Decathlon, one of the largest companies in the sporting goods retail sector, is present in 57 countries and has 1,647 stores worldwide. Warehouses – both e-commerce for direct-to-consumer delivery and to supply stores – are vital to your business. The warehouses that supply the stores must be very efficient because they do not have stock but instead receive supplies on a daily basis and 100% go to the shelves.

Work in times of Covid-19

An interesting element of the collaboration between Geek + and Decathlon is how they have implemented the automation solution during the coronavirus crisis. There is no doubt that the crisis has hit Decathlon a lot: at the height of the virus in China all its stores were closed. However, the company has been able to keep many of its warehouses operational. In fact, in these difficult times Decathlon has taken a step forward with the support of Geek + and its G2P solution, thanks to which it has been able to automate its Shanghai warehouse in the midst of a crisis and in just two weeks.

Why did Decathlon need robots?

Decathlon’s growth in recent years has been very rapid. To continue to grow and compete globally in a sector as demanding as retail and e-commerce, Decathlon needs to ensure that its warehouses are supported by an automation solution that provides advantages in terms of cost, reliability, efficiency, flexibility and – something fundamental – scalability.

Decathlon began its cooperation with Geek + in China, where the competitive job market makes recruiting and retaining staff difficult for many companies. This led Decathlon to search for a revolutionary new automation solution.

The main criteria for this search were scalability: Decathlon needed a partner and automation solution that could address the underlying rapid growth of its business, and was also capable of handling the unpredictable demand cycles faced by the industry. The ideal situation would be to select the right partner in China, optimize the solution in various centers and take it on a global scale.

“Online has continued to grow strongly (+18.2%) and we keep investing heavily in ecommerce and warehousing to help fulfill growing online demand” said the Alberto Bottan, chief financial officer and property director at Decathlon UK.

“There are three elements to highlight looking forward: first of all we are very proud to have fully preserved employment during this terrible period; secondly we observe a strong acceleration in terms of urban mobility and fitness categories, where we can offer some amazing products to our customers; finally we are increasing our Omni-channel capacities through innovative solutions like delivery from store or very fast, local deliveries.”

Scalability for the future

At a corporate planning event in late 2019, Decathlon’s strategy teams thoroughly discussed the increasing difficulties of forecasting demand in the future. Thellier notes: “Looking back and thinking about those encounters, and in light of the coronavirus, the arguments about future uncertainty are even more pertinent than at the time. I think companies have a growing need for scalable systems that allow them to manage the ups and downs of their business”.