While admitting that it has been “a painful and costly learning curve,” Intersport International Corp. (IIC) has made “tremendous progress” in developing a common internet platform for some of its national organizations in Europe during the last three years, claimed Steve Evers, IIC’s CEO, in a recent interview. He declined to give out any numbers, but a European survey that we carried out last summer pointed to a relatively strong level of traffic on Intersport websites in the region, partly in line with the banner’s high market share in most countries in spite of two drawbacks: Intersport is not a vertically integrated retail operation and many retail members have invested very little on e-commerce.

Naturally, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the process, whose ultimate goal is to achieve a fivefold increase in the retailers’ online sales. In releasing its sales figures for 2020, IIC stated that some of its national organizations trebled their online sales last year, helping to limit the overall sales decline at 9 percent on a same-store basis.

Richard Kent, a British IT expert, is managing Intersport’s centralized platform program out of IIC’s global headquarters in Switzerland. “I can confirm that we saw increases in all KPIs covering conversion, visitors, average basket size and units per transaction,” he said, adding that this occurred across all e-commerce business units but was particularly strong on the platform. With lockdowns continuing across Europe, our 2021 performance to date is in line with the trends we saw last year,” he also said, “despite it being difficult for the outdoor category due to resort closures.”

Over one million items were ordered through the common platform last year, said Kent, adding that the growth was supported by the introduction of more omni-channel services, which allowed the retail members to get more orders thanks to tools such as tablet-assisted sales from a common extended aisle.

The European Intersport platform is now operational in six countries, with the participation of most retail members in all of them. The initiative started in Denmark three years ago, followed by the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. Austria and Norway, where Gresvig decided to concentrate on the Intersport banner alone, joined in the course of 2020. More markets are expected to adopt the platform this year, said Kent, declining to be more specific.

The bigger Intersport organizations in Germany and France have decided to do their own thing, using their own platforms in different ways, but IIC is keeping in contact with them, hoping that they will join the common initiative at some point.

For the retail organizations that are syndicating the services of the common Intersport platform, the main advantage is to be able to share its multiple capabilities, allowing their retail members to concentrate on selling. The program is also expected to help obtain preferential terms from the sports brands, with which IIC has started discussions for a closer cooperation in marketing on social media and in other ways.

IIC has created an account with Google to analyze consumer behavior on its platform along the various steps of the customer journey. The results are aggregated and reviewed on a quarterly basis to optimize the multi-channel experience.

A multinational staff located in Amsterdam is managing the software and other technical aspects of the platform, creating common digital contents about the products, including videos and 3D displays, which are then translated into each language. The customers who log into a national Intersport website are directed to the nearest Intersport stores, in some cases with an indication of the services that they provide, including any specific value propositions.

Some participating retailers have started to test one-to-one communication with customers. All of them can use a centralized order management system to place orders for products that are missing from their inventories, handling their delivery to the customer’s address if necessary.

“Our aim is to leverage e-commerce to support our consumers where they prefer to shop. So, this includes the presentation of an extended aisle and, when practical, offering best customer service for the fulfilment of the orders collected by the store,” Kent explained.

Kent spent many years as an IT expert in the retail sector, including ten months with the Harrods department store in London, before working for IIC, first as a consultant from May 2017 and then as general manager of transformation & information technology from January 2018.