Sport Vision: Transformation Enables an Enhanced Experience

Sport Vision: Transformation Enables an Enhanced Experience

Sport Vision, a leading sports retailer in the Balkans, has embarked on a digital transformation journey, leveraging technologies to enhance CX

For nearly three decades, Sport Vision has been the leading sports retailer in the Balkans. Founded in 1996 in Bijeljina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the company has since expanded across 13 countries, employing over 6,000 people with its headquarters in Belgrade, Serbia.

From its humble beginnings focused on commerce, retail and wholesale in the sports industry, Sport Vision has grown into a retail powerhouse through its commitment to professionalism, reliability and innovation. The company’s success is built on providing the best products and shopping experiences to its customers across the region.

Operating in a highly competitive market, Sport Vision has established itself as a leader by embracing digital transformation to enhance customer experience and streamline operations. The company's commitment to leveraging advanced technologies has positioned it as a forward-thinking organisation, ready to meet the evolving demands of the modern consumer.

Branislav Zobenica, the Group Director for Technology and Transformation at Sport Vision Group, plays a pivotal role in steering the company’s digital strategy. With nearly 20 years of experience in the IT industry, Zobenica's journey has been one of significant achievements and leadership roles. “I'm responsible for the strategy of digital transformation and choosing the right technology, and – besides that – how the company will transform further," he explains.

Zobenica’s career began as a consultant for implementing various IT systems, with experience spanning across different industries, including oil and gas with NIS Gazprom Neft and the power sector with Schneider Electric. “I joined NIS Gazprom Neft, an oil and gas company, where I again worked as a business partner for managing business transformations and technology," he recalls.

A keen triathlete, Zobenica’s journey with Sport Vision Group began well before he officially joined the company five years ago. As the CEO of the IT company M&I Systems, Zobenica had earlier collaborated with Sport Vision as a partner, working on large-scale implementations that marked the start of the group's digital transformation journey.

“I worked with Sport Vision as a partner on some large-scale implementations, which was somehow the beginning of their digital journey as a big corporation," Zobenica explains. Although Sport Vision was already a sizeable company at the time, it was just starting to delve into advanced technologies.

Zobenica’s decisive role in the first stages of the transformation allowed him a front-row seat as Sport Vision took its first steps into the digital realm. “At that point, Sport Vision was already a big company but had just started to go a bit more into advanced technologies.”

Sport Vision: reasons for the transformation

When it came to the reasons for embarking on digital transformation, Zobenica explains that Sport Vision Group realised technology is deeply intertwined with the business itself. "The technology side and the business side are not two islands in a huge ocean not interfering with each other. They're part of the same island – albeit other parts of the island." 

This mindset shift was crucial in understanding that digital transformation goes beyond just adopting new tools – it's about integrating technology into the core business operations.

“Digital transformation is not just about business and technology being intertwined, but also that change is a crucial component that needs to be embraced along with the technology aspect,” comments Zobenica.

“For me, digital transformation has been happening for over 100 years since the first industrial revolution. But the word ‘digital’ is so important now because of the speed things are moving – how fast we must adopt technology and integrate it into the business.”

For Sport Vision Group, a major driver was the ambition to transition from a regional player to a global corporation. "At that point of time, Sport Vision was looking to decide whether it wanted to be a corporation – like today – or maintain its position as a local regional player,” Zobenica notes. Embracing digital transformation was seen as the natural next step to facilitate this growth, enabling the organisation to keep pace with rapidly-evolving customer expectations.

“Our customers today do everything on their mobile phones or tablets. So staying properly connected with them and knowing who they are – while respecting our legal obligations – has been totally transformed by digital technologies.”

Meeting evolving customer expectations

As Zobenica explains, Sport Vision's vision is to provide a superior experience for customers wherever they engage with the group – whether that is brick-and-mortar stores, online or mobile app. “We have to understand customer requirements and preferences across both the physical and digital realms. To serve them well, we must have real-time inventory visibility at all times, which technology enables.”

Delivering a seamless, omnichannel experience required robust real-time inventory management and efficient cross-border logistics capabilities – all of which was enabled by technology integrations. “We also have to manage cross-border inventory efficiently. If a customer in Prague wants to buy something online, we won't just serve them from our inventory in the Czech Republic – we can offer the closest product from Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia or Slovenia, for example, to provide the same localised service experience.

“Technology plays a crucial role in all the backend processes the customer never sees directly. It enables things like order tracking, visibility into exactly where goods are, communicating with last-mile delivery services, and more. Ultimately, technology is really changing how the whole business operates.”

With customer demands arguably never higher, all retailers – Sport Vision included – must ensure an exceptional customer experience.

“The 'C' in B2C – the consumer – is well-educated now. People have huge expectations to have proper technology that can provide the value they expect. 

“So you have to reach a certain level of quality and even over-deliver, because what is over-delivering today can become a commodity tomorrow. That puts pressure on our business, but I think it drives IT professionals forward. Choosing the right technology, and having great applications, is key to managing expectations and delivering value to our well-educated customers.”

Climbing the league table of growth

To use a sporting analogy – which in the case of Sport Vision, a major sporting goods retailer, is particularly pertinent – all of this digital transformation was part of a mission to elevate the organisation from a mid-table club to a championship contender.

“At the start of my journey with Sport Vision, we had to turn the ship a bit to play in the Champions League – and to compete with the huge names in this industry, not just locally or regionally. We reshaped the strategy to start working with major enterprises, which was an important first step.”

After that strategic shift, Zobenica emphasised the importance of laying a solid foundation before building further: "You have to set the basics to build a proper house with a stable roof You have to have a solid foundation, so we started with the basics. Even though we constantly talk about pace, patience is just as important, because you cannot skip steps – that simply won't be a viable long-term approach."

A key part of building that foundation was the use of partnerships. "What someone might not perceive as digital, but was highly important, was our use of partners. Within our first digital strategy, I suggested an approach where partners would become part of our ecosystem.

"The ecosystem of partners has been a critical success factor for digital transformation. Once we moved forward choosing technologies, set the basics, then chose partners and built long-term relationships with them – then we could really provide great service.”

Collaboration with partners ‘enabling success’

As Zobenica has set out, collaboration with external partners has been a cornerstone of Sport Vision Group's digital transformation strategy. Recognising the need for specialised expertise, it has formed strategic partnerships to enhance its technological capabilities. 

One notable partnership has been with Wireless Media, a Serbian company specialising in digital solutions. This collaboration has been instrumental in integrating various platforms and managing customer identity, thereby enhancing the overall customer experience.

“Because Sport Vision has multiple e-commerce concepts and platforms tailored to different customer segments and product offerings, at some point customers had to register separately on each platform because we couldn't identify them as the same user across concepts.

“Wireless Media really helped us manage that single customer identity across integrated platforms. They provided the system to uniquely identify customers, enable social logins, and many other capabilities that allow us to serve customers in a seamless, unified way across all our touchpoints.”

Another partnership Zobenica cites is with Arteis Technologies, which helped Sport Vision enable real-time inventory information across its business.

“The same solution had robust sourcing and fulfilment capabilities. It's not just providing inventory information to the customer, but after they add items to their basket, the system calculates the best and most efficient way to source those goods across our locations. With this system, we can combine goods from different countries and legal entities to optimally fulfil each order's need.

“To exchange that inventory and order information seamlessly with all our various systems – such as stores, POS and online platforms – that integration was crucial. We truly felt like valued clients, and they continue taking great care of our needs as we develop further. They helped us offer part of our service to customers at a totally new level compared to before.”

The approach of working with multiple smaller, agile partners has allowed Sport Vision Group to adapt quickly and efficiently to changing technological landscapes. “Instead of one big ship, you're having multiple smaller but faster ships, which can adapt in a much better and more convenient way.”

Continued focus on innovation and customer-centricity

Looking ahead, Sport Vision Group is poised to continue its digital transformation journey with a focus on innovation and customer-centricity. The company's vision is to provide a superior experience to customers across all touchpoints, with an unwavering commitment to staying at the forefront of technological advancements. 

This proactive approach ensures that Sport Vision Group remains competitive and continues to deliver value to its customers in an ever-evolving market.

“We have to continue growing and make our operations more efficient. We have to further digitalise. There's an AI hype around us and we certainly need to define the proper way to leverage that game-changing technology, while also taking care of our people.”

While emerging technologies like AI will be vital, Sport Vision's core strength remains its people. “We started a brilliant HR strategy within the group, as the company recognised that even with AI's rise, it's not a replacement for our people, but rather an accelerator for certain tasks. People are what make the difference for us. There's a quote we live by – 'We are a team' – so we truly put people first.”

This people-centric approach will be crucial as Sport Vision aims for global recognition beyond its current footprint in Europe and partial presence in the United States.”We strongly believe that for further growth and to become a company known worldwide, people are key,” Zobenica states. “Ultimately, any technology still needs to be implemented by people who embrace the change. People will have to change for sure, and we will support them on that journey.”

Technology's role, however, cannot be understated. “Technology will play a crucial part in making that road easier and enabling data-driven decisions. Data will remain king, and leveraging advanced technologies like AI will be really important to create great use cases that can elevate us to where we want to be in the future.”

Emerging AI capabilities open up transformative opportunities in areas like insight-driven demand planning. “For us as a company, data and AI use cases like insight-driven demand planning will be really, really important. People will have great assistance from data and technology on planning what goods to procure, sell, and more.”

As Sport Vision integrates AI as a strategic “colleague” to augment human decision-making, Zobenica stresses: “We must embrace technology as if it's a colleague we'll interact with. We have to protect people's rights, think about privacy and security, and ensure ethical and legal practices so AI fails in the best possible controlled manner when it does fail.”

But ultimately, underpinning Sport Vision's innovative pursuits is an enduring focus on the customer. “At the end of the day, everything will revolve around the customer. Everything we do is actually about better understanding the customer in an ethical and legal way, so we can better serve them. Ultimately, we will be focused on enabling that superior customer experience. The customer will remain our king, always.”

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