Decathlon’s Data Lab in Singapore is the latest facet of the brand’s pursuit of innovation and part of its efforts to develop new digital services and incubate data projects, in collaboration with partners such as Sport Singapore, research agencies, and schools. We chat with Stephan Veyret, managing director of Decathlon Singapore to find out what’s next for the business. Inside Retail: Why has Decathlon launched the Lab, what’s involved and why has it been described as being people
ple-first? Stephan Veyret: Starting out as an e-commerce sports retailer in Singapore, Decathlon Singapore became one of the pioneers in the omnichannel approach with the establishment of our first experience store at Bedok in 2016. Since then, Decathlon Singapore has established itself as instrumental to the research and development of a number of retail innovations including the RFID inventory robot which has been deployed to more than 120 stores worldwide, 100 per cent self-checkout kiosks with cashless payments, and the RFID-based conveyor system that enables our two-hour island-wide e-commerce fulfilment activities. The concept of Data Lab came about as the brand saw the need for the extension of all our efforts in research and development of innovative solution capabilities to enhance retail processes that benefit the consumer experience across Decathlon stores globally. In our pursuit to make sports and healthier lifestyles more accessible and convenient for Singaporeans and beyond, the Data Lab is a 700 square metres purpose-built innovation nexus that will consolidate the brand’s efforts in the development of new digital services for Decathlon International, as well as incubate data projects in collaboration with partners such as Sport Singapore, various research agencies, and schools. With the dedicated space to bring together the best of the technological scene in the sporting arena, we hope that Decathlon’s Data Lab will be able to attract talents across the technological field to grow and develop together. As a people-first innovation nexus, Decathlon Lab will continue fulfilling Decathlon’s mission to conceive sports products and services to make a healthier and more active lifestyle more accessible and sustainable to the many. IR: Why are these kinds of initiatives important for your business’ employees and teams? SV: With the dedicated space of the Data Lab, this will give Decathlon’s teammates more opportunities to collaborate with other agencies, businesses and students as they explore digital strategies and experiment with innovative technologies that will anchor us as the experiential sporting destinations for an active community. The purpose-built Decathlon Data Lab offers our Decathlon teammates and partners a conducive environment to suit various working styles, and encourages spontaneous collaborations between teammates and partners alike. We hope to spark ideas from the Data Lab conceived to facilitate the co-design, the co-creation and co-development of the data and digital solutions of tomorrow. The automation of laborious and manual tasks such as inventory management through the development of new technologies in the Data Lab allows our Decathlon teammates to do what they find most meaningful – fostering relationships with customers. This is an example of how innovative technologies developed by Decathlon improves our working environment and the productivity of our team. With the Data Lab and its capabilities of bringing together the best talents the sporting industry can offer, this provides an opportunity for our Decathlon employees and teams to open up, share our expertise with others and mutually learn from each other, no matter whether they are government agencies, startups, companies or even young talents who are hungry for real-world experience. Together, we can nurture this ecosystem and pave the way for more technological breakthroughs – focused on the invention and improvement of the omni retail space of the future. IR: How does the synergy between Decathlon Data Lab and the Decathlon Singapore Lab Store work? SV: With people at its core, Decathlon Data Lab forges ahead to provide a collaborative working environment that will house Decathlon’s teams such as data experts, software developers and designers, network and security team, innovation teams as well as industry partners and students. Projects and ideas initiated at Decathlon Data Lab will be tested in the adjacent Decathlon Singapore Lab store, and subsequently introduced to other Decathlon stores in Singapore and beyond. Thanks to this dedicated facility and its close proximity to the flagship store, the Data Lab seeks to attract and bring about synergy among talents in the technology sector – welcoming partners and young talents to set up base and work together in the drive for innovation within the sporting and retail sectors. IR: Will the Labs roll out elsewhere across Decathlon’s markets? SV: There will definitely be that possibility and especially in Europe we have similar facilities. However, it is important to note that the opening of the Decathlon Data Lab in Singapore is possible due to the presence of a variety of factors that have been instrumental in moving the needle and making our efforts count on a wider scale. Firstly, we have rapidly grown and developed a strong omni presence in Singapore with 15 points of sales, an ecommerce website and lastly a sports marketplace, supported by a regional warehouse in Johor Bahru. Secondly, Singapore is fast becoming known as a premier hotspot for business and technological innovation in Asia. Singapore offers a burgeoning talent pool, and a flourishing tech ecosystem boosted by strong support from the government and partner agencies such as Sport Singapore and schools. Lastly, the Data Lab is located strategically within the Kallang Alive district. Sitting at the intersection of a growing number of sporting and community facilities that is part of an effort to strengthen the district’s standing as an inclusive sports precinct, outlined in the Kallang Alive Masterplan. IR: Can you give us an overview of the retail innovations that your company has launched? SV: Decathlon Singapore took a digital-first approach from the get go as an ecommerce platform when we first launched in 2013. We became one of the pioneers in the omnichannel approach with the establishment of our first experience store at Bedok in 2016. We were able to manage the new circumstances that Covid-19 brought about owing to a number of innovations already deployed such as our fully RFID tagged stores as well as 100 per cent self-checkout kiosks with cashless payments, and the RFID-based conveyor system that enables our two-hour island-wide e-commerce fulfilment activities. With the integration of the 100 per cent RFID tagged products, Decathlon’s ‘friend’ PAL, from PAL Robotics can roam around the store, ensuring stock accuracy and automating the inventory process on a 24/7 basis. In Decathlon’s case, robots are ‘taking one for the team’ and adopting the laborious and manual part of the job scope leaving their fellow team members to do meaningful work; showcasing that they are not regular ‘sales assistants’, but sports enthusiasts ready to assist and educate fellow sports enthusiasts looking to hone their skills and fitness and at the same time developing rapport with them. Prior to the investment, 40-50 team members would be required to count stock during store opening hours whereas PAL is able to complete the entire store within five hours, increasing productivity from nine articles per hour to 12/13 articles per hour. Using a combination of RFID tags and cashless payments, customers at our Decathlon stores are able to checkout their products without needing to scan the products’ barcodes. The RFID tags placed on the products allow them to be automatically detected when placed at the checkout kiosks. This provides a layer of ease and convenience for customers in constructing a seamless shopping experience. To accelerate the delivery process for online customers, the RFID conveyor system similarly makes use of the RFID tagged products. The internal conveyor belt collects products as soon as they are ordered online and increases the efficiency in which they can be packed and picked up in store within two hours. The introduction of the Decathlon App in 2020 played a major role in building the brand’s resilient omnichannel strategy – garnering a double-digit growth in the Singapore market with their turnover by app increasing by 14 per cent from the previous year. The app allows customers to continue to shop with Decathlon digitally and further improves the customer’s purchasing journey in-store by tailoring to the customer’s shopping needs in allowing them to scan QR codes on price labels in stores to find out more information online, along with skipping queues at the kiosk and even ordering items that are unavailable in-store. IR: Can you tell us what is involved in the partnership with Conexus Studio? What are some of the offerings that we can look forward to? SV: Decathlon worked hand-in-hand with workplace design firm Conexus Studio to conceptualise, design, and build the Decathlon Data Lab in 3 months. Conexus Studio has helped to materialise Decathlon’s vision of a dedicated place to incarnate our ambitions on data and digital innovation. The highlights of the Data Lab that you can look forward to include the colourful graffiti design adorning the entrance and walls of the Data Lab, encapsulating Decathlon’s energetic spirit that challenges norms while establishing new frontiers in sports, technology, and business. In addition, the creation of an incubator area in the Data Lab will serve as a touchpoint to welcome technology partners to collaborate and run on-ground trials at Singapore Lab. Moreover, it presents the opportunity to team up with young technology students hungry to gain real world experience. IR: The collaboration between SportSG and Decathlon is interesting. Give us a rundown of what has been accomplished so far. SV: The partnership has strategically aligned both Decathlon and SportSG for the long-term by setting a robust foundation and clear direction as to how we want to further the growth of the region’s sport scene. The partnership will leverage the respective expertise of Decathlon and SportSG to achieve a common goal of increasing the accessibility of sport and physical activity to the community. Together, Decathlon and SportSG are working to share and decipher anonymised data of the type of sporting products that Singaporeans are consuming and share them with SportSG. This complements the information that ActiveSG also has to compare and gain new insights to generate value such as inform the type of facilities and programmes to cater to Singaporean’s sporting interests, as well as to guide Singaporeans to practice sports correctly and safely. This relationship will represent a move towards fulfilling joint aspirations in extending the value of sport and inspiring people to increase their participation in sport and physical activity across different life stages. The goal is to encourage individuals to achieve the recommended amount of physical activity in the Singapore Physical Activity Guidelines for better health and wellbeing. IR: What is being planned for 2022? Are there more technological advancements that the team is exploring? SV: Today we are one of the ‘top of mind’ companies for sports articles in Singapore. We aim to become the most loved sports brand in our pursuit to make sports and healthier lifestyles more accessible and convenient for Singaporeans and beyond especially in the context of Sustainability, the planet is our playground. Technological advancements will help facilitate the process from the design of our products that we aim to be 100 per cent eco-conceived by 2026 (30 per cent more than today). One of the first advancements we implemented to get there was through the introduction of the recent second life program that will see us taking back the products and returns, refurbishing them and making them available again in our stores and online. We will not only sell but also rent products, lease products, facilitate sharing among customers, repair them when needed, and recycle them to reuse the spare parts when their lifespan is over. IR: Finally, could you share with us unique insights that Decathlon have garnered over the years in the Singaporean marketplace? SV: We have rapidly grown and developed a strong omni presence with 15 points of sales, an ecommerce website and lastly a sports marketplace, supported by a regional warehouse in Johor Bahru. By continuing to invest in and collaborate with dynamic and innovative government agencies, and to engage the local ecosystem of companies. In the long run, we aim to play a local, then regional, then an international role for the Decathlon United Group to make sustainable sports accessible to the many Singaporeans. In addition, we want to enhance our presence in the Singaporean Marketplace with the introduction of our own Decathlon marketplace. It will allow us to further enhance our customers’ experience, whilst working on several projects that aim to transform Decathlon Marketplace into a more cohesive and integrated platform. For example, bringing products from partner brands to our Decathlon stores, achieving a great delivery experience and offering click-and-collect service for partner brands just to name a few.