Ecommerce is growing everywhere – now making up over 10% of global retail sales and nearly 20% in the UK. Due to its niche, specialist nature, the cricket market is particularly online focused, with several cricket retailers not having any kind of physical retail outlet, including some of the largest in the UK. Although we at It’s Just Cricket are different in that we do have a physical store, in our seven years of trading, over 60% of our turnover has been online. But despite this, when it comes to cricket bats, it’s generally a very different story. Rather than shopping online, customers regularly travel the length and breadth of the country – and sometimes journey in from mainland Europe – to buy a bat from our store, largely because of the experience involved in doing so. We received an email recently from a customer, containing a quote that I think beautifully describes the in-store experience (of buying a cricket bat) and how important it is to shoppers:
“Buying a bat is a physical, visceral experience – picking up the willow, feeling the weight in your hand and the balance. Seeing, first hand, the quality of the wood, the number, pattern and quality of the grains, even the smell of the wood. Holding and appreciating the quality of the bat is akin to handling a rare manuscript – the exquisite craftsmanship, dedication and attention to detail of its realisation. For me the research and eventually choosing is as almost as enjoyable as the final purchase and ownership of such a fine piece of equipment.”
This quote reminds me of “the thrill of the chase” concept, much like buying a car or an expensive watch, which in many ways is more exciting than the eventual purchase – and subsequent use – of the product itself. I have noticed that many customers see the purchasing of a cricket bat as a very social occasion too, especially for returning customers that already know us by name. Half the time they spend in store is filled by catching up and discussing each other’s respective cricket seasons. Numerous cricket anecdotes are traded back and forth. I guess it helps that we offer customers free tea, coffee, and even beer! Some customers even insist on taking a photo with me after they’ve bought the bat! So, I think you could describe it as a form of entertainment, like going to the theatre or cinema – or perhaps something more immersive, like a night club or a theme park – all of which you have to pay to experience, whereas with the purchase of a cricket bat, you only pay for the bat itself, not the experience of buying it. Cricket shops like ours won’t charge you an entry fee, so why not make the most of that!
However, Ecommerce is certainly evolving, and the online shopping experience is becoming closer to the in-store one. For example, as you can see in the image above, we have added numerous search filters on our website, which effectively allow you to customise your bat selection down to the handle shape and edge thickness – something that would have been previously non-existent on a website. We also embed videos on most product pages, enabling the customer to see the actual bats for sale from all angles – even how they sound off the mallet. We even go one stage further and offer bespoke videos for customers who are particularly nervous about buying online. This allows them to see a five-minute video of whatever they want to order before actually committing to the purchase. These videos are made especially for the customer and again take them closer to the in-store experience, but it’s obviously not quite the same (they can’t smell or touch the willow, for example) and most customers still prefer to come in and see us for their cricket bats, if at all possible. No matter how much our online business develops and evolves, it will never be able to recreate the physical experience of buying a cricket bat in store.
Cricket bats are extremely personal items, and no two customers seem to agree about the feel of each one. Two bats that have an identical profile shape, in the same grade, made by the same manufacturer and the same weight can, amazingly, feel very different from each other in the hands. You can only appreciate this when you come in to our store and pick up each bat. So, it’s not just the buying experience that customers want, it’s the ability to ascertain what piece of willow is right for them. And when you are spending over £300 on the thing – or sometimes over £400 – it’s understandable that you’d want to go to these lengths before deciding on “the one”.
So, despite the growth of Ecommerce, which is showing no signs of slowing down, there is still a place for the traditional retail store in the cricket industry. I’d like to think that this is the same for other industries too, but for some, I am less confident. We certainly have no plans to become one of these online only retailers, and hope to see you enjoying a cricket bat buying experience with us sometime soon!
As a thank you for reading this post, enjoy 5% off any cricket bat at It’s Just Cricket’s London showroom! Simply print out this article and hand it to a member of staff when you visit the store and a 5% cricket bat discount is yours.