broader fashion apparel market. Brands like Nike that have a strong authentic position in sport have not only capitalised on this trend, they have also strengthened in the performance and technical category across both apparel and footwear.

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What are some of the biggest threats for sports retailers like Nike?

As the master franchisee for Nike retail stores, we focus primarily on providing the ultimate customer experience. This puts a great deal of pressure on us to both recruit and retain the best retail talent in the market. We need to continue to build a compelling experience for our customers to compete with the many retailers that lead on price discounting both in the physical and online environments. 

Based on the traffic and conversion we experience in-store, we are optimistic that there is still a large majority of consumers who value premium product, in a premium environment with a premium experience.

With big players like Amazon and Decathlon now in Australia, what do sports retailers need to do to bring customers in-store?

It’s important to stay true to your key competitive position. There will always be competitors that lead on price. That’s not our game. We will leave it to the discounters to fight it out. 

The George Street store in Sydney is the biggest Nike store in the country. The basement is dedicated to sneaker lovers and we have built an assortment around sportswear, basketball, NBA and Jordan to create a whole different environment down there. Men’s performance is on the ground floor and the top level is dedicated to the women’s collection in an environment designed for her. We’re really proud of the store and have been doing a lot of work to bring different service experiences to life, such as run trial, bra fitting, shoe care and customisation.

Nike by Melrose in LA is a really personalised, seamless digital and in-store experience. It uses customer membership data to personalise and curate the product offering in that specific store location.

Nike has also opened stores in SoHo and on Fifth Avenue in New York City and will use them to test and trial innovations so that we can learn from them and hopefully capitalise on these learnings in our stores in Australia and New Zealand. 

We are working towards a full remodel of our Nike Melbourne Central store right now. I can’t share what the plans are, but it will be the first of its kind. We’re hoping to unveil this new flagship in the second half of this year. 

Gary Williams

Managing director

Rebel Sport

How would you describe the sports retail landscape in Australia?

It’s definitely a dynamic environment – there are significant changes under way. Sports retail in Australia is much more competitive in recent years, invigorated by a number of new players entering the market. Global brands are investing in innovation, technology and bringing new products to the Australian market. All of this is good news for consumers – they have greater choice.

At the same time, we’ve seen a definite shift in customer trends, with a focus on organised and team sports broadening out to include self-managed health and wellness activities. Also we’ve seen how sportswear is being adopted as an everyday fashion item.

What are some of the biggest challenges for sports retailers at

the moment?

One of our biggest challenges is the declining participation in traditional team sports. We are finding that

time-poor families and younger consumers leaving school and university and entering the workforce can’t maintain the commitment and routine required of team sports. However, we are seeing growth in individual sport and exercise, such as swimming, running, training and walking.

Like all retailers in Australia, the sports sector is facing declining foot traffic in shopping centres and needs to think about new ways to provide richer in-store experiences for customers. Related to this are the increasing store rental costs which present a real challenge for specialty retailers.

How would you describe current consumer confidence and how has that impacted the sector?

Australia’s love of sport remains

strong, and deeply ingrained in our culture. Training, fitness and general wellbeing are embedded in the Australian way of life and across all ages, the importance of exercise is well known.

From our perspective, it’s difficult to get a handle on broad consumer confidence as we sell products in high-engagement categories. This means we have not felt an impact as much as some other categories.

Australia has a high obesity rate at the moment and, according to IBISWorld, people aren’t participating in sports as much anymore. How has that impacted the sector?

I think there is absolutely an opportunity for the whole sports retailing sector to encourage greater participation in sport. We are partnering with some of the major sporting codes – Netball Australia, AFL, NRL, Cricket Australia and the FFA – to encourage participation and working with governments at all levels to see what can be done about availability of ovals and parks.

But there’s more we can do. I feel there’s a real opportunity to be doing more with government bodies to communicate the benefits of sport and exercise and in turn increase participation, not only for obesity, but also mental health and general wellness benefits.

Are there any interesting areas for growth in the sector that you have your eye on at the moment?

There’s a great opportunity to focus on women in sport. This is a real potential growth area. We are experiencing growing demand for sporting equipment and apparel as female participation in sports increases. 

Another area of interest is the range of technology-enabled products, particularly where they can improve the health and performance of our customers. This includes products such as in-built heart monitoring – these products are creating a bit of a buzz with a growing number of customers.

At Rebel and right across the Super Retail Group brands, we are focusing much more attention on personalised marketing to build on our strong customer loyalty.  We are using customer insights to provide individual and curated omni-shopping experiences.

How has the sporting goods customer changed over the years and what has impacted that?

Customers are expecting more from retailers – they want first-class service and experiences. They want to shop how and when they choose and this is no different in the sporting goods sector.

They are using online platforms as a way of not only buying goods but also researching products. Australian consumers now have much greater global awareness of products and trends in the sports sector. 

The shift from organised and team-based sport to individual sport and exercise is another trend as is the use of technology. Customers are placing increased emphasis on using technology and integrating apps to help measure self-performance. These are increasingly in demand.

Finally, customers want performance-led products that look good – everyone wants to look good.

Andrew Kidd

Director

Onsport.com.au

How has the Australian sports retail sector developed since you first launched your site?

When Onsport first launched, online sales as a percentage of total retail sales were a fraction of online sales today, which sit at around 9 per cent of total retail sales. 

The range of sport and fitness brands and products offered online back in 2011 was fairly narrow. However, we and other retailers in our sector are offering a much broader range of brands and deeper product lines, including boutique Australian and international brands.

On the logistics front, there are now more delivery options for consumers than there were in 2010-11, with the introduction of parcel lockers and other delivery initiatives such as Saturday deliveries. The digital marketing landscape developed from being fairly email-, Adwords- and SEO-focused to one where there is an increasing focus on social media marketing, influencer marketing, remarketing and digital brand-building. Social media data also became a lot more specific, allowing more specific ad audience targeting. 

What are some of the unique challenges of the sports retail industry? 

A unique challenge to the sports retail industry is to continue to get the message across to consumers that they should be leading an active life to maintain their ongoing health and longevity.

Sports retailers, with the assistance of government, should be focused on increasing their market share not by just competing for the attention of the existing sport-loving consumer, but instead trying to increase the size of the overall market by continuing to generate awareness of the importance of regular exercise.

Greater competition is certainly a challenge if a retailer is offering the exact same range as competitors with no point of difference and poor service levels. However, we believe that offering points of difference makes competition less relevant. 

We offer consumers the ability to earn loyalty points with the major frequent flyer and bank loyalty programs when they place an order with Onsport.

Are there any interesting trends in sports retail that you have your eye on at the moment?

The activewear trend continues to grow and we will continue to support active women by curating a great range of activewear from a variety of large as well as boutique local and international brands. In the activewear space, we’ve been interested to see an emerging trend of launches of smaller, limited-edition activewear ranges with high-profile social influencers. There has also been a trend towards producing athleisure styles that are both practical to work out in but appropriate to wear in more casual social settings – we expect this trend to continue.

How would you describe some of the different customer bases in the sports retail sector? 

In our industry we see consumers that may be interested in one sport only, such as golf, soccer or running and their engagement and purchasing is centred around everything to do with just participating in that sport. Then you have the broader, casual sport customer who buys a pair of running or walking shoes and some sportswear every few years when they’re on a health kick. There are customers who passionately follow a sporting team and want to buy the latest licensed merchandise from their team but aren’t at all interested in being fit and active themselves. 

Then you have the early-adopter customers who are passionate about wearing the latest activewear fashion or sport-tech device, and then the customers who will wait ‘til a plain black pair of tights or an older fitness tracker is priced to clear before buying. 

Where do you see sports retail heading in the future? Are there any growth opportunities that you’re interested in?

We expect to see the growth of ‘smart’ clothing, footwear and accessories, incorporating sensors to analyse sweat, heart rate and biomechanics to provide a more complete picture of athletic performance. We also expect to see the materials and technology used in athletic footwear to continue to develop.

We’re interested in growth opportunities across activewear, footwear and sports tech, as well as growing marketing technologies such as voice-enabled search, with the increasing number of voice-enabled devices in the home and offices.  

With more data and analytics, we believe there will be a continued decline in mass media and broader marketing and more specific, targeted marketing messages delivered via digital marketing mediums.


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