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GUEST COMMENT Scoring big: How sports and fashion brands can reap the rewards of summer peak season

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Ben Scherpenbergs is director, business management at PFS

From Wimbledon to the Commonwealth Games, the great British summer of sport is already in full swing and with it, ample opportunity for retailers to cater for consumers supporting their favourite personality or team.  Outside of the UK, major sporting events such as the Tour de France and the European Championships are inspiring millions across the globe – with the potential to spark a sudden and rapid uptake in sportswear as consumers strive to improve their own fitness. 

For brands with the capability to pivot and react to surges in demand, the opportunity for increased sales and profitability is compelling. This is particularly important as we emerge from the pandemic which saw a significant dip in sales within the sporting goods industry. Whilst the industry has experienced broad recovery since then, summer 2022 holds huge opportunities for sports and apparel brands to grow following the postponed and reduced capacity events experienced over the last year or two. 

Keeping up with demand, however, is easier said than done. Much like a race, to be in with a chance of winning, preparation is essential. Here are just a few tactics brands and retailers should be considering to ensure they can keep up:

Ensuring sufficient stock

During the sporting season, licenced merchandise is extremely popular amongst consumers, however it can only be purchased from authorised partners. There is a small window of opportunity and ensuring sufficient stock can be a struggle for even the biggest of brands. In fact, Mercedes AMG F1 recently left fans disappointed when their limited edition Miami GP cap sold out in record time. 

In order to avoid losing out on sales and leaving customers disgruntled, brands need to be able to forecast as accurately as possible to ensure they are prepared with ample stock. Luckily in recent years, big data, obtained from eCommerce platforms, search and previous purchasing history, has become a vital tool when it comes to trend spotting – enabling brands to plan ahead and make the most of every opportunity. 

Having a warehouse management system in place, is another crucial part of the puzzle when it comes to making sure sufficient stock is available and keeping customers happy. By implementing an effective system, brands can be aware of where all their stock is located and if, for example, the central warehouse is out of a size or colour, brands should be able to easily check their stores and reallocate stock as necessary. 

Putting in place the right infrastructure

Whilst the amount of stock you hold is critical, having stock means nothing unless you have the right infrastructure in place to get it to the customer seamlessly and within a sufficient time frame. This is where a multi-node fulfilment strategy can be particularly powerful. Multi-node fulfilment is a concept based on decentralising the fulfilment process by taking advantage of several micro-distribution centres including traditional fulfilment centres and store fulfilment strategically placed close to customers, rather than operating out of a single warehouse. By considering such an approach and teaming it with an effective Distributed Order Management (DOM) system, brands can easily locate and route stock to fulfil orders quickly – an essential for time-sensitive sporting events.

Managing increased stock levels is also an important consideration and one that can often cause challenges for brands that are already full to the brim when it comes to warehouse capacity. This is where brands should look to alternative fulfilment solutions such as the pop-up distribution centre which can be used as temporary warehouses to accommodate sudden spikes in demand. As a solution usually utilised for brands trialling new markets and supporting seasonal promotions, these non-permanent infrastructures can be rapidly implemented as and when needed. If a pop-up distribution centre isn’t an option, brands can also look to leverage and maximise existing space using their physical location and storerooms to fulfil online orders by adding cloud-based omnichannel solutions

Again, when underpinned with an effective DOM system, both strategies can enable brands to scale effectively whilst also removing the need for the significant investments associated with leasing a warehouse facility. Not only in terms of cost, but time investment too. 

Personalising promotions

So, you’ve got adequate stock and infrastructure in place to keep up – now what? The next, extremely vital, step is considering how best to promote it. Events such as Wimbledon or Ascot, for example, often result in an increase of smart attire being purchased for those in attendance and are often easy to forecast due to consistency in dates and formality. With this in mind, brands could take advantage of this and create designated pages on websites. Making it easier for customers to find appropriate outfits could help to win favour with customers, but only if the retailer is quick to spot the trend. Using big data can enable retailers to spot trends within consumer shopping habits and personalise offers and advertisements served to customers on and off the platform, aiming to inspire a purchase. 

Customer service – the ball’s in your court

Last, but by no means least is customer service. This certainly shouldn’t be an afterthought for brands when it comes to preparing for spikes in demand – especially as 42% of US and UK shoppers state they would stop shopping with a retailer or brand if they don’t provide good customer service.

Naturally, however, not every retailer or brand will have the capacity to deal with the additional strain on contact hours during a summer peak. Thanks to advances in technology, brands have the opportunity to provide apps where customers can save time by tracking orders themselves without needing to pick up the phone and contact directly. Chatbots have also risen in popularity as a way of managing updates on where an order is in the delivery channel and can be extremely time and resource-saving for contact centre personnel. 

By integrating your website and order management system, agents can leverage real-time order information. This means brands can respond quickly to customer queries, letting them know instantly exactly where their product is within the delivery chain. 

It’s a marathon, not a sprint: be prepared

Although taking advantage of the peak – provided by a summer of sporting events – can provide brands with huge profit potential, being unprepared can equally lead to disaster by damaging customer loyalty. To reap the awards on offer, brands must ensure they have the right team, partnerships and strategies in place ahead of time. By doing so, they can scale up and down as needed throughout the year, to not only keep up with the current spike we are witnessing but future spikes that may be less predictable. This includes ensuring operations are optimised from fulfilment, right through to customer service and returns logistics. Brands must not only be able to locate stock and get products to customers as quickly and seamlessly as possible, but they must also consider how consumers want to shop – whether that be in-store, online or a combination of the two. 

From the initial planning, trend spotting and marketing to distribution, fulfilment and aftercare – making sure each element is well considered and prepared for will ensure brands can knock it out of the park this summer.

Ben Scherpenbergs is director, business management at PFS

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