The opening of a discount sports flagship that doesn’t feel like one is a challenge to the rest of the market that can’t be ignored.

The opening of a discount sports flagship that doesn’t feel like one is a challenge to the rest of the market that can’t be ignored.

The rise and rise of the discount retailer is something that needs little recounting. From food to fashion by way of sport, this is a part of the market that seems to chime with UK shoppers and whenever results time comes along, retailers ploughing this particular furrow seem to be doing well.

Little surprise therefore to see that discount sports retailer Sports Direct welcomed shoppers to its new, massive, flagship on Oxford Street on Thursday afternoon for the first time. This was an HMV store, but given that that retailer is a prime example of the radical downsizing of a ‘legacy’ chain with the consequent abandonment of such a large site, it should come as little surprise that in its place has come a discounter.

What is interesting is the incomer’s behaviour. Visit a Sports Direct in almost any location and the major story, from a customer’s perspective, is stock density. These are stores where you have to fight your way from front to back, so crammed is the merchandising. This in turn means that it’s frequently pretty hard to find your way around, as much of the stock looks similar. It is, in short, not the most uplifting experience, even if the, and they are, individual items are cheap.

This is not the experience at the new store. From the moment the shopper stands poised at the entrance, where a bevy of sporty-looking mannequins are posed doing their sporty thing, this is about having room to move. It is also about individual branded areas with shopfits to match that have, presumably, been provided by names such as Puma, Adidas and Nike. For all the world, the ground floor looks like a mildly reach-me-down version of Niketown just along the street, albeit this is not a single brand proposition.

Sports Direct has just become a meaningful challenge to the big branded operators along Oxford Street and they should be worried. It is still cheap, but on the ground floor at least it doesn’t feel this way. This does of course pose a challenge for Sports Direct as well. How can it replicate the feel of what has been done here in its overcrowded branches elsewhere?

Difficult, but nevertheless, if you were a betting man, you’d probably put good money on its chances of being able to do so. Primark has managed this, coincidentally, taking the message of its Marble Arch store far and wide.