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Pandemic Stress-Tests Hibbett Sports Omnichannel Game

Going into the pandemic, Hibbett Sports already possessed a fairly fleshed-out omnichannel framework.

Since the day the sporting-goods chain launched its e-commerce channel, its 1,100 Hibbett and City Gear stores had served as distribution points, crucially spreading out volume when online sales spiked in the spring. The footwear and athleisure retailer also already offered curbside pickup and both buy and reserve online/pickup in-store. By the midpoint of last year, when it launched ship-to-store in the summer, senior vice president of digital commerce Bill Quinn said it had “pretty much a full omnichannel offering.”

“When the pandemic came, a lot of it for us was more about leveraging what we already had, how we turn those dials and knobs and pull those levers and really manage the supply chain effectively, as well as manage customer service effectively,” Quinn said at the National Retail Federation’s virtual Big Show event last week.

The biggest thing he said the pandemic did was stress-test Hibbett’s systems. With many stores shut down, e-commerce sales skyrocketed 212.2 percent in the second quarter. Online sales remained elevated into the next quarter, with digital up by 50.7 percent in Q3 compared to the prior-year period.

“You put that much volume through processes, you tend to see where the issues are quickly,” Quinn said. Out of this crucible, he said two areas for improvement began to stick out: fulfillment and customer service.

From the fulfillment standpoint, he said it was a matter of orchestrating where orders flowed and communicating with Hibbett’s store and supply chain teams to remove any issues and barriers. “You’ve got to send the volume to places that have capacity,” Quinn said.  “We had stores that had too many orders, so we had to put in caps. We had stores that were closed, so those stores got more orders to fulfill than stores that were open because they needed to service customers.”

Quinn said the sheer volume of e-commerce orders also drove a surge in customer service calls. “It was all those top contact reasons that everyone knows about today, like, “Where is my order?” or “Hey, my package is lost or damaged or stolen,” he said. “It’s kind of the usual things that you would get customer service calls on, but multiply that times a much larger factor.”

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Though the large volume of calls naturally extended call and wait times, it also provided Hibbett with more information on customer issues. With this data, Quinn said the company began to work through some of these problems.

One of the things he said the sporting goods retailer focused on was improving its self-service options. “Does a customer really have to make a phone call, does a customer really want to make a phone call?” Quinn asked. “A lot of people don’t, they’d just rather take care of it themselves and in some cases it’s actually easier for you to do it yourself than it is for you to call someone and give them the information.”

Consequently, after debating it years ago, Hibbett finally decided to allow customers to cancel their orders themselves. “It’s like, ‘Well, why not?” Quinn asked. On its site, the retailer simply brought all its online self-service features together into a self-service center.

Due to an uptick in stolen and lost packages, Quinn said it started offering free package insurance on every purchase made on its site or apps. This alone “really helped cut down” on customer service contacts, he said.

Quinn also stressed the importance of clear customer communication. For Hibbett, that meant just emailing or texting for any sort of delayed shipment. “That’s helping as well, because one of the most common contact instances is ‘Where is my order?’ and we’re keeping them more informed along the way,” he said. “Simple things like that, we realized ‘Hey, this is really going to make a difference,’ and it did.”

As part of Hibbett’s efforts to improve the customer experience moving forward, Quinn said the retailer plans to continue to invest in omnichannel.

“It’s not about checking the box and saying ‘We’ve got this program, we’ve got that program,’—certainly that’s part of it,” he continued. “But the other part of that is are those programs in the best shape that they can be in, and another part of that is are there programs that we don’t have today that we would need for the future.”