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Decathlon: communicating sports to the family market

The French retailer tries to talk to customers across different channels, says its UK PR and conversations manager Kieran O’Shea. Chloe Rigby hears more

Decathlon’s motto is “making sport accessible to the many” and in the UK, that’s the remit of PR and conversations manager Kieran O’Shea. He’s tasked with communicating the ins and outs of more than 70 sports for which shoppers can equip themselves for at Decathlon.

“We were once challenged on social media by a customer who asked if we could name the 70 sports that we sell,” he says. “I was happy to list them all.” In-store, the main departments are cycling, hiking, running and fitness but each has many divisions within it. Fitness, for example, includes karate, gymnastics and street dancing, while hiking includes camping and climbing. Those departments also frame the retailer’s focus on the content that it produces in order to engage its audience, whether that’s on its own blog, on the mum, family and sports bloggers that it works with, or on a wide range of social media channels.

InternetRetailing research shows that Decathlon, which has a home market in France, talks to its customers over 10 social media channels. On Facebook, it has 13 country-specific handles, using the local language for each. Its biggest Facebook following is in Spain where, at the time of research, it had 2.3m Likes. That’s followed by the Italian and French pages. On Twitter, it has nine country-specific feeds and again, its Spanish following is the largest, at 377,000.

In the UK, O’Shea’s focus is primarily on young families who enjoy sport together, alongside other key demographics such as couples who go camping, surf or take part in specific sports. “We work via a variety of different channels in order to reach them,” he says. Social media and the blog are elements of that work, while the retailer also invests in organic and paid search to promote different sports to different groups. Key to its work, says O’Shea, is staying focused. “We go in-depth with our retail marketing so that we can talk to the right customers with the right offers at the right time. You see many ads on Facebook that you know aren’t relevant to you – someone out there is paying for that to reach you but it’s not for you. The last thing I want to do is pay to reach someone who’s not interested. I avoid that by going in-depth in my targeting and making sure that what I’m serving to customers is what they want – so I’m not bombarding them with information they’re going to find useless.”

UK Focus

In the UK, O’Shea’s focus is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. “Twitter is more customer service, especially around online, chasing orders and making complaints,” says O’Shea. “But it’s also the one where we get the most amount of praise.” Facebook is for distributing content and teaching readers about different sports in order to direct people to the website, while Instagram and YouTube are for rich content around Decathlon’s brands, covering areas from how to guides to inspirational videos, and how to take part in each sport.

Decathlon’s channels are similar in other markets, although, notes O’Shea, Google+ is more widely used in other parts of Europe than it is in the UK.

“For 2016, the two main things we’re driving forward are the specific targeted campaigns across different channels and the SEO, which is a valuable asset for us. It’s massively increasing the visits to the website organically. That’s mainly through content and outreach through my work with PR and bloggers. Outreach is very strong at the moment and links back are benefiting us.”

In the UK market, social and online help Decathlon to extend brand awareness. At the time of writing, the retailer had 26 stores in this market, although it plans to open more. By contrast, it has 290 stores in its home market of France. Nonetheless, says O’Shea, “I have more followers on Twitter than they do.” That’s to do, he says, with social media attitudes in France coupled with the fact that the retailer’s stores are its primary channel in that market. “Twitter is more popular in the UK than in France,” he notes. “The French tend to use other channels, and mainly their stores, since that’s the place they get the most amount of visits – they promote click and collect to their online shoppers.”

O’Shea also believes that UK shoppers are more likely to turn to the channel for service. “We’re finding that people take to social media because they get a response quicker,” he says. “You’re not left on the phone with cheesy music and put on hold. You just have the ease of asking the question on Twitter.”

Sports also provide a good way to engage via email. Shoppers who sign up to the Decathlon loyalty programme can opt to receive regular emails. “Specific sports do well,” says O’Shea. “Anyone who buys a bike, for example, has the option of a Decathlon service, and they receive emails six and 12 months later for a free service or a workshop. They’re more likely to come back to the store for the workshop on their bike.”

When InternetRetailing asks O’Shea for his advice on brand engagement in the EEA context, he has one main recommendation – “Make sure you say the right thing to the right person. It’s about being as detailed as you can in the targets that you use.”

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