Digitalization is creating a new dynamic in the industry, said Klaus Dittrich, president of Messe München. He appointed a new digital officer a year ago for all its fairs, reporting directly to him. Stating that a change of culture is needed to take advantage of the new opportunities offered by the internet, he noted that Messe München has created a “digital spa” where its employees can get information and training every morning.

The Ispo Digitize area marked the first time that Adidas returned to the show floor since its pullout 12 years ago. Ispo had already organized a similar digital symposium a year ago in the convention center of Messe München with Adidas and other major players, but this one was staged directly on the show floor, inside the new Ispo Digitize area.

In this area, Adidas demonstrated several tools intended to improve the customer experience including a biometric scanner of movement sequences, a foot scanner for the production of customized shoes, a 3D printer for running shoe soles from Adidas' Speedfactory, a virtual showroom for connecting with retailers, a virtual reality world with VR goggles and controllers for the point-of-sale, and a co-creation area for collaborations with designers and end customers.

Sportmas, a Spanish company that is working with Nike and other brands, showed applications that can also be used by retailers, with a low monthly rental fee, to track information on the customers' behavior including video analysis of the areas in which they are lingering or carpets equipped with sensors that show the routes taken by the visitors to the store.

Roland Auschel, chief sales officer of Adidas, said that any retailer who doesn't embrace the internet will go under. He predicted that there will be no physical showrooms in ten years' time, as the sales process will be largely conducted through high-resolution tools based on virtual reality. According to Auschel, two-thirds of the sales to the final consumers will still be made through physical stores because they give them the feeling that they have made the right choice, but they will be connected with the digital space. “The internet doesn't talk to them,” he noted.

The Adidas Group employs more than 1,300 digital and IT experts around the world. Online already represents 30 percent of Adidas retail revenues, and Joseph Godsey, digital brand manager of Adidas, predicted that it will double by 2020. About 70 percent of the traffic on Adidas' website is through mobile devices, and that will rise to 85 percent.

With the Adidas app, which is being introduced first in the U.S. and the U.K., the brand wants to guide the consumer through his or her purchasing journey, which is non-linear, through all the consumer touchpoints, collecting data in the process before the transaction is made.

Godsey aptly compared the experience of learning to navigate in the digital environment to learning to swim when you are an adult. Another speaker at the conference, who invented the internet-based MyMuesli concept, compared the process to learning to walk like a kid does, by trial and error.

The move into digital is inevitable for retailers, said Günther Althaus, chief executive of the ANWR Group, to which several national Sport 2000 voluntary groups belong, because it's simple, faster and more consumer-focused. In the future, it will provide opportunities for one-to-one marketing and communication, he added, helping consumers to make an educated choice among the thousands of products on offer.

Some 100,000 stores, most of which specialize in footwear, are affiliated with the ANWR Group in Europe, and Althaus predicted that they will go down to 4,000 in four years' time. He also said the number of their suppliers may be reduced from 1,800 to 1,600.

“No data on customers or products = no retail,” said Althaus, stressing the importance of getting data on customers in order to interact with them.