How Decathlon Dominates: Strategies for Conquering the Indian Sports Retail Scene

How Decathlon Dominates: Strategies for Conquering the Indian Sports Retail Scene
How Decathlon Dominates: Strategies for Conquering the Indian Sports Retail Scene

Thinking about buying a sports cycle or a pair of comfortable shoes for your next trek, or a handy bag for your wildlife watching, France-based Decathlon has solutions for every sports enthusiast in India. Decathlon is a multinational sporting goods retailer with having presence in over 70 countries of the world.

Founded in 1976 by Michel Leclercq, with a commitment to ‘sport for all, all for sport’, the company has grown to become one of the world’s largest sporting goods retailers.  

In the past few years, India's retail industry has witnessed a noteworthy shift, with the entry of many local and global brands targeting to meet the growing demands of the Indian consumer market. Within this perspective, there has been significant growth in the sports retail sector also, with Decathlon emerging as a leader.

Decathlon has created a mark, by providing quality and affordable gear for various sports and fitness activities. Over the last decade, the company has made a major shift in taking India’s sporting culture away from cricket. 

No other segment of Indian retail has seen a sharp shift from unorganized to organized. In the days before Decathlon, if you wanted non-marking shoes to play badminton, your choice was limited to that old uncle’s shop in the neighborhood, often tiny and dingy, with gear whose layers of dust betrayed their age.

“For those with the dough, expensive brands such as Nike, Reebok, and Adidas were the main choices for shoes and apparel, with the corner shops selling sporting goods. Decathlon brought these disparate markets together. So, how exactly did the French retailer crack India?,” said a report, ‘The Decathlon effect: How a French retailer is moving India beyond cricket’, by the Economic Times.

Decathlon’s Domination in Indian Sports Retail Segment
Organized Retail Sector

Unorganised Retail Sector

Decathlon’s Domination in Indian Sports Retail Segment

Today, the company has 100 plus stores and 110 factories in more than 19 Indian states. It has a no-cost EMI available, easy returns, and one million-plus happy customers. It covers 85 different categories, and its pricing is about 30-40% lower than its rivals–Adidas, Nike, and Asics in India.

Decathlon India sales jumped 37% to almost Rs 4,000 crore in FY 2022-23, all thanks to the crazy demand for fitness wear and sports gear. Despite a Rs 18.5 crore loss in the current financial year (2023-24), their growth in India has been consistent.

In an interview with The Economic Times, Decathlon’s global CEO, Barbara Martin Coppola, shared that the firm was looking to accelerate its presence in India. It has started experimenting with a multi-brand approach, partnering with brands like Adidas and Yonex. 

In the Indian sports retail industry, there are two main sectors: organized and unorganized. Dominating the organized sector are multinational corporations like Decathlon, Nike, Adidas, Puma, and Reebok.

Revenue of Decathlon
Revenue of Decathlon

Organized Retail Sector

Let us understand how Decathlon has been dominating the organized Indian sports retail scene by sticking to several key strategies:

Diverse and Affordable Product Range

Decathlon offers a vast and diverse range of sports and fitness products, covering a wide array of activities from mainstream sports to niche interests like skiing, snowboarding, wildlife watching, rock climbing, and fishing. The affordability of its products appeals to a broad spectrum of local consumers, making sports and fitness accessible to a larger population.

In-house Brands and Vertical Integration

Decathlon emphasizes vertical integration, manufacturing a substantial portion of its products in-house. This allows the company to maintain control over the entire supply chain, ensuring quality and cost-effectiveness. Decathlon's private labels and in-house brands contribute to competitive pricing and unique offers.

Extensive Physical Presence

Decathlon has strategically expanded its physical presence across various cities and regions in India. The company operates large-format stores with ample space for customers to explore and experience the products. This extensive retail network enhances brand visibility and accessibility.

In 2009, Decathlon came as a cash-and-carry format and wholesale store in Bangalore. In 2013, the retailer got the green signal for single-brand retail and shifted its business model from wholesale to retail.

In 2019, Decathlon intensified its efforts by introducing 720 new products, expanding its suppliers, and starting the production of most of its items in India. Just recently, they unveiled their 6th store in Chennai, showcasing over 3,700 styles of sports clothing and gear for both genders.

As per media reports, the firm is focused on improving its local production from the current 60% to reach 85% by 2026.

Top Marketing Strategies of Decathlon
Let’s dive into the top marketing strategies that have propelled Decathlon to the zenith of success, capturing the hearts of athletes and fitness enthusiasts around the globe.

In-store Experience

Decathlon stores are designed to provide an interactive shopping experience. Customers can test sports equipment, try out apparel, and receive expert advice from in-store friendly staff. This approach fosters customer engagement, mutual trust, and loyalty.

It implements a multi-channel distribution strategy to ensure its items are accessible. The company operates a large network of physical stores strategically located in urban areas, shopping malls, and sports complexes. Decathlon's store layout is carved to provide consumers with an immersive experience, featuring separate sections for different sports and staff, who are well-informed and ready to help.

Ecommerce and Omnichannel Presence

Decathlon has a robust online presence, complementing its brick-and-mortar stores. The company's eCommerce platform allows customers to purchase products online, catering to the evolving preferences of modern consumers, who prefer online shopping. It is also exclusively selling products of brands including Adidas, Tifosi, Leatherman, Rab, and BLUB online on its website.

Community Engagement and Events

Decathlon organizes events, sports activities, and workshops to engage with customers beyond traditional retail transactions. This strategy not only promotes a healthy and active lifestyle but also builds a sense of community around the brand.

Decathlon's promotes the joy of sports, inspiring an active lifestyle. It engages people with its rich content like articles, videos, and customer-related stories, which inspire and captivate their audience. Through active participation in sporting events, sponsorships, marathons, and collaborations with sports clubs, Decathlon reinforces its brand presence.

Localized Offerings

Decathlon recognizes the varied sporting preferences across different regions of India. The company customizes its products to cater to local preferences and requirements, ensuring that its range aligns with the specific needs of customers in various parts of the country.


Focus on Sustainability

Decathlon has shown a commitment to sustainability by introducing eco-friendly items and promoting responsible practices. This resonates with a growing segment of environmentally conscious customers. The company has minimized packaging waste and, the use of plastic, and executed recycling initiatives. Through marketing campaigns with environmental organizations, Decathlon communicates its efforts, drawing in environmentally conscious consumers and reaffirming its dedication to a brighter future.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Decathlon works with a mission to provide sports to all. It is working with 55 plus Indian government schools, with over 350 volunteers coaching more than 2,800 students.  

Globally, it has the DECATHLON Foundation, supporting more than 500 projects in 50 nations since 2005. More than 4 lakh children, women, and men in vulnerable situations have benefited from DECATHLON Foundation projects, as per its website.

It's worth noting that the success of Decathlon in the Indian sports retail market is a result of a mix of these strategies, adaptability to local market dynamics, and a commitment to providing value to customers at an affordable range in an organized fashion. 

However, there is still a huge gap in the sports retail segment between remote and urban India.

This gap is a lucrative opportunity for more players and startups to pitch in and tap the retail sports segment.

“Why don't we have a homegrown stylish clothes brand for adventure seekers in India? Why am I paying Decathlon for sub-quality products? As a rule of thumb what was out of fashion in the Western world a few years back is sent to India. Like we are some third-world citizens who deserve rejected products. Why can't we build our own North Face? We have excellent textile and fashion designers, manufacturing capabilities, eCommerce and logistics distribution, and a growing adventure market that already spends a lot of money on gear each year," said Akhil Dua, founder of Trek Library. Dua is a hotelier by profession and mountaineer by passion. 

Unorganised Retail Sector

When it comes to manufacturing of sports equipment, India is among the top producers across Asia with Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal being the top producing states.

Among these, Jalandhar in Punjab, and Meerut in Uttar Pradesh account for 75-80% of the total production in India. Almost 60% of Indian sporting goods are exported and around 5 lakh people are employed in the sports goods manufacturing sector in India. 

Commodity-Wise Share in India’s Total Sports Goods Export (2021-22)
Commodity-Wise Share in India’s Total Sports Goods Export (2021-22)

The Indian sports goods market is estimated to grow to US$ 6.6 billion (about Rs 49,000 crore) by 2027 from US$ 3.9 billion (about Rs 32,000 crore)  in 2020-21. However, the unorganized segment of the sports retail industry is still a major player in the Indian retail market.

The industry is still confronted with various roadblocks, including limited brand awareness, restricted capital access, and competition from established players in the market.


Who is the CEO of Decathlon?

Decathlon’s global CEO is Barbara Martin Coppola.

What is the pricing strategy of Decathlon?

Decathlon's products are strategically priced lower than those of competitors, making the allure of sports within reach for a wider demographic.

How Decathlon is sustainable?

Decathlon has shown a commitment to sustainability by introducing eco-friendly items and promoting responsible practices. The company has minimized packaging waste and, the use of plastic, and executed recycling initiatives.

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