Wimbledon's retail team looking ahead as coronavirus stops play

Londoners and visitors to the capital city last weekend had a chance to catch some Wimbledon tennis action despite the coronavirus scuppering this year’s championships.

Thanks to the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s (AELTC) partnership with out-of-home media company, Ocean Outdoor, highlights of the best Wimbledon finals were shown on Landsec’s Piccadilly Lights in London and on big screens at Westfield’s shopping centres in the city.

The on-screen sporting action on what would have been finals weekend marked the end of the AELTC’s ‘Wimbledon Recreated’ drive, a fan engagement campaign which ran across TV, online, and social media.

It called on tennis fans to share their past experiences of the SW19 tournament through photographs, videos and written memories. Combined with 50 hours of BBC coverage of classic matches, there’s been a lot of Wimbledon nostalgia over the last fortnight.

Within Wimbledon’s retail team, however, the team is looking forwards rather than backwards.

New website, please

David Hewitt, head of retail at Wimbledon and the AELTC, says: “We have spent a lot of time not focusing on the fact there is no championships but looking at our product.

“When the event was cancelled almost everything was here, or sitting in a warehouse somewhere. Our focus was on looking at what our position would be during the championships period online and looking towards next year.”

The department launched a new Magento-platformed website on 16 March – one week before the government put the UK in lockdown and two weeks before Wimbledon 2020 was officially cancelled.

“It’s really been about the online shop stepping into the gap of on-site retail,” Hewitt adds.

New balls, please: tennis fans and collectors have been buying 2020-dated merchandise as mementos of a cancelled tournament (Photo credit: AELTC)
New balls, please: tennis fans and collectors have been buying 2020-dated merchandise as mementos of a cancelled tournament (Photo credit: AELTC)

The cancellation created “a bounce” in terms of online sales, he says, with May revenue up by 200% year-on-year – mainly from collectors looking for dated towels, balls, and T-shirts related to the first Wimbledon to be called off since World War II.

Wimbledon fortnight usually generates 75-80% of annual retail sales, but no-one is being judged on this year’s sales levels, according to Hewitt. The focus is on what can be achieved in the 12 months ahead.

Despite missing the acid test of a live championships, the team are confident they have the right website in place to scale in line with Wimbledon’s unique annual sales pattern, but also to help generate revenue off the back of other tournaments throughout the year.

“We probably won’t go heavy on “next month is Mothers’ Day”, we’ll probably go heavy on “next month is the Davis Cup”,” Hewitt explains of the strategy for the new site.

“Of course, you’re not going to have huge spikes, but I think it’s important to be relevant.”

Advantage, Wimbledon

Ex-Daks managing director Hewitt talks from a position of strength, having spent the last five years building more supply chain control for the retail division. This time last year, Wimbledon’s eCommerce was very different.

(image credit: AELTC)
(image credit: AELTC)

Products were sold online by Fanatics, a third-party sports merchandise company which supports the retail arms of hundreds of sports teams and associations. The model was a wholesale operation – Fanatics bought and sold the products it deemed most relevant.

Having joined in 2015 with the task of reducing Wimbledon retail’s reliance on third-party manufacturers and brands, Hewitt now says “we’re 100% in control of our supply chain”, which includes designing goods in-house and working directly with factories to bring products to life, in addition to the newfound online ownership.

The journey to the new site started in autumn 2018, aided by digital agency and Magento specialist, Vaimo. An IT project manager was brought in to help oversee the build and website switch, working with eCommerce manager, Richard Wilson.

The Fanatics partnership ended last autumn when the old website was closed down, and the new platform ensures the full Wimbledon range is available online for the first time.

Wilson opted for Walker Logistics as the sole fulfilment provider, and its site in Reading receives, stores, picks and packs all online products and orders. He describes eCommerce operations as “promising”, so far.

“With the Fanatics website, although functional and green and purple, that was about as on-brand as it got really, so it was a great opportunity to work with our colleagues in marketing to put together some creative that was better aligned with the wider Wimbledon brand,” he says of the new site build.

“It’s given retail some ownable assets and we’re building the retail brand almost as a sub brand of Wimbledon itself. Because our operation is so different, we are able to tell our stories through the creative we are providing to customers.”

Those tales will be told via an online journal, providing customers with in-depth information about product provenance and the design, manufacture, and delivery of items.

“One simple but big change is we design all our own packaging now, so when a customer buys our merchandise, they’ll receive it in a Wimbledon box and it’s wrapped nicely and comes with a golden sticker,” Wilson adds.

"It’s just making sure that customer experience is a lot better than when Fanatics was providing it.”

Wimbledon's new eCommerce site is designed to reflect the experience of shopping at the SW19 tournament itself (image credit: AELTC)
Wimbledon's new eCommerce site is designed to reflect the experience of shopping at the SW19 tournament itself (image credit: AELTC)

Service game

The Wimbledon retail department is growing, with an eCommerce coordinator arriving as part of the team earlier this year. She joins Hewitt, Wilson, two retail operations staff, a production manager, and a network of merchandising and design consultants who are engaged each year to plan and develop new ranges.

Hewitt says retail is also neatly embedded within the wider Wimbledon operation, which includes, broadcast, digital, communications, and hospitality departments. Such collaboration has kept bought-in digital, and media resources to a minimum.

Indeed, the sharing of ideas, experiences, and personal stories displayed in the recent Wimbledon Recreated campaign may prove to be something of a precursor for what consumers can expect to see from the retail website.

The team will be seeking fan/shopper photos and videos, and leveraging user-generated content to create carousels on the homepage and help showcase products. Wilson says the website has the chance to become the main retail revenue driver, and there will be crossover with the IBM-led wider MyWimbledon initiative that aims to better understand how fans around the world engage with brand Wimbledon.

“We’re optimistic moving forward, and it will be interesting to see how we perform outside of the summer,” he notes, adding the online retail experience needs to reflect that of shopping at the tournament itself.

“We want to get people to buy into Wimbledon outside the traditional timelines.”

Photo credit: AELTC