As the second week of the Wimbledon tournament begins, rather than focussing on the tennis, we’re actually very interested in the retail side of things. This year the new-look retail store attached to Centre Court has been opened and aside from a refurbishment, it is also boasting a switch in stock and is no longer relying on third-party merchandisers and brands to design and make the official Wimbledon apparel.
As Wimbledon acts more like a fashion player than a sporting institution, David Hewitt, Wimbledon’s Head of Retail sees his approach as pioneering in terms of retail at sporting events, but envisions a time when it could become more mainstream. In an interview with The Retail Gazette he said, “I see a world one day where something as big and institutional as Manchester United Football Club will say ‘we’ll do our own stuff now, we’ll design it and we’ll own the factory’.”
This is a very brave move for the Tennis club but could actually change the retail industry significantly. While the high street struggles, brands and stores need to offer something different which is exactly what Wimbledon is doing. Designing and making their products means that their offering is more exclusive and more authentic, they cannot just order in more merchandise once it is sold out.
While it may be the oldest tennis tournament in the world, steeped in traditions and rules, this year Wimbledon is also using tech to address many of the issues facing the retail sector, such as customer engagement and personalisation, something that other retailers need to consider to give their shoppers more of an experience.
There are now additional digital screens on the premises and the Centre Court shop entrance features two large LED screens displaying content about Wimbledon’s history and grounds as well as a 6×4-metre screen at the back for Ralph Lauren to run content on how it crafts the umpires’ outfits – one of the few Wimbledon fashion items not manufactured in-house.
This year there are also customer-facing screens on the tills, which will aim to attract the eyes of visitors with messages about the personalised My Wimbledon community and other services.
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) has also partnered with IBM and is introducing Wimbledon Messenger, powered by the Watson Assistant chatbot and delivered within Facebook Messenger, to put more content on social platforms so fans can share it more easily. It builds on last year’s launch of Fred, Wimbledon’s in-app AI assistant, which provides a personalised on-site experience for visitors.
AI is also being used to create automated video highlights from the major courts, as well as a new editorial dashboard for the AELTC’s digital team, helping them to find the best content to share on digital channels.
In many ways, Wimbledon is a lesson for all businesses in how to maintain a brand’s integrity and also take advantage of the opportunities that come with the digital revolution.
We believe the same principles used by Wimbledon can be applied to any business, large or small, to build a successful brand. We are working with shopping centres across the country who are realising the pressures that they are up against to compete with the digital world and offer more experience when it comes to shopping. Our current work with Kingfisher Shopping Centre in the Midlands is seeing us roll out a series of engaging events as part of ongoing plans to invest in broader leisure and recreation facilities for customers. Earlier this year we saw the centre come to life with an educational exploration of local British Wildlife via an indoor Nature Trail and last month we launched the first ever escape experience for Redditch in the centre.
Retail brands that will thrive in the modern marketplace, much like Wimbledon, are authentic and most definitely have a well-planned roadmap to the future. Businesses need to be prepared to react, think carefully and plan for the future.