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Batter Up: How Sporting Goods Brands Can Step Up to the Plate in 2021

By
Ryan Tierney
September 1, 2021
Sporting goods eCommerce, sports products coming out of smart device concept.

Last year was a disruptive one for the sporting goods industry, and new trends are taking root as we progress into the “new normal.” Few things are certain, except one: To stay profitable in this challenging economic environment, sporting goods brands need to be operating at peak efficiency. They need to be ready to pivot adeptly to accommodate consumers’ shifting needs and perceptions.  

To achieve that, they will need to keep their eye on the ball—not only on the market itself, but on the latest technology that is helping top brands succeed, adding automation, data management, and eCommerce capabilities to their businesses. 

Here are a few factors sporting goods brands may want to consider to stay on top of their game in 2021.

A Shift in How Consumers Work and Play

Retail sporting goods industry trends over the past year strongly reflected the lifestyle changes we endured as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sales of apparel and equipment for outdoor team sports and indoor sports dropped sharply as lockdowns and social distancing policies were put in place. The usual waves of seasonal enthusiasm for professional sports were also absent due to canceled games and seasons and empty stadiums.  

Faced with shifts in the products that traditionally sell best, sporting goods brands have needed to refocus their efforts on newly popular items. Despite being homebound, people with active lifestyles looked for ways to stay healthy, increasing the market share of the already booming athleisure sector. 

We can already see that one of the major outcomes of the pandemic is going to be more people continuing to work from home in the long term. Therefore, sporting goods brands would be wise to diversify their product lines to include more athletic footwear and apparel that align with individual activities such as running, biking, yoga, and pilates. With so many people working remotely, we can assume that there will continue to be less definition between “work” and “play” clothes. Increasingly, consumers want to wear athleisure apparel all day long. 

To be successful in the new normal, sporting goods retailers and brands will have to diversify their product lines in the right directions and respond quickly to market changes like those we have experienced in the last year. One way to do this is through EDI integrations, which allow you to automate order processing, and create real-time visibility into market trends. Not only does this shorten lead times, so you can deliver to your B2B and B2C customers quickly, but it also helps you make smart business decisions to stay ahead of the game.  

For retailers, drop shipping can also help you take advantage of changing consumer desires. A major benefit of drop shipping is that retailers can offer a wider range of products, without investing in inventory that could go to waste if buying habits change again. Drop shipping also coincides with consumer shifts towards eCommerce, making this practice doubly fruitful for sporting goods retailers. 

The Meteoric Rise of Digital-enabled Fitness

During the pandemic, there was a huge uptick in digital fitness. Even with more people being able to re-engage in traditional sports and exercise, convenient digital workouts will likely remain a permanent part of the scene. The rise of digital-enabled fitness was also mirrored last year by an increase in online buying when brick-and-mortar stores closed—a trend we expect to continue in the post-COVID marketspace. 

Sporting goods brands can embrace digital fitness as a retail sports trend by making direct-to-consumer (DtC) sales one of their heavy hitters. Connecting with customers directly online can help your brand cultivate consumer loyalty by giving you complete control over your brand message and buying experience.  

On the flip side, direct-to-consumer models also require much shorter lead times and can put pressure on your business. However, there are sporting goods integrations out there to streamline and automate your operations to make you a great competitor in the DtC space—and to give your business the agile shipping practices it will need to satisfy customer expectations for fast delivery. 

The Need to Embrace Sustainability

Consumer preferences have clearly shifted to brands that consciously reduce their carbon footprint, and we can expect that trend to continue to rise in the new normal. When your customers see that you are taking sustainability seriously, it gives them one more reason to remain loyal to your brand. 

There are many ways that sporting goods manufacturers and others along the supply chain in sports can do their part. When it comes to cluttering the landscape with plastics and filling the air with fuel emissions, companies’ packaging and shipping are big offenders. So, many companies are finding innovative ways to save on plastic packaging use for goods like sports equipment or using recycled materials in their products.  

Another effective strategy is to invest in advanced shipping software. With the right capabilities, this tech can also help you drastically reduce your carbon footprint, while also lowering shipping costs. For example, functions like pack optimization can help fulfillment staff choose the perfect box based on the contents of each order, minimizing wasted space, plastic, and cardboard. Pack & Ship software can also help you consolidate your shipments into efficient loads to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, automation helps increase efficiency while eliminating data errors, leading to fewer returns and a lighter reverse logistics footprint.

Supply Chain Agility

The pandemic made it obvious all along the sports supply chain that resiliency is key to survival. Complementing the need for resiliency is agility—the ability to meet a raised bar for shorter lead times, more flexibility, and closer trading partner relationships. Sports brands now know they also need to strengthen their supply chain partnerships and be ready to quickly embrace alternatives during times of uncertainty. 

Supplier Enablement solutions offer one way businesses can better navigate many of the supply chain disruptions we have been experiencing. It can simplify the process of onboarding new suppliers, make it easier to find new suppliers if one supply line is disrupted, and help you keep track of product performance so changes in demand don’t take you by surprise. Using this kind of technology can make it easier to trade quickly, which is both better for you and better for your trading partners.

Hit Your Revenue Objectives out of the Park in 2021

The sporting goods market has taken some hits in the past year, but the key to success going forward is digital readiness. The tools your company needs to keep performing at the highest level are out there, and they are more cost-effective than you might think. 

If you think EDI integrations may be just what your brand needs to future-proof its operations, get in touch to learn about the full range of capabilities.


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About the Author: Ryan Tierney is the VP, Product Management focused on Integrations at TrueCommerce. He has spent the last 17years with TrueCommerce in various roles with services and Product Management. He and his team are responsible for the TrueCommerce TC.Net platform, Business System and Channel Integrations as well as Trading Partner Mapping.  Ryan enjoys spending time with his wife and 3 sons and in his spare time enjoys golfing.

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