Sporting Goods E-commerce: Hit It Out Of The Park

Sporting goods is a category that is all about passion. The fact that it revolves around activities (indoors and outside) sets the tone for selling. The retailers and brands in this category have excelled at developing products that excite their customers and inspire purchasing. However, when it comes to sporting goods e-commerce, while it can be easy for someone to shop for themselves (though there’s most always room for improvement), shopping for someone else and finding a gift that fits their sporting passion can be a challenge.

Sporting Goods E-commerce: 3 Things to Focus On

To gauge the current experience and how retailers can match the best of their competitors, the e-tailing group looked at over 20 e-commerce sites across this landscape. Three core components will set the tone for this discussion. I begin with passion as being engaged is at the crux of the category. Second, it’s about acknowledging the individual where information and tools guide shoppers to understand and customize products that best meet their needs. Lastly, compelling customer service means embracing all pickup and delivery options and the services that shoppers need on their terms.

Personally, it’s hard to resist so much of what is available at sporting goods e-commerce sites and brick-and-mortar stores. Additionally, even when you don’t participate in a sport, this is a category where gifting has been a factor, especially for Father’s Day, birthdays and during the all-important fourth quarter. The e-tailing group always keeps an eye out for how sporting goods e-commerce sites accommodate or enable the gifter. Looking at this Father’s Day as a starting point, U.S. consumers are expected to spend more than $20.1 billion on gifts and other items this year, up from last year’s record figure of $17 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. NRF survey respondents are planning on spending on average $174 on Father’s Day gifts, about $26 more than last year.

1. Passion for Performance

Passion in this category ranges from branding to brands and so many of the products. One of the important aspects of the sporting goods e-commerce category is much of the activity takes place outdoors and taking care of the environment is of great concern. Happy to see Academy Sports and the stories about how they are making an impact. Classes are another aspect of retail offerings along with videos that bring them to life.

Academy sports

Early Releases

While many of us like shoes, some are obsessed and for those it’s all about the Release Calendar on retailers like Foot Locker or being noticed when the newest Air Jordan’s are up for grabs on Nike. Utility is just one example of a new shoe that will be hard to resist. Potential buyers can sign up to be alerted in advance so they’re ready for the May 3rd launch. This is a perfect category to gift using GiftNow as predicting sizes is hard enough when shopping for yourself.

Nike page sporting goods e-commerce

Also in the spirit of getting the latest and greatest is the snowboard brand Burton, which provides a sneak peek of upcoming winter offerings for early purchase for their riders. They let their customers get in on the early drop as being on the cutting-edge matters to many sports enthusiasts.

Burton page sporting goods e-commerce

Sporting Goods E-commerce: Gift-giving Abounds

Team gear is always a winning gift for the dads on many of our lists. Fanatics has captured that market and their 365-day return policy can make it a risk-free proposition for the gift recipient.


Like most things at REI, they make things easy and gift-giving and their gift registry is just one example. Shoppers can take advantage of their omnichannel services and they can even get 10% off once REI’s gift registry event is over. It’s nice to see that REI is encouraging personal outfitting for just-right gifts and suggesting that shoppers add them to orders after a fitting.

REI sporting goods e-commerce page

2. Give Them Information and Tools

One of the things that sets apart the best retailers is they know their products. Backcountry, launched in 1996, which was early as e-commerce ventures go. They know it’s all about the list that retailers provide to get shoppers started to participate in any given activity so they’ve included a complete set of things that backpackers (for example) might need. This serves as a jumping off point, and if you’re like me, you think you will need absolutely everything that is noted on their checklist. The personal touch of Backcountry staff that created the list including their email and phone number shows they are a customer-centric company. The Learning Resources section of their website provides many of these guides and lists for backpacking, bicycling and other activities which serve as both great times-savers and confidence builders that help those on the go master a range of activities.

Backcountry list

Know Your Niche When It Comes to Sporting Goods E-commerce

Another aspect of sporting goods is the many niches that make up the category. Dover Saddlery supports equestrians and those who aspire to ride. They have covered their bases when it comes to imagery down to the zipper and the details that adorn the boot. Lucky for their customers that they receive a gift card with every order. I also chose this company as this is a category that can be tricky when it comes to making the right selection and picking the right size. GiftNow helps gift givers address sizing challenges by offering shoppers a wonderful gifting option. I also can’t help but mention that Dover Saddlery provides free returns, which is also popular with customers.

Dover Saddlery page

Profiling Powers Individual Needs

Many companies help their customers narrow the selection based on who they are buying for. Trek Bicycles helps shoppers find bikes for themselves or enables shopping for their kids. Their visual multi-step profiler then inquires if you will be taking long rides on open roads, dirt trails, planning mostly for pavement in cities and towns, or if lots of gravel is in the rider’s future. From there, selecting why you or your kids want to ride (which in my case was to improve my fitness), followed by a riding position (upright for me) closed out the issue of what bike to buy. Upon completion of these questions, Trek’s recommendation is revealed. Not only does this save shoppers time, it smartly directs them to products most likely to meet their needs. No buyer’s remorse here.

Trek page

Custom Products Excite Buyers

Baseball Monkey caters to their shoppers and one way is by integrating a series of custom product builders. The Rawlings tool, for example, allows those in need of a new glove to personalize it to make it their own. A set of beautiful steps starting with one’s sport (baseball or softball), preferred leather, position played, glove size and fit along with a robust set of pattern options are presented. As if that wasn’t sufficient, there are also a series of other parts of the glove, from the lacing to the lining, which can be personalized to your heart’s content. It’s not just about the capability but the creativity in the execution of the user interface that sets Baseball Monkey apart.

Rawlings page 1
Rawlings glove page

3. Compelling Customer Service

Virtual Extends Capabilities for Sporting Goods E-commerce

From the comfort of one’s home, TaylorMade allows golfers to get custom fitted for clubs. It starts with helping to ensure you select the right fitters, followed by scheduling a virtual appointment. It includes prep questions about your game and your swing and you can even send along a video. If you were on the fence, testimonials from those who have used the service will propel you to give it a try. And if you’re buying a gift for someone who’s ready for custom, they offer personalized digital gift cards via GiftNow which come in a variety of themes – great news as shoppers can also add a photo or video to enhance the gift giving experience.

Taylor made sporting goods e-commerce page

Reward Your Customers

Boating, like most sports categories, looks to reward their customers and West Marine does just that. Participants in their reward program receive special member-only offers and invitations to events. Exclusive volume discounts are available based on your membership. One of the most appealing is the “New Boat Owner” program where select individuals can save 6% of qualified merchandise purchases of $600 or more in a single transaction. Knowing all that is needed to outfit one’s boat makes this attractive.

West Marine page on sporting goods e-commerce

Curbside Enables Quick Pickups

Whether you’re late for a little league game or need a last-minute item for a trip, curbside pickup is a must for store-based retailers. Dick’s Sporting Goods is typically a leader in delivery and pickup and it is not surprising they take it one step further. They know that many shoppers have now become accustomed to same-day delivery. For example they have partnered with Instacart to provide more options.

Dicks sporting goods

Sporting Goods E-commerce: Sinking a 3 pointer

When it comes to gift giving and sporting goods, we suggest retailers keep three things top-of-mind:

  1. Exude passion for your products and services to help drive both personal purchasing and gift buying.
  2. Inform shoppers about every product detail and allow them to tailor products to their individual needs.
  3. Lastly, offer convenience, both in-store and online. Make sure you take care of the customer and let them complete the transaction their preferred way.

Lauren Freedman is the president of the e-tailing group

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This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual advisors with respect to any information presented. Synchrony and any of its affiliates, including GiftNow, (collectively, “Synchrony”) makes no representations or warranties regarding this content and accept no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. All statements and opinions are the sole opinions of Lauren Freedman, President of the e-tailing group. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.

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