I have bought sports kit from SportsDirect in the past. I can’t say I ever enjoyed the instore experience – it was always too cluttered, too confusing, too shoved-on-shelf to ever be something I looked forward to. But boy did they deliver bargains. So a fair few trainers, football boots, rugby boots and even team kits have come from there.
Given the instore experience though, can we really be surprised at the business practices that have been hitting the headlines of late? After all, doesn’t low price come at a cost, and don’t we as shoppers accept that trade off?
Well no, actually. Look at Aldi and Lidl – two equally as price focused businesses as SportsDirect. Yet rumour has it they know how to look after their staff. And Aldi has just been all over the TV with its sponsorship of TeamUK, which is a clear statement of their commitment to contribute to the country.
The issue for SportsDirect – amongst others they face such as shareholder hostility – is that all this negative news can and will have an impact on sales. Many of their shoppers may accept the low prices they want or need come at a price elsewhere in the business, and that this price isn’t something they are going to concern themselves with. But there will be plenty who have struck SportsDirect off their repertoire because of their business practices.
Shoppers are increasingly aware of the power they have to ‘voice’ their opinions through their spending behaviour. If they are unhappy with a company they know they can now have plenty of options for switching – whether it’s a different retailer or an online supplier. And such switching is being motivated by something more than ‘I don’t like what they are doing’, rather it is the much stronger emotion of ‘I want to make a point’.
What we are seeing these days is more thoughtfulness among consumers/shoppers. Whether it is BBC headlines or social media chat, bad news is being seen, being noticed and increasingly being acted upon. At the core of this is a trust issue. Consumers/shoppers want to be involved with companies they trust. Trust takes a long time to build, but can be wiped out in seconds by a revelation that doesn’t sit comfortably with a previously held view of a business. We wouldn’t spend time with someone we don’t trust, so why spend money with a business we aren’t comfortable with if we don’t have to?
So where do SportsDirect go from here? They can’t exactly change business practices overnight – there are commercial (and probably cultural) factors that mean this will take time. What they can do in the short term, however, is to be more transparent and more vocal about their commitment to change. They need to acknowledge to their customers, not just their shareholders, that they recognise the need to change, and that they are willing to change. And they need to continually communicate positive initiatives.
In today’s more informed world we should all treat trust as a far more important value than we have in the past. If we believe the trust that consumers/shoppers have in our business or brand is core to the appeal of our business, then we will be more protective of it and have more awareness of factors that can undermine it. Ultimately that means we don’t take our consumers/shoppers for granted.