Sportswear is an exciting, albeit competitive, product category for retailers.
As retailers like Gap and H&M jostle to get in on the athleisure trend, traditional sportswear retailers are feeling the competitive pinch. Sportswear chain Finish Line announced in January that it would close 600 name-brand stores and replace its CEO with Sam Sato, a Nordstrom veteran, after its performance-focused strategy failed to pay off. And following many months of will-they-or-won’t-they speculation, Sports Authority became the first major U.S. retailer in 2016 to declare bankruptcy.
In this competitive market, Finish Line recently outlined plans to position itself for long-term success. While maintaining investments in digital and omnichannel, new CEO Sam Sato said in a conference call with investors that Finish Line will refocus its efforts on physical stores, and is planning store remodels that will “inspire the customer through key item and brand storytelling.”
“In fiscal 2017, we are commencing a much more ambitious store remodel program than in years past as we work towards bringing a first rate consumer experience to our stores that differentiate and drives preference for the Finish Line brand,” Sato said. “The plan is to create a substantially updated look and feel across a significant portion of our store base over the next three years.”
Some industry observers saw this announcement as a victory for brick-and-mortar, a reinforcement of the importance of physical stores over technology and omnichannel investments. But in a retail environment where channels are blurring, it's not necessarily a question of prioritizing one over the other.
With the Finish Line news fresh in mind, discussion forum RetailWire asked its BrainTrust panel of retail experts the following questions:
- Have retailers overinvested time and money in omnichannel initiatives at the expense of physical stores?
- How should leaders balance devoting attention to the new without neglecting the old?
Here are nine of the best comments from that discussion. Comments have been edited by Retail Dive for content and length.
1. It’s an all-channel journey
Ken Morris, Principal, Boston Retail Partners: I don't think there is any retailer that has "over-invested" in omnichannel initiatives, as there is still a lot of work to be done in this area. According to our research, while many retailers are offering omnichannel services, most state that these services are not working well. That said, retailers can't take their eye off the store.
Online shoppers have become accustomed to features such as product reviews, extensive choices, one-click transaction processing, and personalized recommendations. Unfortunately, these expectations don't dissipate when they walk into a physical store. Consumers' expectations are likely magnified given that one-third of consumers shop more than one channel as part of their shopping journey… Retailers must understand the customer journey across their customer personas, understand their preferences, apply a contextual overlay and effectively communicate (either push or pull) the brand value proposition to convert todays customer. To compete effectively in today's market you need to harmonize the attention across all channels.
2. Looking at the future
Charles Whiteman, SVP, Client Services, MotionPoint: Comparing investments in stores vs. omnichannel is a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison. ROI on store investments are fairly easy-to-predict given that it's a mature sales channel. Omnichannel is more of a strategic investment — a bet on a future state — with a fairly unpredictable ROI. It isn't justified on the basis of its short-term ROI, but instead on a prediction of how important an integrated multi-channel experience will be to customers in the future.
It's certainly clear that cross-channel integration is getting more important, but just how important it will be — for a given retailer in 3-5 years — is a matter of conjecture.
As with any strategic investment, leaders should look for ways to hedge against being wrong. In this case, it's certainly smart to recognize that the majority of sales for most retailers will come from stores for the foreseeable future ... and avoid underinvesting in the channel. Some retailers haven't been that smart.
3. It’s not either/or
Martin Mehalchin, Partner, Lenati, LLC: The whole point behind omnichannel before it became an overused buzzword was to invest in initiatives that spanned both digital and stores. Retailers who get this are bringing technology to the store experience as well as building up online and arming associates with data and tools to help them better serve customers.
Finish Line has execution and vendor relationship problems that should not be blamed on omnichannel.
4. Look to customers, not trends
Mohamed Amer, Global Head of Strategic Communications, Consumer Industries, SAP: When you are trying to catch up to now-established consumer trends, the easy path is to purposely over-invest in time and money to effect such a strategy. The trade-offs in these decisions imply that the legacy is ignored.
So, have retailers over-invested time and money in omnichannel initiatives at the expense of physical stores? Certainly many have, but a few understood from the start that omnichannel means all channels which is inclusive of stores. Moreover, retailers are increasingly convinced that the future belongs to the blurring of the physical and the online worlds in which they operate seamlessly and in harmony to deliver the best customer experience.
Providing an illusion of action, we tend to swing the pendulum back and forth to compensate for existing shortcomings and to appease pundits and analysts. Taking a customer-first approach (instead of a technology-first or a product-first, etc.) retailers and others can greatly reduce the chances of going off the rails.
5. Where’s the magic?
Lee Peterson, EVP Brand, Strategy & Design, WD Partners: Without a doubt. Retailers have been chasing Amazon for almost a decade now and trying to figure out how to stay abreast with that beast. The cost has clearly been on the physical side.
But it's not only remodels and better lighting, it's total experience that's lacking. I just got back from Europe and the U.K. and all the new stores had cafes in them. Why aren't we doing that here in the U.S.? Other than the new third-wave retailers, I just don't see innovation at store level.
Self fulfilling prophecy: stack stuff on shelves and hope they come = competing with Amazon = closing stores. It's time to re-invest. A wise move by Finish Line.
6. Triggering emotions
Anne Howe, Principal, Anne Howe Associates: Finish Line lives in a category where more is better and new styles create desire. "Sneakerheads" may browse online and via mobile, but there's nothing better to trigger senses and emotions than having a coveted pair of kicks on your feet.
So Finish Line is right to re-focus on the store, but not just on how it looks. Associates need more training too, because they have the power to bring the sensory experience and emotional triggers to the forefront while the shopper is in the store.
7. Keep it in perspective
Kevin Graff, President, Graff Retail: Nice to see a retailer that gets it. I've been ranting a lot on stage lately about how retailers have taken their eye off the prize they already have — thousands of willing customers already entering their stores. With online sales predicted to grow to about 15 percent (I know, it's a hotly debated number) by the end of the decade, that means 85 percent will still be done in stores. And I promise you this: Retailers are losing more than 15 percent of potential sales every day in their stores because of poor staff performance and bad execution (another staff thing). Refocusing on running the stores better and regaining those lost sales will pay back faster than most any other investment.
I'm not saying digital-this and digital-that isn't important. It is. But let's keep it in perspective.
8. Omnichannel has its stresses
Dick Seesel, Principal, Retailing In Focus LLC: As stores have seen underperforming locations and declining comp-store sales, their response has been a case of circular reasoning. The thought process of converting physical stores to "omnichannel" centers has led stores like Macy's in some directions that are actually hastening the sales shortfalls.
Just in the past week, BrainTrust panelists have discussed the risk of trying to perform multiple functions (including omnichannel initiatives like BOPIS) without adding payroll — putting stress on the existing associates and cutting into expected levels of customer service. I've been in several mall anchors recently (not just Macy's) where the store needs a physical refresh, or more sales associates or more competent restocking of the selling floor.
9. Don’t forget the store associates
Frank Riso, Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC: When the store staff become so lazy that when an item cannot be found and is clearly in stock, they go directly to recommending the customer order it online, that the store brand suffers. Store managers are needed to ensure staff do their job and improve customer service. The combination of in-store and online does work but only when management enforces the correct selling. Selling to consumers online is a convenience as well as an alternative to visiting the store. The store should continue to be the primary focus of the retailing and providing in-store only specials helps keep that focus on track.