A latecomer to online sales, Hibbett Sports Inc. says its first e-commerce website launched in July is producing better-than-expected sales and attracting new customers to the chain of sporting goods and apparel stores.
The new website accounted for 5% of Hibbett’s total revenue in the third quarter, the first three-month period when the site was operational, says Bill Quinn, vice president of digital commerce. Hibbett reported $237.8 million in sales during the quarter, putting online sales at about $12 million. The publicly traded company has not reported fourth quarter results.
The new website is not just designed to capture online sales, but also to help the chain’s nearly 1,100 stores better serve customers, Quinn says.
The decision to launch e-commerce came after Hibbett conducted surveys of customers and other consumers that were not Hibbett shoppers, he says. The surveys showed that, while Hibbett’s stores are mainly in towns of 60,000 and under, its customers living in those small cities and towns were shopping online frequently, Quinn says. “We found people in small towns are very internet-savvy and do buy a lot online,” he says. In fact, smartphone penetration among customers was 92%, which was higher than the national average of 89% at the time of the surveys a few years ago, and Hibbett customers owned on average five web-connected devices.
The move into e-commerce comes as Hibbett is expanding geographically. As sporting goods chains like Sports Authority and Eastern Mountain Sports have gone bankrupt and other chains are cutting back on physical locations, Hibbett is opening new stores, which typically are small, averaging about 5,000 square feet. While the Birmingham, Ala.-based company’s roots are in the South, it now has stores in 35 states and is expanding into new markets, opening stores in California and Wyoming for the first time in 2017. “We continue to see significant opportunity to expand our small-box strategy across the country in underserved markets,” the company said in its 2017 annual report.
The launch of the e-commerce site fits with that strategy by introducing new customers to Hibbett—20% of site visitors are coming from outside the markets where Hibbett has stores, Quinn says. What’s more, since the site launched Hibbett has been signing up shoppers to its loyalty program at a rate 25% faster than before, he says.
“That benefits stores tremendously—the fact that we’re getting a lot more loyalty members,” Quinn says. “Most of their shopping is still done in stores, so every time we acquire a customer, that will benefit stores more than online.”
The 8 million members of the loyalty program account for a majority of Hibbett’s sales, Quinn says. The free loyalty program provides consumers with a point for every dollar purchased and a $10 discount for every 200 points, effectively a 5% discount. Consumers who spend $250 a year with Hibbett move up to the VIP level and get 1.5 points for every dollar spent and free shipping on online purchases.
In building its website on the Salesforce Commerce Cloud platform, Hibbett made sure to promote its stores. Every store has its own web page and consumers can use the website to check inventory at a local store.
However, the site goes beyond the stores in offering a much larger selection—90,000 SKUs, far more than any of Hibbett’s “small-box” stores can carry. Quinn says the retailer has expanded beyond the store selection with online-only merchandise and by working with suppliers to drop-ship to customers products that Hibbett does not stock in its stores or one distribution center in Alabaster, Ala., 25 miles south of Birmingham.
While viewed as a sporting goods chain, Hibbett gets 50% of its revenue from sneakers, 30% from apparel and only 20% from sports equipment, Quinn says. That makes sales of newly introduced sneakers a big part of Hibbett’s business. And by participating in the sneaker launch programs of big brands, retailers like Hibbett, The Finish Line Inc., No. 114 in the Internet Retailer Top 1000, and Foot Locker Inc. (No. 53) can differentiate themselves from Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1), as the big names in sneakers typically release their products initially only to specialty retailers and not to Amazon.
Hibbett.com plays up those relationships with sneaker suppliers by offering a launch calendar that shows when new shoes are coming from brands like Nike, Adidas and Reebok. It also allows loyalty program members to see and redeem their points. And the site offers True Fit technology that tracks the specs and consumer feedback about the fit of individual footwear and apparel items in order to help consumers find clothing or shoes that will fit them.
“We have a lot of features on the website you wouldn’t normally see in a website that’s six months old,” says Quinn, who joined Hibbett in February 2016 to develop the new e-commerce site after serving as vice president of digital at David’s Bridal Inc., No. 333 in the Top 1000, which ranks North America’s leading online retailers.
The website is also driving traffic to Hibbett’s stores because consumers are taking 80% of their online returns to stores, Quinn says. He says the company has not yet measured how many consumers making returns buy something else while in the store.
All Hibbett stores can be used to ship online orders if a product is not available in the company’s distribution center. And buy online, pick up in store is on the retailer’s to-do list for 2018, Quinn says. Also coming this year is a mobile app that will work on Apple Inc. and Google Inc.’s Android phones, he says.
“We had about 20 years of catch-up to squeeze into a one-year project timeline,” Quinn says. But the results from the launch of the e-commerce site have exceeded expectations.
“We’ve been surprised by how fast it’s grown,” Quinn says. “We weren’t expecting this level of penetration of overall sales.”