Spalding personalizes customer engagement

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If you grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., during the 1950s, you knew two things for certain — the Brooklyn Dodgers would never leave Ebbets Field and a little pink high-bounce ball called a “Spaldeen” was good for a two-sewer hit in stickball.

Neither turned out to be true. But the one constant in sports for nearly 150 years has been Spalding, the sporting goods company behind the Spaldeen whose name has become synonymous with professional and amateur athletics. As the games and venues have changed, so has Spalding, entering a new era in customer engagement — including ecommerce — for the next generation of fans and players.

“When you focus on the customer first, everything else falls into place and we are seeing that happen,” says Matt Day, digital marketing and ecommerce manager for Spalding. The company’s relationship with retailers is a big part of its customer strategy. “We serve the same customers,” he says, “and collaboration is essential.”

‘FASTER AND BETTER’

Spalding’s digital marketing efforts — both business-to-business and direct-to-consumer — have been key elements in furthering the partnership between the company and its retailers. “The launch of Spalding.com in the latter part of 2017 was the first rendition of the commerce cloud with Salesforce and direct-to-consumer ecommerce platform,” Day says.

“Digital commerce no longer starts with just the shopping cart,” says Mike Micucci, CEO of Commerce Cloud at Salesforce. “We’re helping companies meet their customers wherever they are and deliver commerce everywhere with a platform of AI-powered services.”

“We already had B2B platforms with a well-built dealer network that included everyone from mom-and-pop sporting goods stores to arena businesses, leagues, clubs and gyms,” Day says. “But B2B is linear. We still had to make it easier for consumers to do business with us.”

Spalding’s ecommerce goal for 2019 is 25 percent of total sales, he says, and the path hasn’t been simple. “As a manufacturer we had to consider how to use marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart.com as well as traditional sporting goods stores and develop a direct-to-consumer business that finds a place within all three dynamics,” Day says.

“At the end of the day it’s all about how fast and convenient it is for people and businesses to do business with you,” he says. “Everything has to be transformed to be faster and better.”

An in-house team of Salesforce developers nicknamed the Brand Squad “touches everything in web development and ecommerce,” he says. “They are mirrored by an integration team that brings everything in the business system together.”

Results are up to expectations but it’s a moving target. “Anytime you choose a new platform it’s hard to discuss expectations. You always have goals for the percentage of overall sales you’d like from ecommerce. But Salesforce knows that getting on their platform is just the start,” Day says.

“There’s a getting-to-know-you phase and getting it to do all the things you want it to do — everything from AI integration to site search functionality and all the other options.”

FOCUSING ON CRM

Although customer experience covers a lot of territory, Day believes it starts with personalization. The first step in re-launching the website was focusing on customer relationship management. “We see a lot of different personas — coaches, athletes, parents, athletic directors, trainers and people who just want to put something on their shelves,” he says. “We want to know things like their favorite teams, where they live and their birthday for special promotions.”

The success of the re-launch is apparent, given the company’s 137 percent increase in ecommerce holiday sales in 2018. Sales continue to increase monthly as more features are added.

“You don’t need to be a digital expert to know if an experience is easier or not. The data management platform helps connect the dots,” Day says. “Ultimately everything has to connect in order for a company to make informed decisions.”

A lot of product positioning and merchandising is based on data that brings many elements together. That includes tracking customer behavior on a site, when they email or respond to a text message and whether they’re coming to Spalding’s site from another source like Google.

“We are always interested in groundbreaking functionality. But Spalding is a legacy brand and one of the challenges is to modernize respectfully in a way that pays tribute to the quality of the brand,” Day says.

Noting that Spalding made the first commercially produced basketballs, baseballs and footballs, Day says the company wants to “push the envelope and offer the best brand experience across all categories. We want to move past just talking about consumer focus. We have to know what they’re experiencing at other sites and platforms to determine if we’re offering a best-in-class online experience,” he says.

Feedback from customers — including retailers — has been overwhelmingly positive. “Clearly, all this benefits our direct-to-consumer business. But it’s something that will ultimately benefit and provide a closer relationship with retailers and our league partners,” Day says.

CREATING CONNECTIONS

Customer engagement became even more important last November when Spalding launched the U Design program on its commerce cloud site, enabling customers to laser-engrave their favorite NBA team logos and personal text on products.

Other companies might take one or two weeks to ship personalized products. “But personalization in the age of Amazon is about immediacy — how fast you can make a product. Our goal is to make sure these items are created and shipped within three business days and right now we’re averaging one or two days,” Day says.

“We’re mainly sticking to basketballs right now. But we’re expanding into WNBA team logos and other limited-edition collaborations. It’s about 20 percent of our overall direct-to-consumer revenue. We’re happy with where we’re headed and we’re always working with Salesforce to see what might be next, such as AI integration. It’s been a great partnership and the more we know about our business, the more we can help our business partners.”

One thing on the horizon is connecting products to retail. Spalding has a lot of retail exclusive products with chains like Costco, Walmart, Target Academy and Modell’s. “We are putting those items on our site, not to sell, but to tell customers they are retail exclusive,” he says. “The customer’s journey takes them to many touchpoints. We want to get to them wherever they are.”

Len Lewis is a veteran journalist and author covering the retail industry in the United States, Canada, Europe and South America.

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