New IDeas

A New Design

Online apparel design can allow dealers to incrementally increase their apparel sales.

One of the best ways a sporting goods business can promote customer loyalty is to offer convenience and control. An online designer provides both. Customers can spend as long as they want creating the perfect combination of colors and graphic elements without your involvement.

If you are looking to differentiate your sporting goods or team dealer business using technology, there may not be a better way than by offering an online designer on your website. And here’s why.

Team dealers have a lot of competitive pressure these days from companies such as Amazon and other e-commerce enterprises. As a result, we’ve seen a lot of traditional team dealers put more emphasis on selling decorated apparel.

Amazon doesn’t offer hyper-customized team uniforms or fanwear. By offering personalized, unique products, dealers can gain a competitive edge over online competitors.

A second reason is the self-service capabilities that more of today’s consumers want. Players and fans want to participate in creating decorated apparel themselves. Whether it’s a team uniform or fanwear, with an online designer it’s easy to create limitless combinations switching out different design elements, stock art, colors and sizing. And, they get to see what it looks like on the actual product.

Involvement Equals Investment

In July 2009, a report was published by the BAI 2009 International Conference on Business and Information entitled “Customer Co-Design and Flow Experience of Customization Product Producing Process in Computer-Mediated Environments.”

This study shows that if you allow a consumer to be involved in the design process, which they call “co-designing,” the customer is more likely to be satisfied with the purchase. In addition, it increases purchase intention. Once the buyer has invested time in creating a design, they are more likely to buy than if they were not involved co-designing.

That sounds like a winning formula for a team dealer looking for customer loyalty and retention.

It’s also a fact that people want to shop when it’s convenient for them, and preferably on the couch using their iPad Pro. Dealers that don’t have these online interactive tools force friction into the sales process. Customers have to make a phone call or a visit. It’s a traditional, long-tail process that results in lost sales when they have the option of ordering online.

“Prosumers” are another emerging customer set to whom an online designer has strong appeal. These are people who like to take a hands-on approach to every purchase.

Even while inside a store, they will take the time to pull out their phone and see how the selection and price of a product compares to online options. It doesn’t take very long to find alternatives in terms of cost, features, benefits and reviews.

Prosumers also will look for any available research and YouTube videos. With the plethora of information out there, buyers can now get a firsthand, direct experience from videos, which is akin to unboxing or opening the product himself or herself.

Within an online designer, you will find thousands of pieces of quality stock art that can be searched by keyword to find what you want. These can be sized up and down and manipulated as needed to create professional-looking designs.

A prosumer is the type who wants to invest the time to customize a shirt online and be hyper-engaged with the process itself. In addition, this demographic is equipped technologically to share what has been created with the team. So everyone will get to voice their opinion on the design via text, messaging or social media. A built-in perk to an online designer is that it has the tools to make sharing simple and fast.

Whether or not you feel a significant portion of your customer base fits the description of a prosumer today, this is the future. Every business should be investing in ways to cater to this type of shopper, because this will increasingly become the norm.

Use Graphics To Get the Sale

Reason number three is an online designer is a powerful sales tool. With stock art that comes with most programs, as well as layout templates, creating spec art does not have to be a time-consuming, expensive process involving a graphic artist. And the back and forth of sending thumbnails, getting feedback and then re-sending them for approval is entirely eliminated.

There are interesting cases among team dealers who have trained their internal staff and sales reps on how to use an online designer. They then employ it as an approach to communicate visually with customers. It is a great way to generate ideas and start conversations.

Having the ability to quickly put together personalized professional, eye-catching graphics for a potential team or organization in a short amount of time, adding it to a blank shirt and printing it out or sending it electronically, is an impactful way to allow clients to see their logos, mascots and school names on actual products.  

For all the reasons above, an online designer is a powerful way to differentiate your business. When the price is exactly the same, the product options are the same, the delivery date, the customer service and the quality are all on equal footing, how do you stand out?

You can stand out with an online designer, because you can offer greater convenience, a higher degree of satisfaction, and it positions you as a company that is sophisticated and modern. It also means less discounting and buying incentives as you exit the race to have the lowest price.

These tools also open the door to creating unique marketing and sales programs. Consider coming up with promotions that require team involvement and a sense of community, such as a team T-shirt contest. Participants go to your website or social media to vote and discussion is generated as members debate the various designs. It also drives new people to your social media as well.

The designer allows dealers to come up with events or promotions that an entire school can get behind. And, the awareness it generates can result in more sales opportunities and new customers.

The New Proposal Concept

Some of the newest technology that has recently evolved in online and e-commerce worlds, which is related to but not included inside an online design program, has to do with quotes and proposals.

It’s a common scenario for a team dealer to get a call from an organization needing team uniforms — they want a proposal and a quote for comparing suppliers. The old-school way would be to present a sheet of paper with some styles and descriptions on it along with the pricing. But frankly, the look and feel of this method is more like an invoice, which has a negative connotation.

New technology in software has made it possible create a paradigm shift from a piece of paper into an exciting experience that better enables the customer to understand what is being offered and actually sells the products.

Use the graphic abilities of an online designer to engage teams and fans and build your community. Organizing a T-shirt design contest is one way to do this.

Using templates, this software allows dealers to create a look book displaying photos of proposed uniforms or spiritwear. The client’s mascots, logos and team names are shown on the chosen styles.

If I’m a team dealer that gives my client a gorgeous presentation of ideas for an event the same day I get the call versus my competitor who sends an attachment that looks like an invoice a week later, who’s going to get the job? In today’s e-commerce environment, where you can have products delivered in about an hour, the dealer who can respond the fastest with the best possible experience is always going to win.

The proposal is delivered as a personalized email and the recipient clicks the link that takes him to the proposal. It’s like a branded micro website created for that team or club.

About the author: J.P. Hunt is one of the founders of Inksoft, a company that offers an online designer, e-commerce platform and other business tools. He also is the VP–sales and marketing. He can be reached at

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