by Nadia Cameron

How a modularised system approach is shaking up the culture and customer story at Decathlon

Nov 20, 2019
Cloud Computing

Dreamforce decathlon
Credit: Salesforce/Decathlon

A desire to digitally enable Decathlon’s US sporting stores to promote frictionless customer experiences has seen its IT team not only adopt a modularised systems approach, but bring product management skills in to work alongside traditional engineering capabilities.

Speaking to media during an onsite store visit as part of this week’s Dreamforce conference, Decathlon’s CIO and CTO, Tony Leon, said from the outset of its plans to enter the US market, the retailer was looking to do things differently. Like many retailers looking to evolve their business models, it was imperative Decathlon find ways to ensure its retail approach in the US was omnichannel, robust and sustainable, he said.

In addition, having increasingly invested in its own product lines, the sporting retailer had a different business model to when it first built its presence in international markets. As a result, it had become a brand looking to be closer to the customer, Leon said.

The challenge was Decathlon had an array of systems supporting its global store network of more than 1600 sporting goods stores in 52 countries. It also needed to ensure, as the business opened its first US store in 2016, it launched a connected website and ecommerce capability.

“It was important to show that we are doing things differently,” Leon said. “It’s about delivering to what customers want, where and when they want it.”

To get there, Decathlon has modularised its systems, utilising MuleSoft’s Anypoint integration platform to create API-based integrations. These reusable APIs are allowing the retailer to connect an array of systems, from point-of-sale to inventory management, order management and customer management.

“We would not create what we wanted to with big systems, but to have modular systems,” Leon explained. “We needed systems to talk to each other, and for everything we did to be connected. We could have created custom integrations for connections, but it’s a lot of work to maintain. MuleSoft provided the critical layer of APIs to connect our systems, from ecommerce to Microsoft and our corporate website.

“It means we just modify one side of the connection, then can reuse APIs to drive new experiences.”

For example, Decathlon has integrated its cloud-based order management system with mobile point-of-sale (POS) and cashless payment to eliminate customers having to go through traditional check-out aisles. In the mobile checkout system, associates can also pull real-time inventory data and order non-stocked items for shipping or click-and-collect. To enable mobile checkout, IT created APIs for catalogue, shipping and product information and created the ability to also complete an ecommerce order.

One of the challenges was adopting a new platform, and Leon said teams needed to lean in. Decathlon’s IT team had just four months to launch, and devised 11 use cases for reusable APIs crossing over sales, finance and customer systems in place. These make legacy systems data easier to access and harness.

Another notable change has been to the IT team itself. Previously, only IT people were working on IT projects; now Leon has product managers on his team.

“Because it’s not just about IT systems, we are building products and features of products. So we have people focused on building product and what’s needed, not just engineering,” he said.

The total cost of the project was about US$300,000, including platform acquisition, learning and support. Leon estimated returns are already on track to be four-fold.

In terms of improving customer experiences, Leon noted the example of allowing customers to test out its products for one week. If that customer keeps the goods, Decathlon has automated the transaction.

“We have built an app for that, using APIs. That changes the way people buy from us,” Leon said.

Being able to deliver new experiences much faster and in a more agile way opens up new sources of revenue, Leon continued. A future case he pointed to was subscription-based experiences, which he believed would be possible off the back of Decathlon’s more flexible system approach. Leon said it’s also investigating giving customers point-of-sale control, using their mobile phone while in-store.

New projects continue to add more ‘nodes’ to the application network that enable more reuse by stakeholders across the business to build new experience, improve operational efficiencies and create new products and services.

All this give Decathlon a decided competitive advantage, Leon said.

“Previously, customers had to wait to finalise product purchases or checkout,” he said. “Now, every store associate has a mobile checkout on their phones. So it’s faster by mobile. But importantly, I can ask you questions and capture that information as I go, which helps me tailor that offer.

“That information has just been lost before – associates had that information but it was lost in the middle, and you then just checked out. Now we collect information and know more about you as a customer. This ensures we can be smarter in the way we contact and interact with you.

“In marketing, we can then adapt creative and communications to you. Even as you give us feedback, we know what you purchased and we have the serial number. We want to talk to you directly.”

As Decathlon extends its US footprint, Leon said it’s less about opening physical locations and more about “how to access sporting products and experiences”.

At this stage, it’s only Decathlon’s US stores universally connected via MuleSoft, but Leon said it’s created things in a way to make it easier for other countries to connect in. In Europe, the business can already use some pieces for European websites, he added.

The omnichannel platform play complements piloting several other digital innovations across Decathlon’s three US stores. These include RFID-based basket checkouts that automatically read the 98 per cent of Decathlon’s 100,000 products tagged with RFID, cutting checkout down by an average of half the time. It also has a robot, named ‘Tally’, which performs real-time stock inventory throughout the store using sensors, then alert associates if it finds products out of place.

Nadia Cameron travelled to Dreamforce as a guest of Salesforce.