SINGAPORE: Decathlon, the sports goods retailer, is benefiting from its digital-first expansion into Southeast Asia, gathering customer data that has enabled it to refine its approach across all areas of its business.

Clarence Chew, head of marketing for Decathlon SEA, told Campaign Asia-Pacific how this strategy had resulted in some unexpected findings when the French retailer launched in Singapore, leading to an adjustment of inventory.

"At first we forecast that our hiking brand would be number one, as it is in so many markets around the world," he said. "But it's not, mainly because there's nowhere to hike in Singapore, so many hiking enthusiasts travel out of the country."

It turns out that what Singapore consumers want most are scooters – these have been the top-selling product for the past two years.

That also reflects Decathlon's positioning, as its customers are not hardcore sports enthusiasts.

"We're about the everyday person, the student, the construction worker, the domestic worker, the office administrator," explained Chew. "We want to make it affordable for them to enjoy and practise sports."

And acquiring those customers through quality and price is the preferred strategy, for the next year at least, he added.

The digital-only approach has been complemented by a focus on digital marketing, but it has avoided what Chew described as "in-your-face" campaigns.

"Consumers have the power to choose," he said, "so we aim to create something that allows them to choose us instead."

Rather than simply exhort them to buy a scooter, for example, Decathlon approaches the subject obliquely, asking "How are you getting to work today?" or "What if your 15-minute walk could be cut?"

The physical world has not been ignored in its marketing efforts, as Decathlon has also partnered with various organisations, such as the Singapore Sports Council and the Singapore Health Promotion Board, for on-the-ground events.

It also offers an experiential space where customers can try out products before buying them online, and a new flagship store is set to open later this year, its location informed by data gathered from online shoppers.

Data sourced from Campaign Asia Pacific; additional content by Warc staff