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French Sporting Goods Behemoth ‘Decathlon’ Expanding In-Store Tech Amid Global Expansion

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French sporting goods retailer Decathlon is leading the way in terms of in-store technological advances within the retail world. The company recently showcased the future of its stores at the Salesforce Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. Decathlon says that the innovations will be part of its Canadian expansion as it gains a foothold in the market.

Built on a strong foundation of values and principles, Decathlon’s consumer-centric approach to retail is felt throughout its many locations globally, and that will play a role in its rapid and continued success. With each new innovation, technologically based or otherwise, its main driving force is creating the most comfortable and efficient shopping experience for its customers. 

Its newest innovation centres around blending the traditional brick and mortar store with modern technology and iPhones. 

Each of the US stores is running a NewStore omnichannel platform, which includes an integrated, cloud-based order management system and mobile POS solution.

PHOTO: DECATHLON

Tally, a shelf-scanning robot (with little eyes for the cute-factor) presents a new approach to organization within the brick and mortar experience. Using RFID technology, Tally ensures an automated system of counting inventory keeps the stores in check as consumers move products around in the highly experiential stores. 

One of Decathlon’s newest innovations is the introduction of its mobile checkout stations. Now, instead of waiting in line for a cashier to check you out, Decathlon customers can approach any one of the many sales associates on the floor as soon as they’re ready to make a purchase. The associate can easily place a customer’s entire shopping cart inside a mobile checkout station, where an internal RFID scanner automatically reads all the chosen items for purchase.

The sales associate can use their iPhone to scan a unique QR code on a static sticker placed on top of the mobile checkout station, which receives all the price data correlated with the items inside. This opens a scrollable shopping cart in the employee app, which can also be used to scan individual products.

In addition to the above, customers now have various payment options. A Verifone payment device attached to the iPhone can read or swipe credit, debit, and gift cards. While the store does not accept cash payments, customers can insert cash into a GiftWise Cash-2-Card self-service kiosk that will automatically print a gift card in any denomination. Or, if all of that is too convoluted, transactions can be completed within the app via Apple Pay.

Sales associates also have easy access to inventory stats (counted and logged by Tally) via their iPhones. By scanning an item’s barcode, associates can inform customers of all available colours, sizes, etc. If your desired item is not in stock, the associate can have it shipped to the store and filled for a home delivery or in-store pickup.

These innovations were showcased to media last month at Decathlon’s 8,300 square-foot ‘lab store’ at 735 Market Street in San Francisco’s Union Square area during Dreamforce. Innovations are being rolled-out globally as Decathlon seeks to maintain its position as the world’s largest sporting goods retailer — it already has over 1,600 stores in 51 countries. 

In terms of its influence in the Canadian market place, Decathlon is quickly multiplying. The most recent announcement being two new first-to-market stores in the fall of 2020 in two Ivanhoé Cambridge shopping centres (Mapleview Centre in Burlington, Ontario, and Mic Mac Mall in Halifax). It’s part of an aggressive expansion that is set to reach both Canadian coasts, sure to create some disruption with homegrown sporting goods retailers. Decathlon have poured resources into ensuring its sales associates are highly trained, extremely knowledgeable, and have ample time to assist shoppers. 

Decathlon’s first Canadian store opened in the Montreal suburb of Brossard at Mail Champlain in April of 2018. The retailer opened its second Canadian location, also in suburban Montreal, in Boisbriand in April of 2019. In September, Decathlon opened a store in the Quebec City suburb of Ste-Foy as well as its first store in Ottawa. Decathlon also recently opened its first downtown store in Canada at the overhauled Montreal Eaton Centre. Retail brokerage and consultancy Oberfeld Snowcap is leading Decathlon’s expansion in Canada under the direction of Sylvain Charron, Robert Weinberg and Darren Quayle.

Despite its rapid growth in Canada and its plans to expand across the country, the level of technological advances seen in Decathlon’s US stores is currently lacking in Canada. Tony Leon, Decathlon’s CIO and CTO, expressed a huge desire on behalf of Decathlon to ensure these innovations are seen in Canadian stores in the near future, however nothing is set in stone as of yet.

Given the immense competition seen in sporting goods retail in Canada, it’s highly likely that tech innovation will be rolled out at Decathlon in Canada — the retailer recently confirmed that it will rapidly expand its base of stores across the country, going head-to-head with competitors such as MEC, SAIL, Sportium, and Sport Chek, among others.

Decathlon maintains its consumer-centric approach to retail throughout its many advancements, with Leon noting that becoming increasingly person-centric is actually the inspiration behind the technology. The innovations happening in their US stores are all in an attempt to free-up associates time to allow them ample room to assist customers with questions, says Leon. “Often sports retail can be overwhelming, with different variations of the same item. This makes it difficult for some people to know how best to spend their money on equipment that is best suited to their needs. That’s the reason we ensure our stores are highly experiential and that there are many associates available to help you at any given time,” he continues. 

In addition to providing what customers need regarding all things sports and recreation, Decathlon prides itself in being a hub for the communities that surround each store. The retailer says that it wants to facilitate learning for those who find shopping for sporting goods overwhelming or intimidating and provide a pace where people can come to ask and learn. Decathlon is connecting with local communities with the launch of its community app, allowing people to discover new activities in their area.

“We even host yoga classes and similar activities in stores sometimes to give our customers the opportunity to try new sports and feel a part of the community. Decathlon is a community within itself and it continues to grow,” says Leon. 

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