IndustriesCategory4 min read

Building a Legacy of Customer‑Centric Digital Innovation

Blakely Thomas-AguilarJune 28, 2021

Since opening its first store in 1948, DICK’S Sporting Goods has put customers (aka athletes) first. When the 2020 pandemic hit, the company quickly pivoted strategies to:

  1. Safely serve athletes and help them enjoy socially distanced sports and activities.
  2. Support a safe working environment for employees (aka teammates).
  3. Deliver on business and revenue objectives.

By relying on its legacy of delivering innovative digital experiences, DICK’S Sporting Goods not only weathered the pandemic—they came out stronger than ever.

Jason Williams, vice president of Athlete Technology, DICK’S Sporting Goods

We were fortunate to catch up with Jason Williams, vice president of Athlete Technology at DICK’s Sporting Goods, to talk about the retailer’s digital transformation, omni-channel experience and what’s up next.

What is the significance of referring to your customers as athletes?

Williams: We consider all our customers athletes. And that’s the way we view and treat them. In some way, all of them have an aspiration to participate in sports—whether they’re playing themselves, their kids are playing or they’re doing leisure-specific or stay-in-shape work.

We’re obsessed with our athletes. That’s part of the roots of DICK’S Sporting Goods. So not only does my title include athlete, but a lot of our technology teams have athlete as part of the naming convention.

For those that don’t know DICK’S Sporting Goods, how does your digital experience work?

Williams: We’ve invested heavily in technology for years. We developed our in-house e-commerce platform as a flexible service, and we build all digital products and services on it. A case in point is our responsive website, which includes our e-commerce platform for all of our e-commerce sites—DICK’S Sporting Goods, Golf Galaxy, Field & Stream. Anytime we build a new service, it’s on this platform.

Optimal service really resonates with our athletes. What we built is very flexible and nimble, delivering so many different benefits. This is incredibly important for our athlete experience, but also for our teammates. We’ve built capabilities such as an internal app that our teammates use for real-time metrics and communication on the sales floor. This makes their jobs easier so they can spend more time with the athlete.

How did the pandemic impact your company?

Williams: At the beginning, we didn’t know we would thrive.  But we did. And a lot of that was due to the amount of work that we had in the past as part of building our technology foundation and platform for services, which allowed us to spin up our curbside offering in less than 48 hours.

We also saw a significant spike in demand for sports like golf and outdoor activities, as well as home fitness. We realized our athletes wanted to remain active and healthy. They wanted to move. Those are some of the activities they could do safely. So, we had to figure out ways to provide those products to our athletes and in a safe way. We stayed focused on that, working with our suppliers and vendors to get product into our stores.

Making meaningful investments in technology with the long game in mind really allowed us to stay nimble, try new things, be resilient and pivot to work on things that mattered to our customers.

Jason Williams, vice president of Athlete Technology, DICK’S Sporting Goods

Which digital offering stood out during the pandemic?

Williams: We often reference our curbside contactless pickup process as one of our big wins. It really resonates with our athletes, and we think it’s here to stay. We may have spun it up quickly, but it was years in the making. It allowed us to provide our products in a way that was safe for our teammates and for our athletes.

We built it based on a lot of services that we had readily available with our pick-and-pack and real-time inventory processes in the stores for our teammates. We were able to tie things together and put a product out there quickly across multiple portfolios—touching marketing, e-commerce and stores. We built a service and quickly lit it up, and then we were able to iterate and add additional features to it.

How has customer engagement transitioned to more of an omni-channel or multi-touch digital experience?

Williams: We see our stores as the hub of our omni-channel experience. People still want to come in. They want to feel, they want to see, and they want to try on. And we want to give them that ability, then enable them to either order online or order in the store and combine that experience.

This is also why we are re-imagining the athlete experience through new store concepts like House of Sport, which takes experiential retail to another level by exploring the future of retail through multi-sport experiences inside and outside the store, community involvement, elevated customer service and enhanced technology. We currently have House of Sport locations in Knoxville, Tenn. and Victor, N.Y.

Our e-commerce experience is an extension of our stores. We see it as one holistic experience. Whether fulfilling from one of our stores—where you buy online or pick up in store—or shipping from our stores, we can get the products into our athletes’ hands as soon as possible.

How do you use tech innovation to build brand loyalty with your audiences?

Williams: We’ve done a lot of work in the data sciences space and leveraging data in our athlete hub. We really want to know our athletes—their buying trends and behaviors. And we want to build all our services to really delight them. We’ve been spending a lot of time on personalization—driving through offers, ensuring they have an optimal experience, and that they’re going to want to come back and shop more with us.

An example of this data-centric innovation is our ScoreCard loyalty program. It’s a key part of our marketing engine. The program has more than 20 million active users and accounts for more than 70% of our sales.

What is your philosophy around emerging technologies such as modern apps, containers and Kubernetes?

Williams: Innovation is very important to us as an organization. We’re continually looking at ways we can make our applications more efficient and offer more capabilities to drive new business capabilities. I think the game is going to change in the next five years and staying ahead of it is going to be key.

Obviously, data is an area that we’re going to continue to invest in—taking a mobile-first approach—whether it’s the online shopping experience in mobile apps or apps that ensure our teammates are more efficient. Within our stores, connectivity will be a very big topic over the coming years.

In addition, we are hiring more “futurists” that will continue to help us think through what’s next.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Developing Software as a Team Sport

How DICK’S moved its software development in-house and aced omnichannel retail.