The challenges of selling sports equipment online: how to solve them with conversational marketing?

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By Margot Bonhomme, Marketing Manager @Botfuel

January 14, 2021

With an annual growth rate of more than twice the global GDP, the global sports market is estimated at 800 billion euros. In 2020, despite a strong explosion in e-commerce, the same cannot be said of the market for the online sale of sports equipment. But then why? What are the obstacles to buying? What solutions can be put in place to support e-commerce sites specializing in sporting goods?

Sports e-commerce is starting to win over

The online sale of sporting goods has not had its last word. Its volume increased by 86% compared to 2019 and crossed the 11 billion euros mark. Fevad now places sporting goods in 10th position among products purchased on the internet. This, the big brands have understood. Decathlon, Intersport, Courir, Go Sport… They have all invested in digital.

Why such a boom?

This is in part due to the health crisis we are experiencing. The boom in sports e-commerce took place during the first lockdown. Forced to stay at home, the sports halls being closed, many French people have invested in equipment allowing them to carry out their session at home. The confinement has also given rise to ideas among some, who have decided to take up the sport during this confinement.

Another, the more universal reason is the misuse of sporting goods. 54% of French people use them in fashion items. The sportswear style is even adopted by 19% of them according to a Sport & Fashion study, carried out by USC and Ipsos. Among young people (16-24 years old), this proportion even reaches 31%.

The success of sports e-commerce is cyclical. If brands want to be able to overcome this, they will have to invest to reduce the barriers to buying. But what are they?

Why are the French reluctant to buy sporting goods online?

We list 4 main factors of reluctance to buy sports goods online. Of course, there may be others.

The difficulty of discovering product sheets

There are several profiles of buyers. Some come to your site with an exact idea of ​​the product they want to buy. Others have search criteria but don't know the exact product they want. Finally, some come to compare, to look without necessarily having the wish to buy. How to make them discover the product that will make them crack? This is the problem: 56% of customers who visit an e-commerce site do not see a product sheet.

It may be interesting to draw the parallel with physical stores. One study highlighted the following findings: Among people who buy additional items, 60% do so because they accidentally found items that they liked. Of those who buy additional items, 41% do so because they have found products of the same quality, but less expensive. Why are these behaviors not happening online?

In the product discovery phase, different criteria must be taken into account: price, quality but also research similarity, and favorites.

What solutions? When your visitors arrive at your site, they can search for an article according to their gender (clothing for men or women), the category of the product (shoes, accessories, etc.), or by sport (running, tennis, basketball, etc.). Decathlon has chosen to highlight only “its current sports” and only on its homepage. Intersport and Gosport have decided to include it on their menu.

Once your visitor arrives at the category pages, he may still find himself lost. What if he starts? If he doesn't choose for himself? For example, you can set up a shopping assistant to guide the visitor.

For each visitor arriving at your site, qualify their research with them. You can then redirect it to the category or page that interests it.

Lack of advice

Once the product has been discovered, what to do? Buyers of sports equipment have two motivations. 60% buy out of necessity, that is to say, that they need to acquire or replace equipment and clothes that are too small, too worn out ... 40% buyout of desire, that is to say, that they are there to have fun, by buying the latest model that has just been released, buying clothes that they find more beautiful, increasing in quality…

They, therefore, come to seek advice. For 77%, advice from a salesperson is important. For 20%, they even influence the purchase decision and the product purchased. Additionally, they are 19% to systematically search and 40% often find technical information about the product.

What solutions? The goal is to reproduce the in-store experience. By starting a conversation with your customers and offering them advice, you are providing them with a service they only thought they would find in the store: the expertise of your sales advisors. Developing a conversational strategy on your site allows you to offer a deep conversational customer experience and offer flexible course dialogues, reproducing the experience offered by a human advisor.

How does it work? Your shopping assistant interacts with every visitor. He understands the context of the purchase (profile, need, the mood of the customer). Thanks to this as well as a good knowledge of your product catalog, he will be able to offer personalized advice and recommend the appropriate product according to the client's sport. For example, one of your visitors is looking for a football business. The shopping assistant will go through various questions with him to understand his needs: What athlete profile? Indoor? Outdoor? Then, he will be able to qualify the need and thanks to the answers given, suggest products that correspond to his research.

The lack of urgency

The Web Sports Challenge study highlighted a key aspect of e-commerce: the brands and retailers offer technically performing sites but forget the community aspect and capturing purchases. called emergency This last aspect is more important than you might think. Regarding online purchases of sporting goods:

  • 60% believe they buy new products out of necessity rather than desire (1)
  • 19% spend less than a day between the start of their research and their act of purchase
  • 42% spend less of a week between the start of their research and their act of purchase

Unlike many e-commerce sites, the feeling of urgency (often reflected in marketing campaigns) is very little developed in the sports sector.

What solutions? There are ways to create a feeling of urgency: pop-up, banner, email, tags on product sheets… The challenge here is not to create pressure that would make visitors want to leave the site.

One of the solutions for this is to rely on the behavior of your visitors and only interact with those -you identify as 'hesitant'. In this case, make appear “incentives” on your site.

  • If the visitor is on a category page, offer to see the bestsellers of the moment;
  • If the visitor is on a special collection or sale page, you can start a countdown until the end of the promotion;
  • If the visitor is on a product page, start a conversation explaining that there is little stock left;
  • If the visitor is on the cart validation page, offer him a promo code that does not last in time;

By creating a focused sense of urgency, you will surely be able to convert hesitant people.

The higher purchase price

The NPD Group puts forward a major factor in the purchasing criteria: the price. According to him, the price difference between physical stores and e-commerce would be against the latter. He takes the example of hiking shoes, which would sell for 10% more online. "If online sales were to continue to progress over the next 5 years, without however exceeding 50% of the overall market, it would be to the benefit of large distributors already well established on the web and in the network of stores, as is already the case in Great Britain ", underlines Renaud Vaschalde, sports expert for NPD in Europe.

What solutions? For the NPD, “the withdrawal of in-store sales is a major development angle, as well as second-hand sales.” Based on this observation, several scenarios can be set up on your e-commerce site.

Expand the click and Collect. Sometimes a product is more expensive online than in a store because it contains costs that are not available in the store, such as delivery. When choosing the product, you can for example specify the delivery costs and then highlight the alternative of Click & Collect. This strategy is very beneficial for you. 62% of people choosing it visited the store and looked at the shelves.(2)

Bet on second-hand sales. Among the most sought-after products are children's bikes and products whose new price is relatively high such as canoes, paragliders, kite-surfs, skis, or even fitness equipment ... a specific category to these products on your e-commerce site. Often, these are products linked to seasons. During winter, for example, offer your visitors looking for skis to go directly to the "used skis" page. Likewise, if one of your visitors is hesitant: he spends time on the category page but keeps leaving the product pages. You can then strike up a conversation with him and inform him that you are also selling used skis.


The online sale of sporting goods is experiencing economic success since the beginning of 2020. Many are those who are tempted. However, the obstacles to buying remain numerous: it is especially small items that are purchased online. The challenge for 2021 is to succeed in reducing the obstacles to the purchase of more expensive or imposing products. What if the future was to buy your exercise bike online?

*1. OpinionWay

  1. Wizishop*

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