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A wise man once told me that a retailer’s first responsibility is to “surprise and delight” their customers. Boy, does it feel like we’ve lost that thread. Shopping has never felt more joyless.

So, how can sports retailers bring back “surprise and delight?”

One thought is to really “surprise” again. Today, sneaker marketers “leak” pictures of new shoes to bloggers months before the shoes hit retail. I had one Twitter follower tell me, “I’m angry about this shoe. I really want it, but I know I’ll see pictures of it for six months and then I won’t be able to get a pair anyway.” Another said, “I’m already sick of this shoe and it hasn’t even hit retail yet.” What if we stopped leaking pictures and forced consumers to come into our stores to see what is new?

I’ve talked about the lifecycle of shoes and trends becoming shorter and shorter. The up cycle of performance basketball lasted only three years and broke the ankles of the industry when it ended. If shoes had not been in the public eye for months and were only revealed on the shoe wall, the trend might have lasted longer and not ended as precipitously.

I wrote a blog recently about lessons for the sports industry to learn from fast fashion. I noted that the typical Zara customer visits Zara 17 times a year. How often does the sports customer visit our stores - maybe two or three times? What if there was a discovery, a surprise, every time the customer came in? I’m betting that if the consumer saw something fresh each time, he or she would come back more often (and buy more often).

Of course we cannot turn our inventories as quickly as fast fashion, but new products are flowing all the time. We need to think about ways to creatively call out these new products on our floors.

We also must return to scarcity as a fundamental principle. Great brands were built in the sports industry by never having enough stock to meet demand. Now, those products are seen in abundance and the cachet is clearly gone.

Retailers and brands make the greatest profit percentage on styles that sell out. Styles that sell out make way for new and fresh stock. Inventory is like fruit; it does not get better with age.

The sports industry is in a downward spiral, and price is the primary driver. We must get back to the days of inspirational and aspirational products that “surprise and delight.”


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