Decathlon is making a soft launch of its new online marketplace in Spain, Germany and the U.K., after a satisfactory response to a test that started in Belgium in December to complement its offer of private label items. The Spanish project is starting with a selection of about 30 brands being tested with a small number of customers, but their names have not been publicly revealed. Decathlon is also in the early stages of preparation for the launch of a marketplace in France and Italy.

The leading European sports retailer is currently working with about 100 vendors on its Belgian marketplace, called “Decathlon Partner.” It was set up in December by transforming its local web store for the purpose.

A hand-shake symbol on the website indicates that a certain product is being offered for sale by a third-party vendor rather than by Decathlon. The customer can include the product on the same basket as any of Decathlon’s private label products, choose the delivery mode (click & collect at the store or home delivery), and complete the process as one single transaction.

In some cases, Decathlon demands a two-year warranty on the product from the suppliers, while placing its own customer service at their disposal in case of complaints. Generally, the supplier takes care of the delivery from its own inventory, but Decathlon Belgium is testing an alternative option whereby a specialized operator in Brussels can take care of the fulfillment.

Marketplaces have become more and more popular as a form of e-commerce, hosting the web stores of individual brands on a big website. Large e-tailers like Amazon are offering this service to any type of vendor, creating a certain friction with some of the brands and opening the door for possible fake products.

Decathlon, a vertically integrated retailer that offers mainly its own products, wants to set itself apart by working only with vendors that offer complementary products and “fit with our values,” says Thiebault Peeters, who is steering the Belgian project together with Frédéric Sterckx. They are working as a team together with dedicated Decathlon employees in other countries to share their local choices and experiences. In the end, all the products are selected with a “local-first” approach, as they must be relevant to the local community.

The brands and products being invited to participate in the Decathlon Partner program must offer an “interesting value proposition” with a good price-quality ratio. They must share Decathlon’s commitment to sustainability and its desire to make any kinds of sports accessible to all. In some cases they are historical suppliers whose products have been sold in Decathlon stores, where about 80 percent of the range is still developed in-house and competitively priced.

In other cases they are new suppliers who can fill a gap in the local range, such as for example an artificial swimming pool for the house garden. Another example is the kind of curved tables used for Teqball, a sport invented in Hungary in 2015 that combines the features of table tennis and football.

A few years ago, Decathlon decided to stop working with Adidas, Nike and other major brands at the international level, leading to some lost sales, but then it allowed its local teams to choose any of their products for distribution in a specific territory. As an alternative that would certainly make its marketplace more attractive, Decathlon has already started preliminary discussions with some of the major sports brands to evaluate their possible “onboarding” on its marketplace.

It has decided to work with a big Spanish equipment brand, BH Fitness, to offer some of its treadmills and stationary bikes on its marketplace in Belgium, Spain and some other countries, but many of the other participants in the Decathlon Partner program are small and generally local niche brands, such as for example Wcup, a Belgian brand of energy drinks, or Pierre Sports, a Belgian start-up whose yoga mats are 100 percent made with organic cork and recycled shoe rubber.

Decathlon has been investing heavily on e-commerce to supplement its traditional brick-and-mortar business, and the new Decathlon Partner marketplace is another aspect of this strategy. It has launched a dedicated marketplace for pádel in Spain, called D-padel.com, offering products under its own brand names, Artengo and Kuikma, and those of other vendors. This user-friendly type of racquet sports is very popular in Spain and is being quickly adopted in other European countries.