Sixteen months into the pandemic-fueled digital shift and the role of the physical store is undergoing a relevance makeover of its own, with forward-looking brands and retailers revisiting their brick-and-mortar strategies to make a more cohesive, interconnected shopping experience.
Dick’s Sporting Goods, for example, is not only building new locations but is also rolling out a line of House of Sport experiential stores with turf playing fields, climbing walls, batting cages, yoga classes and a host of other features designed to make the store more than a place to simply purchase fitness equipment.
As Dick’s Senior Director of Technology for Stores and Omnicommerce J.P. White explained to PYMNTS, the store is hardly a sideshow for Dick’s, it’s the centerpiece of the retailer’s business and will remain so, even in the wake of shifting consumers purchasing preferences.
In fact, he noted, the company’s 700-plus physical stores are an important part of Dick’s journey into the digital arena.
“Stores are just such a critical component of our overall strategy and to our organization. So even throughout the early onset of COVID here in the States, we were able to leverage our store network as a key fulfillment mechanism for ship from store,” White said. “We were able to rather quickly spin up our curbside pickup and our curbside return capabilities, leveraging that store network. The truth is, we wouldn’t have been able to fully be as fully responsive to the markets and to the larger shifts in trends without them.”
Staying The Course With New Partnerships
The plan for 2021, he said, is not to change course when it comes to its focus on stores, because they are so critical, but to expand what the company can do to make them a complement to shifting consumer preferences toward the digital space. Doing that, he said, will be about leveraging technology to create digital experiences that bring in more customers with a full unified omnicommerce experience for Dick’s customers.
Critical to that expanded omnicommerce vision, he said, is Dick’s partnership with payments firm Adyen. Announced earlier this year, the deal will allow Dick’s to build a more fully unified commerce experience, he said, so consumers have the same shopping experience online, through an app or in-store.
“With this partnership we feel very confidently that we can iterate based on consumer demands, based on market conditions and really build solutions together that will allow us to meet our customers’ needs as they continue to shift,” White said.
Because that shift is underway and almost certainly guaranteed to continue, he said. Building into the connected economy, he said, has given Dick’s an opportunity to really dig down into its data and find new ways to connect with customers. Those customers, he noted, are a rather widely varied group. Though Dick’s collectively refers to its customer base as “athletes,” the reality is those athletes represent both parents coming in to get their kids’ first set of cleats for the rec league soccer team and dedicated cross-trainers seeking specialized equipment for their routines.
White said personalization remains top of mind for both of those distinct customer personas, and the many others, and developing mechanisms to help those shoppers feel seen and understood “while also not achieving a kind of big brother is creepy factor” is a critical priority and one that is enhanced by the retailer’s loyalty and rewards program.
“We’re going to continue to invest in those programs to drive a deeper understanding of our most valuable consumers and athletes, and then use that information and their preferences and their feedback to help identify what other experiences that we should create within our stores and online,” White said.
Some of those are emerging now, he said, noting the sudden spike in interest using contactless payments in-store has seen in the last year as consumers concerned with their health prefer not to fuss with pin pads. Some options, such as buy now, pay later (BNPL) — through Affirm, Afterpay or Sezzle — are growing quickly. Not quite fast enough to be called a “dramatic shift,” White said, but fast enough to be notable and worth keeping up with.
Because the education of the last year and the great digital shift hasn’t been to abandon the physical world of commerce as a zone of hopelessness, he said — the lesson was that being nimble and ready to do more and do things differently is everything.
“To really get ahead,” he said, “we learned to build things into experiments and through that experimentation identify where the things that matter and where it makes sense to invest more and invest next.”