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The retail revolution underway at Arsenal Football Club

This weekend, Arsenal – fighting for the Premier League table's top spot – went head-to-head with Manchester United at Old Trafford. The Gunners fans were out in full force to support them in the crunch tie – a pivotal game in their bid to win the Premier League title for the first time in a decade.


The club has a huge fan base and has a combined Facebook and Twitter following of 39 million. Although the Gunners will not be playing at their home stadium, on its busiest weekend Arsenal’s flagship store The Armoury at the Emirates Stadium does more international card transactions than the whole of Marks & Spencers, Gap and Argos.

For many Arsenal fans visiting the home club is a once in a lifetime opportunity. In 2014 The Armoury underwent a revamp to ensure fans got a suitably world-class experience. There is now an extensive personalisation area which allows fans to create bespoke items, as well as a multimedia interactive offering that shows exclusive video footage of the team.

The club has also been investing in e-commerce technology to help make buying goods and services easier. “We have invested significantly in the physical retail, buying and merchandising processes,” Hywel Sloman, CIO at Arsenal FC tells me after coming off stage at the Microsoft Decoded event in London. “We are now in a good place and have started a significant overhaul of our e-commerce platform. The logic being, we should be providing a much better service to our international fans and customers.”

When Sloman first joined the club in 2011, he says there was “no integration between there e-commerce platforms and there core retail systems.” Although fans could buy a shirt, scarf, stadium tour, ticket or have a premium-tier dining experience, none of these transactions were ever joined up.

Sloman says: “We had 27 different systems for customers. Fans would receive up to four different emails a day from the club with different offers and different information.”

The system looked like it needed an upgrade – there was one person whose job was to re-key every single order to the retail system. Says Sloman: “You as a customer would get not what you ordered, but what that person was re-keying on a Friday afternoon, when they frankly wanted to get away from the office.”

The first part of the overhaul involved implementing a new CRM system that reduced the 27 pools of customer data to just one.  He says: “We have been on a three-year journey to transform our processes in technology. We now have a single view of the customer that captures every transaction the fan has had with us since 2006. This has transformed our relationship with fans. We can target communications in the medium they prefer and deliver the message relevant to them. We know who has been on a stadium tour, who has bought a shirt, who has been to the games – when you actually go onto the website we can do some quite clever things.”

The transformation in Arsenal’s technology systems has also helped the team renegotiate their shirt partnership with Emirates. “A big factor for them in re-doing the deal was the fact they could target better communications to Arsenal’s global fan-base, as opposed to before, when the communication tended to be about particular availability,” says Sloman. “If you are a 15-year-old fan in Bangalore, you will no longer get an email from us about tickets – you’ll get fewer communications, but they are appropriately targeted.”

A major element to Arsenal’s technology e-commerce overhaul has been to help engage international fans and grow the club’s commercial revenues through its global fan base. Sloman says: “In North London, everyone who wants to own an Arsenal shirt does so already – our growth in merchandise has to be through international and through e-commerce, which is pretty much impossible without technology. We need to truly tailor to our global fan base by using language, products and payments methods they are familiar with. With our CRM knowledge, we should be able to tailor what we offer online.”

For example, thanks to seasonal differences, the British consumer is buying scarves, hats and coats right now, whereas the Australian consumer is buying T-shirts and flip flops. It is about tailoring to those needs accordingly.

Through improving the customer experience, the new e-commerce platform also allows Arsenal to be more competitive against their peers. Sloman says: “We compete with Sports Direct and JD Sports. They are our competition if you want to buy an Arsenal shirt. Delivering a high-quality experience means people want to come and buy from Arsenal online or in our stores.”

As a result of this revamp the average transaction time has been reduced by 50 per cent at The Armoury store. Sloman says: “It may seem trivial – a 30 second reduction in transaction time – but on a match day the queue instore goes out the door. So that 30 seconds is absolutely essential. It is evolving how we do business and growing as an organisation.”

By improving the consumer experience, the commercial revenue has increased for the club which in turn helps the performance of the club. “It is a simple equation – the more money we make, the more there is to invest in football, in terms of wages, transfer fees, identification and development of young players, sports science and analytics,” he says. “Ultimately this translates into winning more matches, more trophies, which gives us more happy fans.”

Besides football and selling shirts, the club also runs a ticketing business, a hospitality business, a media business, a retail business, a stadium tour business, a concert business and museum, a leisure centre, international tours, meetings and event businesses and community outreach programmes. And implementing a new e-commerce platform has helped the club be more competitive against its peers. And with fans more engaged with the club’s commercial revenues, the performance of the club on the pitch could improve as well.