Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sports to get kick from e-commerce

Sports products as a category has been witnessing significant growth as far as online retailing is concerned. This trend has triggered the entry of sportsmen and marketers in this space and launch online product offerings for the Indian consumer. The latest to leverage the potential of ecommerce is one of India’s biggest cricket equipment manufacturers, SG Cricket. The company recently tied up exclusively with Jabong.com to unveil the VS319 range of cricket bats. The collection is inspired by Virender Sehwag’s record breaking score of 319 runs, scored in a test match against South Africa in Chennai in 2008. The VS 319 currently has five variations, which operate within a price range of Rs. 3,199 to Rs. 7,799.

Other than Sehwag, who has been associated with The Dasher Series of bats since the past five years, SG Cricket also has on board, Rahul Dravid and Sunil Gavaskar associated with The Wall Series and The Legend Series of bats, respectively. The Dasher Series currently hosts eight bats, four of which are being retailed through jabong.com.

Top of the batting order 
Kiran Khalap, Co-Founder, Chlorophyll Brand & Communications Consultancy


Commenting on the inherent need for celebrity association, particularly for products operating in the sports category, Paras Anand, Director, SG Cricket says, “The trend has not changed in the last thirty years and for a brand to send the message across to the end consumer, star association is vital. And, it’s not just true for cricket but for all other sports.” Anand explains that when it comes to sports equipment, the product needs an association with someone who can justify the performance of the equipment in question. “If he’s playing or scoring well, that will translate into consumer confidence ultimately,” he adds. The marketing spends also reflect a similar line of thought. Anand divulges that a substantial 60 per cent, of the total budget allocation for marketing, is spent on getting a player on board. This is followed by an equal 20 per cent split focusing on advertising in print, through sports magazines and a through aggressive in-store branding.

Kiran Khalap, Brand Consultant, Chlorophyll Brands and Communications, puts marketing for the sports and fitness category into a comprehensive perspective. He says that sports equipment manufacturers need to promote the sport without worrying about immediate sales. “There are three levels of evolution for any individual- participate, train and compete. Indians have just begun participating in some sports. It is once they start competing that they become serious about equipment and at the penultimate level of evolution, the individual begins to invest in the best. That becomes table stakes for competing,” says Khalap.

Further, funneling down the target audience for the exclusive collection, Anand says that the bats are meant to cater to a shorter format cricketer who wants to score quick and fast. He also says that supporting this is the 20-20 route cricket is taking with long strides to replace traditional formats.

Manu Kumar Jain, Co-founder, Jabong.com

A short delivery?
SG finds its place in the sports category on the website, which puts up for sale various brands like Yonex, Puma, Fila, Cosco, Adidas and Stag, among others. These provide offerings, which cut across the sports shoes, sportswear, sports equipment and sports bags segments. Manu Kumar Jain, Co-Founder of jabong.com says that even though shoes, apparel and accessories are the categories, which finish as top three selling categories; sports, though one of the smallest, is growing at a seemingly fast pace. “Within sports, anything related to cricket works really well because we are at the end of the day, a cricket crazy country. As trends, we do observe spikes in sales during events like the T20 World Cup which wound up recently,” he says.

But, how well does e-commerce work for purchasing a high involvement product, like a cricket bat, which requires a customer to touch, feel and experience it before the final transaction decision? Anand explains, “Over the last five years, we’ve been trying to standardise our products as a strategy. Even though, it is a product made out of a natural resource and one product will be very different from other. We have however, been trying to streamline production to be able to give a consistency in products.” According to him, channeling adequate customer confidence has enabled them to successfully cater to e-commerce websites. Besides jabong.com, SG also has a presence on flipkart.com and snapdeal.com.

Anand Jaiswal, Professor Marketing, IIM Ahmadabad

Anand Jaiswal, Professor Marketing, IIM Ahmedabad says that even amidst the sports category, cricket has a lot to owe to its popularity and following in a country like India. He says that finalising a purchase decision in the sports category would normally require education and an assessment of the product’s tangible presence. Also, following a demand base, anything cricket-related would have a much wider appeal as compared to a sport like say, golf or cycling. Khalap also adds to this in a similar breath, “The market for sports and fitness category follows the growth of that particular sport, naturally. For instance, marathon running has caught the imagination of Indians. In 2012, there were 48 marathons all over India and when you look back ten years, there were none.”

Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder CEO, Brand- Comm, says that the challenge lies with the category and not with e-commerce as a medium. He opines that the emergence of e-commerce, off late, has demonstrated that many of the earlier ‘hang ups’, particularly pertaining to online transactions, are slowly and visibly changing. And, the fact that sports and fitness, as a category, is exploring the online medium, though not necessarily as the primary medium of selling, is a clear reflection of the larger trend of a greater acceptance. “The advantage of the medium is definitely in the options it can afford. If a milestone is achieved, for instance, a brand can use the online space to bid say, an autographed bat,” he says.

The feat of leveraging retail through the online space is corroborated by a research report by ComScore for ASSOCHAM India, released in September 2012. The report reveals that the penetration of the retail category has increased to 60 per cent reach and has grown to 37.5 million unique visitors a month thereby recording an overall growth of 43 per cent annually. Relevant to mention here is also the fact that Jabong is among the top five retail sites marking a reach of 8.6 per cent as of July 2012. Further, among categories, Sports/ Outdoors has shown early growth signs with a 100 per cent year-on-year growth. Though it comes nowhere close to categories like apparel, shoes and other lifestyle categories and is also way below global averages, the report says that most retailers have depended on online marketing to scale.

Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder CEO, brand-comm

While Jaiswal enlists access to quality products as a challenge for many brands operating on ground in this category, he says that this gap is largely plugged by e-commerce websites, particularly for small towns and non metropolitan cities. A report compiled by Forrester Research for ASSOCHAM’s second national conference on e-commerce 2012, which highlights trends in India’s e-commerce market, particularises this expansion into non metropolitan India. It says that retailers often view urban and rural users as having two distinct goals. While many of the former shop online because they have more money but cannot access the products they want, the latter shop online for things they need but cannot access or cannot access cheaply where they live. Khalap sums up adequately as a counterpoint when he says, “E-commerce definitely multiplies a brand’s reach but, it cannot acquire customers for the sports category. Unless customer demand is created by a social trend, as in the case of marathons, increasing access to a non-existent customer is of no use.”

Therefore, other than its online presence, SG Sports operates in the country through a huge chain of dealers following the traditional distribution model. “Our distribution channel comprises of about 700 dealers who we directly deal with. Within the 700, we have about 50 wholesalers who cater to at least 500 multi- brand sports stores. Therefore, it renders an availability of SG gear in almost 1200 stores across the country,” details Anand. There are also only two exclusive SG Stores in Meerut and Ludhiana.

Binding optimism into the exclusive online partnership with Jabong, Anand also reveals that with the VS Collection, SG Sports is aiming at a sales target of Rs. five crore by the end of the fiscal year. The bat collection, in entirety, is expected to contribute approximately 40 per cent to the intended target of Rs. 115 crore for SG Sports.


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2 comments:

Lavanya Sethi said...

I am one of more dissapointed customer of Jabong.com. I had placed an online order of a pair of shoes and dress. I got this order timely and was impressed with their services but after unwrapping my order I was shocked to see the packet. That was containing both of the products but the shoes were not like I had seen on their site. When I called at customer care they told me to replace that pair of shoes. But still no one came from their after calling them thrice in a week.
I have filed an complaint against them on their site as well as at Consumer Court site but so far no action has been taken on this case. Please help find me the relevant solution or just be aware while online shopping.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

I will check. Very disappointed but they have not responded.