In the decades since the first eCommerce purchases were made in the 1990s, nearly every major business in the United States has gone to cyberspace to make sales. Nearly.
Despite years of revenue reports indicating that online stores had become vital lifelines for retailers in every segment from furniture to fashion — accounting for more than 10 percent of retail purchases, and bringing in more than $105 billion in the first quarter of 2017 alone — some businesses have resisted selling their inventory online.
Before this summer, Hibbett Sports was one of the holdouts. The Birmingham, Alabama-based sporting goods retailer — which owns and operates more than 1,000 storefronts — had maintained a streak of more than 70 years without selling online. But, in July, the retail chain finally opened the virtual doors to its first online store: Hibbett.com. The question now, of course, is whether the cyber debut will have arrived in time.
PYMNTS caught up with Hibbett Sports’ vice president of digital commerce, Bill Quinn, the day after the site’s launch, to discuss how — and why — Hibbett Sports finally decided to build the company’s first online offering, which features are currently rolled out on the site and the eCommerce plans the company has for the future.
Keeping up with (changing) customer demands
As U.S. retailers first branched out on the worldwide web to boost their sales in the late 2000s, Hibbett Sports didn’t see the need for divesting its focus from serving its in-store customers.
The company, which has traditionally operated in the rural south, thrived on putting stores in small towns that lacked access to other sporting goods retailers. Hibbett continued to stay competitive with growing brick-and-mortar sales without a website, and even boasted an expanding footprint. Between 2007 and 2016, the company’s net sales grew from $512 million to $943 million, and its footprint increased from 613 stores to 1,044. Sales stayed high and most people who shopped at Hibbett’s brick-and-mortar locations continued to do so.
More recently, however, the company saw its in-store sales begin to slide and its profits begin to shrink. In Q2 2017, Hibbett’s comparable store sales are estimated to have declined by 10 percent, which is expected to result in a bottom-line loss of $0.19 to $0.22 per diluted share, according to a press release.
“After we started to feel an impact on our sales numbers, we did a study of our customers and we found that people in the small towns with our stores are actually quite tech-savvy,” Quinn said. “They use the internet a lot and buy online a lot as well.”
And rightfully so. In 2016, nearly 63 percent of rural Americans had access to broadband internet, up from 35 percent in 2007, according to a Pew research report. Meanwhile, 67 percent of rural Americans had access to smartphones in 2016, just 10 percent behind the overall U.S. population.
“That changed our minds and, because the company needed a new channel of opportunity and growth, we decided at that point to move forward and make the investment in an online store,” Quinn said.
With this shift, Hibbett’s online capabilities may very well be welcomed by small-town residents. Quinn said residents of these areas are often eager to use these services since they do not have the same access to retail stores as those living in more populous areas.
“Online services were definitely filling a gap,” he said. “There’s clearly an appetite for that in these smaller towns.”
And so, keeping in mind how tech-savvy the company’s customers already were, Quinn and his team set out to build an eCommerce platform that could win back customers the company had lost to the likes of Amazon.com.
Standing out from the crowd
Over time, and as the growth of in-store sales took a hit, the company found itself at a disadvantage without an eCommerce offering that could help it expand beyond its local consumer base. There was no longer the question of whether to go online, but doing it right was more important than doing it quick, according to Quinn.
To stand out, the company took inspiration from luxury retailers to give shoppers a top-flight buying experience. The goal was to convince both customers who had previously shopped at Hibbett Sports — but had since migrated to online shopping — and new consumers unfamiliar with the brand to bring their online shopping business to Hibbett.
“We wanted to know what we needed to do to get them to shop with us, rather than continuing to shop wherever they shop for sporting goods already,” said Quinn.
Adding value to consumers’ shopping experiences meant providing omnichannel features and customized offerings — which other sporting goods retailers weren’t doing. With that in mind, Hibbett Sports built out its new platform to include features such as interactive calendars with release dates of popular sneaker brands’ product launches, curated looks from stylists and a tool to find the best cleat style and size for a given athlete’s foot and sport.
“We tried to make it a very premium website with premium functions that you would find on fashion sites or luxury retail sites,” Quinn explained. “We want customers to know that they are going to find something here that they are not going to find on a competitor’s website.”
The next step in eCommerce evolution
Just weeks since its rollout, Quinn and his team are already working on adding new features to the site that could potentially help the company win back more customers. Hibbett Sports is developing AI- and machine learning-driven capabilities designed to increase traffic to the company’s website and expand its online customer base beyond its brick-and-mortar geographic footprint.
Now that the sporting goods chain has embraced multichannel commerce with the development of an online store, Quinn said the next step will be adding yet another channel with the debut of a mobile shopping app.
But, as with the Hibbett Sports website, Quinn said the company doesn’t expect to rush a mobile app to market.
“It isn’t just about checking the mobile box and adding another sales channel, though that’s a definite goal,” he said. “It’s about building the kind of solution that is truly different and is really appealing and valuable to our customers.”
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