A big increase in the winter sports business at the end of the year helped Intersport International Corporation (IIC) to report a 3.3 percent increase in the retail sales of its affiliated retailers in 2017, or 3.8 percent up in local currencies, reaching a level of €11.5 billion including sales taxes.

Sales grew also on a comparable store basis, as the number of affiliated stores went up only slightly from 5,509 to 5,647 in the course of the year. The banner is represented in 45 countries around the world.

Meanwhile, The Athlete's Foot continued its steady progress, with global sales under the banner rising by 15 percent on a currency-neutral basis and reaching €363 million. The drivers were strong increases on a comparable store basis in the Americas and new store openings around the world. Notably, the banner owned by IIC entered Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Belgium in the course of last year.

Intersport started the year slowly with an increase of only 0.5 percent in the first quarter, in spite of a rise of 7.5 percent in in winter sports. The situation subsequently improved, with increases of 4.1 percent in the second quarter and 3.4 percent in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, sales went up at a faster rate of 5.1 percent, lifted by a jump of 21.2 percent in winter sports products.

Intersport claims it outperformed the European market in outdoor, with a gain of 11.5 percent in the course of the year. It did less well than the market in football, where its retail members' sales declined by 3.2 percent from the high level reached in the previous year, or in running and training. In these two categories, its members' sales rose by 2.2 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively.

Intersport International, whose executive board has decided to institute category management estimates that the European market grew last year by 3 percent in football, by 8 percent in running, by 10 percent in training and by 3 percent in outdoor.

Geographically, France, Italy and Austria were the major markets were Intersport performed best, thanks to a strong upgrading strategy, better execution and other factors. Double-digit increases were recorded in the countries controlled by Intersport Slovenia and in Turkey.

The penetration of the internet is lower in these countries than in Germany, where Intersport performed only a little better than the overall market or in the U.K. and the Nordic countries, where its local licensees suffered sales declines. In the Nordics, they also had to face relatively poor snow conditions and the competition from XXL.

As previously reported, Intersport is reacting to these challenges with its digital transformation program. One aspect of it has started to yield particularly good results in the Netherlands. In a pilot program launched in late November with the participation of Nike and its Pant Studio, Intersport's revamped Dutch website generated an overall sales increase of 60 percent, with a jump of 110 percent in orders placed through mobile devices. The new format has also been adopted by the Danish Intersport, and Intersport España should follow suit in March.