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French sports retailer Decathlon looks to startups to retain its pole position

A team of talent scouts from the Decathlon Group chain of sports stores met with a range of Skolkovo startups on Monday with a view to adopting their solutions

Aug 01, 2017
Innovation is a key strategy at Decathlon. The French giant, which designs and produces its own products, as well as selling major sports brands, has research and development centres and laboratories across the world devoted to imagining "the product of the future."

"You represent the future, and the future is really important for us to go where we want to," Fabrice Beschu, CEO of Decathlon Russia and the CIS, told Skolkovo entrepreneurs at the start of a day of pitch sessions, demonstrations and meetings at the Skolkovo Technopark on Monday.

As a designer, producer, supplier and retailer of sporting goods, Decathlon is one of the biggest sports companies in the world, said Beschu, outlining the potential for cooperation with Skolkovo startups offering retail tech solutions.

"Some of the time you just see the tip of the iceberg [the company’s stores], but the iceberg is very big," he said. "We have more than 2,000 engineers working on product development alone."

Decathlon, which was founded near Lille, France in 1976 and now operates retail stores in 30 countries, including nearly 50 in Russia, is currently working on giving its users, as it prefers to call customers, a "new store experience," said Beschu.

"We expect to open between 10 and 15 new stores per year out of the new concept, and what’s interesting for us is that every year now we will have a new laboratory, which means that we begin from scratch. We try to be open to a lot of new experiences," he said, encouraging the 21 Skolkovo startups present to test their products in the laboratory that Decathlon plans to open next spring for its planned store in the Moscow region city of Odintsovo, just a few kilometres from Skolkovo.

One of the focus areas of Decathlon’s "new store experience" is automation, and the first Skolkovo startup presented to the Decathlon team on Monday was right on trend: Inspector Cloud is an automated stocktaking system that uses computer vision to detect when shelves are depleted of stock.

The other Skolkovo resident startups pitching their products to Decathlon on Monday included:

Promobot, a friendly talking robot that can be used as a sales consultant to provide shoppers with information in stores

Try Fit, which enables people to try on shoes virtually

Tardis, the maker of a 3D body scanner that helps shoppers find the right size for them

7 seconds, a system that devises repayment schemes for individual customers in just seven seconds

RoboCV, which makes autopilot systems for the transportation of pallets around warehouses

VisionLabs, whose face recognition technology can be used in stores to determine a person’s age and gender, recognise individual loyal customers, and make tailored offers to shoppers

Navitek, an analytics system that can monitor numbers of shoppers and how long they spend looking at individual displays

CardsMobile, the maker of Koshelek – an app that allows users to store all their discount, bank and transport cards in their smartphone.

Decathlon Group had a turnover of 10 billion euros last year, according to the company’s website. It is not the only major French company looking to Skolkovo for innovative solutions for its business: other interested companies that have visited the innovation city in recent months include the pharmaceutical company Servier, the tyre-maker Michelin and the hypermarket chain Auchan.