Sports Direct is turning into a soap opera, another story to tarnish the retailing industry. From the reports we have read, the Sports Direct AGM this week was a culmination of badly timed PR stunts, hot air and bluster.
The Chairman Keith Hellawell, offered to resign, was asked to stay, was given a vote of no confidence and then offered to leave in a year if he was still doubted. This is symptomatic of a business that is in turmoil and what is needed above all else is strong, fair and consistent leadership. What is missing at Sports Direct of course is strong, fair and consistent leadership.
In principle the proposition is sound, buying up brands and end of lines at a heavily discounted cost and offering them at very competitive prices in a no frills environment. Perfect for the target customer. In reality many of the brands are tertiary, the savings feel arbitrary and the stores are confusing enough to bring on migraines.
So where does Sports Direct go from here?
During the open day, journalists were invited to walk through part of the warehousing facility. It was explained that they had seen only a fraction of it and it might require a staff member to walk a mile to pick one item for a website order. Based on that, we would suggest one direction Sports Direct could go is automated picking.
In their plans is the statement that they want to be the Selfridges of sports retailing. Never say never but there are probably only a couple of people that believe that is possible as the business stands today and those people are on the board. It will take more than a wad of £50 notes, Mr Ashley.
Sports Direct online is another story: email campaigns that attract attention with quality images and brands; rolling offers that convey a sense of urgency to buy today and faultless home delivery. The downside is the negative PR that will undoubtedly affect sales online.
Online, ranges can be collated in multiple ways. For instance, a customer can shop by brand, by product type or by sport which effectively presents the customer with lists that are easy to navigate.
In store it is altogether more complex: by brand within a product group within the football locker. It’s sensible but is challenging to communicate and is only executed well in part.
At the moment customers might be feeling resentful that they are shopping at Sports Direct, supporting unfair working practices, and without change the real danger is that they will go elsewhere. If Sports Direct don’t sort it out, they will be opening the door for other retailers.
With change, with a move towards an instore experience that echoes the ecommerce experience, with better working practices and with auto-picking, Sports Direct are a force to be reckoned with.
Can’t wait for the next episode.