Football clubs upping their retail game

Touchscreens, smart queuing systems and digital signage are part of the technology toolkit that two of Europe's most successful football clubs have introduced to their flagship stores in recent months, as the football industry ramps up its focus on retail operations.

As the wider commercialisation and internationalisation of football continues – Adidas's reported £750 million ten-year kit deal with Manchester United is a recent case in point – Barcelona and Arsenal have both conducted major refurbishments to their stadium-based stores, as a way of improving the retailing experience for fans and day tripper visitors.

Arsenal's 12,000 sq ft Armoury megastore at the Emirates Stadium in north London reopened on 11 July, following a complete redesign and development in association with new kit sponsor Puma. Essential Retail visited the store on the morning of its official launch, with some of the most notable tech features including three digital screens by the entrance, which will show exclusive video footage of the Arsenal team as well as live match streaming.

Elements of retail theatre are provided by the three changing rooms, which each display a particular theme related to the match-day experience. Customers trying on products can choose between a room that replicates the on-pitch experience – complete with the smell of freshly-cut grass (below) – as well as rooms depicting the post-match media room and the Arsenal tube station, each accompanied by audio and internal graphics.

Ten additional tills have been installed which brings the total to 25, while the number of print presses have doubled from eight to 16 to cater for growing demand for personalised kit. Arsenal uses the RJ till system across its estate, and the newly refurbished store also has point of sale hardware from HP, Star Micronics and Verifone.

International shoppers can process their global tax on each till in-store, while the stadium tours now start and end in the club shop – with the retail team confident that around 50% of those who take the tour throughout the year will purchase an item in-store.

Simon Lilley, director of retail at Arsenal, said: "Efficiency in-store has been improved, with a dynamic style which we believe blends the best of Arsenal and Puma.

"We are delighted with the outcome and look forward to welcoming fans through the doors."

A research piece published earlier this summer by IORMA, a membership group for those who have an interest and/or involvement in the global omni-retailing industry and its future, argued that the growing number of clubs under foreign ownership and incidences of big-name players being purchased to sell shirts strengthens the notion that clubs view themselves as retailers, as much as they are sporting institutions.

"Football teams, to quite some degree are no different from our local retailers such as Marks & Spencer (M&S) and John Lewis, the only difference being the heavy affiliation to the game of football," said the study, entitled 'Reporting on the Retailing Champions of World Football'.

IORMA also highlighted the rise in eCommerce as a significant opportunity for football clubs to grow retail sales even further, and Arsenal's Lilley emphasised his side's e-tail potential by explaining how around £250,000 sales were completed online in the six hours following the new kit launch, earlier this month. He said he expected eCommerce to represent around £7 million in retail sales this year, an increase of approximately £1.5 million year on year.

Deloitte's annual football money league places Arsenal as the eighth richest club in the world, below Catalonian side Barcelona, which is ranked second only to Spanish league rivals Real Madrid.

Barcelona completed an overhaul of its FCBotiga Megastore in December 2013, embracing the digital retailing experience in the process and promoting its Nike-sponsored kit.

A 16-metre-wide LED screen has been placed in the centre of the store, while the club worked with TMT Factory and used AOPEN Digital Engine media players to install interactive touch kiosks throughout the shop. These access points allow customers to choose a shirt, add their personalised details and immediately review the results of their creation on screen.

The kiosks, known as 'Digital Lockers' represent a fully-integrated eCommerce project from product selection to point of sale, with customers able to swipe their loyalty card to pay for their items before picking up the final product at the store's 'Printing Lab', which has been designed to help them avoid long queues.

According to AOPEN, the introduction of this concept contributed to a 22% increase in sales of personalised shirts in the four months following the refit. María Eulalia Perez, CEO at TMT Factory, said: "The Digital Locker brings back the element of fun, because passers-by can see what others create and get tempted to do the same thing.

"It's a great sign that shoppers are willing to embrace digital technology in-store, which in turn is driving sales."

With sports clubs in an arguably privileged position of having the customer loyalty in place before they even start to sell products to them – a dream scenario for high street retailers, some might say – it now appears they are investing in their retail propositions to maximise revenues.

Arsenal, for example, is driving this by recruiting high street expertise. Former M&S regional manager Hannah Chick is the club's retail & stadium tours operations controller, working alongside Lilley to boost sales each year and grow the brand as a retail player in its own right.

And, as traditional retailers increasingly look to digitalise the store and blur the boundaries between the online and offline worlds to provide seamless shopping experiences for their customers, Arsenal and Barcelona are examples of organisations following suit and – in some cases – developing their own innovative approach.

IORMA noted the opportunities technology and internationalisation can bring, saying: "The appreciation of football clubs being retailers is slowly becoming a notion that is shared globally; increased globalisation has allowed for the movement and sales of goods and services to improve world markets, including that of the sports realm.

"Teams can now open up revenue streams to different areas in which was not as possible before or did not even exist, seen in the case of Manchester United having most of their retail products being bought in China due to the ever increasing use of the internet."

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