Retailers: Follow The Professional Sports Playbook To Improve In-Store Experience

  • November 22, 2019 at 2:28 PM EST
  • By Sarah Nesland, Extreme Networks
0aaaSarah Nesland ExtremeNetworks1
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The death of brick-and-mortar has been predicted for some time now, and it’s hard not to give in to the panic when nearly 5,000 stores have already closed their doors this year. With the rapid growth of e-Commerce, going to a physical store is no longer a necessity — it’s a choice. And brick-and-mortar retailers are hard-pressed to find new ways to inspire customers to actually visit physical stores, as opposed to simply shopping online.

The challenges imposed by an increasingly digital world affect more than just retailers. For example, cable companies find themselves competing with streaming entertainment services to recapture cord-cutting customers, while many banks have lost savers to online-only firms that offer higher rates. There are lessons for retailers to learn from companies in other industries, and one of the best examples comes from an unexpected place — the world of sports.

Professional sports leagues in the U.S. have long suffered from decreasing turnout, as people can more easily watch sports on television or through streaming services. This trend has impacted live sports to an incredible extent. In fact, 16 Major League Baseball teams have changed venues in the past 20 years, moving into smaller stadiums in reaction to lower attendance. And while the NFL posted an astounding $17 billion in revenue in 2017, an increasingly small percentage of that revenue came from game day attendance, instead coming from lucrative new TV deals.


In this light, retail and sports have the same competitor — the couch. For many, it is easier, cheaper and more convenient to turn on the TV or go online than it is to drive to a physical location. The response to this has been to refocus physical locations around delivering better overall experiences, and it’s here where retailers can take several valuable lessons from what major sports teams and venues are doing.

Mobile Is A Must. So Are Interactive Experiences

Supporting the use of mobile devices at physical locations is an absolute must to attract and engage fans. The NFL has invested heavily in in-stadium WiFi that allows fans to be connected at all times through their mobile devices. Through that connectivity, they are able to provide fans with a service they want, while at the same time delivering their own content and experiences through that channel. Whether it’s offering interactive experiences on social media, instant replay, custom video content, digital ticketing and food ordering or other perks, stadiums have created add-on experiences that are aimed at drawing fans back to stadiums.

Retailers can take the same approach when designing the in-store experience for customers. By making WiFi service available to both customers and employees, retailers can provide a number of next-generation services that create a reason to get off the couch and head to the store. Many consumers use a retailer’s app while in store, and when they use that app on the retailer’s network, it enables the delivery of personalized deals and locationing services, and provides the retailer with data on how customers are reacting to specific displays and products.

Make The Most Of Analytics

When it comes to delivering the best possible customer experience, the work is never truly finished. That’s a truth in every industry — rest on your laurels and soon, someone else will come along and take your place. This is where analytics come into play, and in both sports and retail, that starts with understanding the data you have and learning how to make the most of it.

Stadiums that offer free and seamless WiFi service and interactive mobile fan experiences are now generating an ocean of data on fan preferences. But if that data goes unanalyzed, it has no value. By leveraging analytics to derive actionable insights, stadiums are able to personalize the game day experience. For example, analytics platforms can deliver insight into mobile usage behavior on WiFi networks during a game, such as the type of devices and the types of sites fans are using, in addition to the timing of when fans are consuming data during an event. This information can then inform personalized campaigns that target users based on how they interact with the game, where they are in the stadium and what their preferred social media platforms are.

Similarly, retailers can turn in-store shopping behaviors into unforgettable experiences through analytics. The advancements made in smart retail technologies give retailers endless opportunities for customization, but they need real-time customer insights to make it happen. The ability to analyze the data coming in over in-store wireless networks allows retailers to understand their customers’ likes and dislikes and make offers to them that are highly contextual and relevant to their needs. Additionally, analytics can be used to inform location-based services, RFID and electronic shelf-labeling to reduce friction in a shopping journey and create meaningful experiences.

Tap Into New Sources Of Revenue

Though stadiums have faced challenges around live game attendance in recent years, the industry has found alternative ways to generate revenue to make up the difference. Sports gambling is a prime example of this. In May 2018, the United States Supreme Court struck down a law that had previously banned sports betting nationwide, and today sports betting is legal in 10 states (with many more on the way).

Advertisers and sports broadcasters are now benefitting from a flood of new gambling dollars, and forward-looking NFL teams are exploring how to capitalize on in-stadium, in-play sports betting that would allow fans to place wagers on games as the action unfolds in real time. This would provide fans a more immersive, engaging experience and represents a massive, untapped revenue opportunity for the league.

Retailers must also search for new, non-traditional revenue opportunities. One promising option is to make the technology they’re deploying to bolster the in-store experience work harder. For example, many digitally-minded retail stores are already deploying video analytics to capture insights into foot traffic patterns, length of checkout lines and product placement in order to deliver optimized shopping experiences. This is incredibly valuable data that CPGs would likely be willing to pay a premium for, if retailers chose to monetize it.

Turning Customers Into Fans

The couch is a tough competitor, but every industry has something to learn about how to get people out of their house, and it starts with better experiences. And when it comes to retail, where businesses are dealing with some of the fiercest digital competition of any industry, it’s helpful to find inspiration from other industries. So for retailers wondering how to turn customers into fans, look no further than the transformation happening in stadiums across the country.


Sarah Nesland is the General Manager of the Retail, Transportation & Logistics sector at Extreme Networks. She is best known over her 25-plus year career for building action-oriented, highly empathetic teams with the heart and tenacity to repeatedly deliver 360° wins that create enterprise value for all parties and eliminate wasteful operating expenses while she lives a full and balanced life with her family.  Her leadership roles span business development and sales across wireless service providers, technology application and product manufacturers with expertise in complex OSS, SaaS software and Business Process Outsourcing.  

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