Decathlon opens in Calgary; features robots, a gymnasium and thousands of products

While some people think in-person shopping is a fading habit, a local expert thinks there is room for both brick-and-mortar and online shopping

By Krista Sylvester | November 8, 2021 |11:00 pm

Not only does the newly opened sports retailer Decathalon have robotic staff in its warehouse, it also features a gymnasium with a basketball court, a cafeteria, a co-working space and more.

Photo: Submitted

It’s being billed as an Ikea for sports products — but with robots, too. 

France discount sporting goods retailer Decathlon opened its first Western Canada location over the weekend with a splash. 

Located in a spacious 63,000-square-foot space at Southcentre Mall, this new sporting goods store also features 7,000 sq. ft. of automated warehouse space being serviced by robots — 27 of them actually.  

While a brick-and-mortar store of this calibre might be a shocking thing to see as 2021 closes, a local marketing expert thinks there is room for this type of endeavour even as many sales shift to online, especially during the pandemic. 

“Though we certainly do see retail sales continuing to move online — and the pandemic has accelerated that trend — that forced us to shop for even more things online than we did before,” explains Neil Brigden, assistant professor of marketing at the Bissett School of Business. 

Online sales and brick-and-mortar stores often work hand-in-hand

Brigden says once we feel like we are out of the pandemic, some of those sales in brick-and-mortar locations should come back, though how much is unclear. There is still room for both methods to flourish, in his opinion. 

“It’s also true that most retail purchases still occur offline. And for any product where it’s important that we can touch it or try it on, or we want to see it in person before buying it, or we can’t wait for it to be shipped to us — for all those situations, a physical store still makes a lot of sense.”

He believes Decathlon’s unique storefront and discounted prices could be a draw for Calgary shoppers, but also because of their relative novelty, people will want to see the products for themselves. 

“I know that they primarily sell their own brands of products, and because they’re entering a new market, most people in Calgary are not familiar with those brands. And so many consumers are going to want to see those products up close before buying,” he says, adding that the physical store could also lead to online sales in the future for the business. 

While many people believe that brick-and-mortar stores are becoming a thing of the past, Brigden believes there is room for both that and online sales in the market.

“It’s not an either-or decision. You know, if you’re selling directly to consumers… most major retailers offer both of those options.”

He believes each method has its pros and cons. While online is often just easier and offers more selection, seeing the products in person is important to try things on to see if they fit. 

“The two different channels, the online store and the offline store can support each other,” he adds. 

Decathlon is a unique shopping experience — and so much more 

Jaylone Lee, chief marketing officer for Decathlon Canada, says Decathlon is designed to stand out from its competitors. Even the Calgary location has its own unique twists.  

“There’s a number of things that are unique about Decathlon versus what you would find at other retailers,” she says, adding the large offering of products is a strength of the retailer. 

There are over 7,000 products in over 65 sports available in the store. 

“People should expect to find a wide variety of choices when they come into the store.”

Products for fishing, horseback riding, outdoor camping, hiking, running,  traditional team sports including hockey, and more can be found at the store.

“We’d like to pride ourselves on the fact that we have things like archery or ballet for example,” she says, adding there are also areas to test the products, including a gymnasium with a basketball court. 

“When you come into any Decathlon store in Canada, you can expect to be able to touch the goods and equipment. To try them. It’s not unusual to see kids riding on a bike through the store; really everything is meant for people to experience them.”

Wait, what about those robots? 

One of the unique calling cards for Calgary’s Decathlon is the automated warehouse with 27 robots picking the product in a mechanized method.

It’s designed to serve two purposes. 

“It will be the second distribution centre for our e-commerce orders. So it was a way for us to shorten lead times for our orders coming from Western Canada as we now will have this automated warehouse,” Lee says. 

“The second thing is it allows us to up the ante in terms of the showrooming that we can provide in the front of the store. So instead of having as much inventory take up the showroom space… we can have samples there.” 

Customers can use a QR code to request the size and colour of the item they want and it will arrive in just a matter of minutes. This allows the store to reduce the amount of inventory they have out on the sales floor by a third.

When asked about the fading allure of the brick-and-mortar model, Lee says for them, the store is more of a destination than a shop. 

“That’s the mainstay of the Decathlon experience; it really is an experience. And that’s why in our mission statement, the words ‘pleasures and benefits’ — the pleasure component is really important for us.”

Decathlon is now open, located on the second floor of Southcentre Mall. The Calgary location is the company’s 10th in Canada. Its first store in Canada opened in Brossard, Que., in 2018.

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Krista Sylvester

Managing Editor at Calgary Citizen

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