Customers' feedback key to improved offerings

Decathlon staff converge for the company's awards night at the Zenith de Lille. Eight items were showcased at the ceremony.
Decathlon staff converge for the company's awards night at the Zenith de Lille. Eight items were showcased at the ceremony.ST PHOTO: CHUA SIANG YEE

Every year since 2005, French sporting goods retailer Decathlon brings together some of its staff from around the world to its home city of Lille for a special occasion.

Held earlier this month at the 7,000-capacity Zenith de Lille, an indoor arena, the flashy lights, tight security and big crowds suggest a glitzy awards ceremony.

What awaits the staff, or "team-mates", in Decathlon speak, is a celebration of the company's best innovations of the year.

Pannya Khamphommala, product chief of Decathlon's gym and fitness label Domyos, said: "We don't just talk about innovation, we celebrate it. And you can see from the atmosphere - this means a lot to everyone at Decathlon."

This year's awards night, streamed live on the Internet, featured eight items, from a pair of swimming goggles presented by a team including Olympic champion Fabien Gilot, to a suspension system in a bicycle.

All were conceptualised by Decathlon's subsidiary brands, each of whom specialises in certain sports.

The winning design went to a valve which speeds up the inflation of inflatable items like an air mattress. It was created by Quechua, a hiking and mountaineering brand.

The company - with stores in 30 countries - also meticulously collects customer feedback to improve its offerings.

Outside the flagship 10,000 sq m store in Lille is a "Fab Lab", where customers can share their comments with staff - not only on existing products, but also prototypes.

New items on display when The Straits Times visited included a cardboard ping-pong table and a 3D fitting room, which tells users the ideal garment size they should purchase.

It is the same over in the French commune of Sallanches, some 800km away, where a Decathlon store sits snugly in a valley next to Mont Blanc.

There, staff mingle freely with hiking and skiing enthusiasts, comprising both locals and tourists, and discuss how Decathlon equipment fared on the slopes.

Rob Davies, commercial director for Inesis, Decathlon's golf label, said it will simplify options after listening to customers from 10 countries in Europe.

From next year, it will sell only golf sets with seven clubs instead of half (five clubs) and full (10 clubs) sets. Decathlon will also print a graphic explaining each club's use on the box.

Davies said: "The common criticism with golf is that it is slow, expensive and complicated. We hope this will help change that and encourage more to pick up golf."

Chua Siang Yee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Customers' feedback key to improved offerings'. Print Edition | Subscribe