Humphrey Cobbold, former CEO of Wiggle, spent four years with the brand overseeing a period of rapid growth during which time sales increased from £33m to over £150m. He joined us at Trailblazing: Sports & Outdoor Leaders Summit to talk about how he built the Wiggle brand, and the impact of the eCommerce revolution on the sports sector. Here’s a round up of the highlights.

Wiggle started life as a rough and ready eCommerce startup in the '90s, with its founders selling anything from adult toys to solar eclipse glasses before moving onto cycling gear. It is a company run by enthusiasts for enthusiasts, and despite being told that neither bikes nor wetsuits would sell online, Wiggle is now the biggest seller of triathlon wetsuits in the UK and last year sold 22,000 bikes. This 'can do' attitude has helped them to build the brand from a standing start to a turnover of over £150m in 2013.


Wiggle has invested a lot in building the personality of the brand through their offline customer interactions. The popularity of timed and catalogued running and cycling events is growing exponentially in the UK, with 10-15 organised bike events every Sunday compared to one per month 10 years ago. Wiggle has seized this opportunity to reach an enthusiastic audience through of combination of Wiggle sponsored owned or operated triathlon, road, running and cycling events, and are now running 100 in the UK and 30 around the world. Wiggle also brings enthusiasm to the brand by working with professional cyclists, who provide valuable endorsement.


Humphrey revealed that of 100% of people who identify themselves as cyclists or runners, 20% will account for 80% of the profits. Data-driven insights such as these allow Wiggle to hone their product range. Rather than concentrating on the amateur cyclists looking for a £200 bike, they focus on a lot of their attention on the customers who will spend £800-1200 per year on professional gear.


Humphrey has seen a massive content balance shift in the last two years, and for Wiggle, generating their own online content has been game changing. Research accounts for a large part of site usage, including reading customer reviews and the Wiggle staff comments. The customers really care too – they won't hesitate to point out inaccuracies in the content on the site. Luxury women's activewear brand Sweaty Betty has a similar experience. Aalish Yorke-Long, Head of eCommerce for Sweaty Betty revealed that their customers are keen to know the finest details, from where their factories are and what their safety standards are, to how materials were sourced.

Not only content, but ensuring the expertise of the content managers is absolutely vital, and there is a strong case for hiring a dedicated editorial person in any eCommerce team.


Trying to compete with Amazon is one of the biggest challenges faced by eCommerce brands, and as the biggest seller of cycling goods in the UK it's no different for Wiggle. But Humphrey argues that it is important not to try and 'out transact the transactor', but instead to find a differentiator. Wiggle works hard to maintain the advantage over range, service and customer engagement, keeping the all-important enthusiasts at the heart of their offering.

And as far as Wiggles 550 brands are concerned, who are largely product, rather than consumer focused, Wiggle can act as a powerful marketing tool for them. A key part of Wiggle's strategy and added value is their ability to conduct customer profiling, and offer brands good data on who is looking at their pages and how long they are spending on the site.


Interestingly the USA and Canada are not big markets for Wiggle, compared to Australia and even New Zealand. They put this down to the fact that they started out as and didn't own the domain until much further down the line. By this time Amazon had already become the biggest cycling retailer, making it extremely difficult to compete with their prices. They've also found that emerging markets such as Russia and China are much harder to tackle properly, without local presence. Then of course there is the challenge of localisation, particularly with regards to payment methods – by the end of 2013 there were 18 different options in existence.


Mobile is another challenge, but also a huge opportunity. In the two weeks before Christmas 2012, Wiggle sold 30 bikes at an average price of £1000 on smartphones. Concentrating on mobile is now a key part of its strategy, as they are reaching the point where almost half of web traffic comes via mobile and tablet. The fundamental challenge for development teams is understanding fully how customers use the site across different devices – mobile browsing on the way to work, then tablet browsing whilst watching TV at night. Making sure the site is optimised pays off.


  1. There is no substitute for a great proposition (range, price and service advantage)
  2. Spot and respond fast to evolving demand
  3. Cost effective routes to build awareness and customer volumes
  4. Selective and resource-light localisation
  5. Master order economics and the mechanics to create profitable customer behaviour