Hibbett Sports: The Use of E-Commerce and AI Software to Replicate In-Store Experience

How Hibbett Sports Uses E-Commerce and AI Software to Replicate In-Store Experience:

Hibbett Inc. could not have had a first-mover or even second-mover edge when it began selling its athletic gear and footwear online. After all, it was 2017, a year in which the majority of significant shops had a strong online presence.

But true to form, Hibbett launched its online presence with tactics that put customers first, defy some common retail wisdom, and keep a strong emphasis on its brick-and-mortar stores, which have continued to prosper alongside its expanding online business.

Hibbett, a publicly traded firm, earlier this month reported fiscal 2023 sales from its 1,110 shops and online of $1.7 billion. Sales from e-commerce total roughly $300 million per year. The business serves underserved, frequently rural markets.

Hibbett launched its e-commerce effort in the period between 2015 and 2016 after seeing it was losing sales of its upscale footwear and apparel items to online retailers. 

“The primary need was, how do we give our customers the ability to purchase from us online?” states Bill Quinn, senior vice president of marketing and digital for Hibbett, based in Birmingham, Ala. “Part of the research was asking how much our customers are spending online because we’re in these smaller markets. The big finding was, they’re spending a lot.”

Bill Quinn continues: “The type of items we sell aren’t widely distributed, so you can’t get them everywhere. But the people who did carry those items, that’s who our customers were going to. We really needed to provide a solution to make sure that we weren’t losing our customers.”

Customer First

Hibbett takes great pleasure in its client service. It operates modestly sized stores that are about 3,500 square feet in size, with two or three employees who are committed to providing excellent customer service. When new items or sizes are available, those staff members frequently call customers that they know by name. Additionally, to show them where to go in the store so they may find what they’re looking for.

“This is very different than walking into, say, a 50,000-square-foot retail establishment and trying to find someone or trying to find the products you’re looking for,” Quinn says. “The amount of friction we have in our day-to-day shopping environment is not high. That’s what we wanted to bring to life online.”

The business keeps up with that experience and expands it across channels in a number of ways:

  • Making inventory available on the web at the individual store level
  • Managing fulfillment directly from stores rather than on a centralized basis
  • Providing full integration of its loyalty program online
  • Personalizing the online experience through recommendations and other features

Below, each of these four components of its strategy is described in more detail:

Inventory Availability

From the moment the online store went live in the middle of 2017, clients could access inventory at the store level, and their local store handled fulfillment, according to Quinn. Customers may visit their neighborhood store online, search inside, navigate inside, and make purchases inside.

Customers can reserve a product even if they aren’t ready to pay for it, thus those who would rather reserve online and pay in-store can do so. For online clients, “it’s that lack of friction that we wanted to deliver on,” claims Quinn.


Fulfilling online orders from the customer’s neighborhood store is a logical extension of allowing inventory to be viewed at the store level. Quinn notes that local fulfillment was rather uncommon at the time Hibbett established its online store, but added that more businesses have joined in. He claims that the company’s ability to fulfill orders directly from stores has always been a strength and that this has allowed Hibbett to develop related omnichannel services like buy online, pick up in-store (also known as BOPIS), and reserve online, pick up in-store. Additionally, the business now provides home delivery.

“Most of our customers are local, including our online customers who live near our stores. So when the store fulfills, that means we’re very close to our customers and we’re able to deliver a lot quicker as well,” Quinn states.

With an emphasis on filling online orders, the company was able to retain all employees employed even during COVID shutdowns when it was only able to maintain 150 of its 1,100 locations operational. “We were able to service our customers, but we were also able to take care of our employees, which is very important to us,” he claims.

Loyalty Program Integration

Quinn cites location, merchandise, and its reward program as the top three reasons for client acquisition and retention for Hibbett. they have had access to the company’s loyalty program’s full capabilities online from its start in 2017, thereby extending the experience across channels to keep them interested and coming back. That’s crucial in a market where maintaining brand loyalty is getting harder and harder.

“Customers are going to be loyal to you up until they find a better experience, right? And so you want to always be pushing the boundaries on your customer experience and creating something new for the customers that’s really going to solve pain points,” he adds.

Personalized Recommendations

By personalizing the consumer experience, one may push the envelope and address pain spots. As was already said, the relationships between consumers and personnel provide some face-to-face personalization to the in-store experience.

Hibbett uses artificial intelligence, more especially Salesforce Einstein, to suggest products to customers that are appropriate. If a desired item is out of stock, AI functionality will identify alternatives (sizes, colors). The business’ chatbot is likewise powered by AI. We’re pleased with the containment; it provides answers to many of our inquiries, so we don’t need agents to do so, adds Quinn. ” We are big believers in AI.”

Tech Underpinnings

As mentioned above, Hibbett powers a number of customer-facing applications with Salesforce’s Einstein AI engine. That is a portion of Salesforce’s commerce infrastructure, notably Salesforce B2C Commerce, which powers the business.

I questioned Quinn about the main considerations that led to the selection of Salesforce. Upon reviewing the leading vendors of commerce software, he claimed that Hibbett discovered Salesforce to have “by far the greatest solution in terms of the SaaS E-Commerce platform…They still, in my opinion, have a fantastic SaaS service.

Hibbett analyzed Salesforce and the other three to four top-tier SaaS providers based on a number of factors, including product features, the total cost of ownership, and the availability of simple deployment options that would reduce time to market. Another important factor was maintenance ease.

“If you have something that’s highly complex to manage on a day-to-day basis, that will really limit your growth,” Quinn says.

Innovation Focus

In reality, the business wanted to provide its workforce the ability to spend 80% of their time on innovation and growth and 20% on running day-to-day operations. Hibbett has been successful in achieving this goal, as seen by its post-pandemic growth: in its fiscal year 2023, the company’s e-commerce revenue increased 14% year over year. These findings support maintaining an innovation-focused strategy.

That entails experimenting and embracing failure because you’re always gaining knowledge and exploring new ideas. Companies are urged by Quinn to develop and learn while collaborating with top-tier partners. We’re able to concentrate on that expansion “because of how we’re architected — and Salesforce being a big part of that,” he claims. On the things we’re testing, our batting average is far from ideal, but it doesn’t have to be. The victories add up.

Companies, according to Evans, require a focus on growth. Bill Quinn once said, “If you have something that’s highly complex to manage on a daily basis, that will really limit your growth.” According to Evans, this statement holds everlasting truth. That truth is more relevant today because, regardless of the channels you’re operating in, anything less than a flawlessly optimized end-to-end operation will hinder a company’s capacity to create outstanding customer experiences.

Credits: accelerationeconomy

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