Changing the Game

Our MD, Jason West, discusses the future of sports retail and how the big sportswear names are changing the game.

How are sportswear brands such as Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and Lululemon raising the bar on the in-store retail experience?

Many shoppers today are as prepared to pay for a brand experience as they are for a product. The likes of Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and Lululemon are all leaders in the sports and athleisure retail market because they understand their audience, and their retail spaces don’t simply focus on selling their merchandise; they’re selling their ideologies, too.

Service which is targeted around the needs of the customers and experiences, such as Nike running clubs, Adidas selling healthy juices and snacks co-created with Brooklyn-based Grass Roots Juicery, or Lululemon’s yoga classes, create a sense of community.

Having stores which accommodate these customer touchpoints is essential for successful brands. Integrating experience into physical retail isn’t a new idea, but where it is done well it has proved effective in ensuring millennials value the high street rather than online.

Why, in your opinion, are more and more of these brands focusing on opening their own stores and creating a stronger physical retail presence? 

As strong brands evolve their retail formats they’re also impacting customer expectations, and so other brands are focusing on bringing their own retail propositions up-to-date to meet these new demands.

Despite our progression towards a digital world, many shoppers still prefer visiting a physical store rather than solely shopping online; for some types of product nothing beats being able to touch it, try it on or see how it works. 

That’s why a number of leading e-commerce brands have been making the move to bricks-and-mortar.

What’s proved most effective are the retail spaces which are able to integrate digital with physical retail to create a multi-channel experience - whether that includes a pop-up or a showroom - this way there's still an experience to be had in-store, regardless of whether or not the customer then chooses to make their purchase online.

In terms of ‘raising the bar’, a trend we’ve noticed lately is that the big sports / leisure brands all seem to be making similar choices when it comes to their selection of materials, VM, fixture design, etc.

What we would like to see taking shape next, alongside in-store experiences, are stores that fully reflect what each individual brand has to offer and show off what makes them unique. Without this differentiation they could all merge into one.

One of the best examples we have seen of a sports retailer with a completely ‘on brand' store design is the recently opened Assos store, in St James Market, London.

Selling high end Swiss-made cycling equipment, designed by Ab Rogers (son of Richard Rogers, a driving force of hi-tech modern architecture) this store oozes technical prowess, creating an 'unwavering commitment to performance and attention to detail.'

I wanted to design a space that echoed this ethos, but importantly, also offered an innovative retail solution to guarantee customers an unmatched experience both on and off the bike.
— Ab Rogers

What does 2017 have in store for the sports retail market?

This push towards creating multi-channel experiences is showing no sign of slowing down, so 2017 is likely to continue, increasingly integrating VR, AR and AI as the technology becomes more accessible.

In terms of experience, what we'd expect to see in the next year are sports brands opening retail spaces that disrupt the standard and shift the balance much more to experience rather than just selling.

Our recent store refurbishment for Ellis Brigham in Covent Garden features a 'vertical chill' ice climbing wall, where customers can try out their gear on the real thing before they make the choice to purchase.

Retailers must dare to be bold in order to keep up; the sports brands that will come into the forefront here are the ones that understand and embrace their unique qualities and project these qualities in-store.

They should have authority in their market, be able to provide expert customer service, and have the guts to create a space that says ’this is what we do, we believe we're the best at what we do, and if you don’t believe us come and see it and test it out for yourself’.

The aim should be to provide customers with a lasting memory of the brand - and it’s no revelation that positive in-store experiences translate into loyalty.

I think temporary retail will also ‘pop-up’ a lot more in the next year, as brands seek a more flexible way to trial store concepts or achieve physical brand presence in the right location for a specific time.