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Specialized Expanding its Omni-Channel Distribution

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S’HEERENBERG, the Netherlands – Introducing omni-channel distribution without harming your existing retailer network is complicated for multiple reasons. In March 2018 Specialized announced the introduction of omni-channel in Europe starting in the United Kingdom. About one year later, Specialized takes the next step and launches its ‘Integrated Market Place’ in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Specialized Expanding its Omni-Channel Distribution
‘Starting online sales is inevitable’, says Koos de Boer (l.), European Marketing Coordinator at Specialized Europe together with Leon van Leeuwen one of his team members who implement the ‘Integrated Market Place’. – Photo Bike Europe

Specialized launched omni-channel distribution in the US, Australia. China and Japan. In Europe, the company started in UK as, “the e-commerce market in the UK is very strong. For us this made it an inevitable step to start online sales in the UK after we discussed it with our retailers,” said Koos de Boer, European Marketing Coordinator at Specialized Europe in March 2018. Together with Leon van Leeuwen and Werner Oostendorp, De Boer runs a dedicated department responsible for the implementation of the ‘Integrated Market Place’ in Europe.

Each market and country requires a different action plan

No copy-paste

As said Specialized initially launched omni-channel distribution in the US, Australia. China and Japan. Just copy-paste this system on other European markets besides the UK was not possible. So Specialized decided to take a step-by-step approach. “Each market and country requires a different action plan. The Netherlands and Flanders/Belgium was the next market to launch ‘Integrated Market Place’  early February this year,” said Koos de Boer.

“Other  markets in Europe will follow, that’s for sure. We are working on defining the right strategy for each market. The introduction in the Netherlands and Belgium is also an important learning of best practices for us. Our European Shared Service Center also based in the Netherlands which makes communication easier.”

Specialized’s online strategy contains five different channels. These are: Retail, Rider-Direct Equipment, Click & Collect, Drop Shipment and Find Nearby.

Consumer decides

The brick and mortar stores will remain the cornerstone for Specialized. “To sell via a shop only is no longer feasible, online sales will become inevitable. We have to do more to sell our products. That is more complicated for us as a company, but easier for the consumer. In the end it is he or she who decides how and where to buy a new product. More and more people buy online while a large majority turns to internet for information. Showrooming has become webrooming. In the past people came to shops for information and bought online. This is changing rapidly. Today people go online for information and buy at a shop for service and the experience. However, they also want instant satisfaction and not wait for the product. That’s why we have the option ‘find nearby’ on our webshop.”

This ‘find nearby’ option is just one of the five channels Specialized created for its customers. “We will continue to focus us on our existing retail channel. Dealer service and know-how remains invaluable for us. Next to offering more sales opportunities, creating a customer journey and more traffic to the retailers are important goals for us. But if we ignore omni-channel distribution now, it will put us in a bad position towards the future.”

Digitalization of the retailer

For the roll-out of this distribution strategy Specialized uses its S-Connect digital processing system. It provides consumers the opportunity to check real-time product availability at the dealer who share their information with Specialized and order online as well. “A crucial element of the integrated market place is the consistency of the information. For example information on which product is available in which shop requires the dealer’s acceptance of a POS system, directly connected to our database.

In some European countries less than 50 percent of the shops use a POS system which makes it very difficult for us to provide the best possible information to the consumer directly. Previously Specialized went live with S-Connect website in France. Currently we run a test with Click & Collect in the UK with retailers and expect to go live with Click & Collect in the Netherlands & Belgium this spring.”

Rider-Direct and drop shipment

For equipment Specialized developed the Rider-Direct option. The online ordered components and accessories are delivered at the address selected by the customer. “To integrate our retail partners even more extensively in our omni-channel strategy, we also introduce the Drop Shipment option. Customers can order products directly from the Specialized warehouse from the retail’s store. Specialized sends the product directly to the customer. This can help to avoid missing out on a sale in case the particular item is not in stock at the shop. Via Drop Shipment the customer will pay the helmet in shop while Specialized will send the helmet directly to the customer.”

De Boer points out that the integrated market place is not only a big change for the retailers but also for the Specialized organization. “We transform our organization from a B2B to a Hybrid (B2B/B2C) organization on all levels. Consumer behavior will get a more central position in our strategy. In Ireland we are also testing the option for a mobile service in close cooperation with the Specialized store in Dublin. Starting omni-channel distribution is big learning process for us. Fortunately we are global organization and we learn from each other’s ‘best practices,” says Koos de Boer.

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