Whether you’re aiming to improve your tennis serve, beat your 5k personal best or set out on a wild camping trip, the right gear can make all the difference. Which? surveyed more than 10,000 people to find out which sports shops and websites ace it, and which you should avoid.
Our survey asked shoppers about their experiences of shopping at 29 of the UK’s biggest and best-known sporting goods retailers, from specialist giants like Sports Direct and Halfords to generalist favourites such as M&S and John Lewis.
Here, Which? reveals the sports shops to head to if you want great customer service and competitive value for money, and gives tips on buying the right sports equipment for you.
The best outdoor and sports equipment shops
We surveyed 10,909 members of Which? and the general public in November to find out about their most recent experiences of purchasing outdoor and sporting equipment.
We’ve revealed the highlights below but if you want to see the full results for every retailer, including star ratings on everything from product quality to the way stores have treated customers during the pandemic, visit our guide to the best and worst sports shops.
Rohan takes the top spot
Outdoor and travel clothing specialist Rohan (Rohan.co.uk) came top of the table, with a customer score of 87%. It impressed survey respondents with its product quality, staff helpfulness and its guarantee, garnering five stars out of five on all three measures.
Rohan says that if for any reason its products don’t live up to your expectations it will replace, refund or repair.
Customers praised Rohan’s store layout, staff and products. Over a third of those who shopped there said they regularly buy their technical clothing from Rohan, with one shopper saying: ‘We always shop here. Great atmosphere and service. High quality technical clothing made to look like every day clothing.’
We’ve made Rohan a Which? Recommended Provider, as not only did it do well in our survey but it also meets our strict criteria around returns and faulty goods policies.
Find out more: your rights when shopping online
Sweaty Betty impresses shoppers
Fashionable women’s workout wear retailer Sweaty Betty (SweatyBetty.com) achieved an impressive 82% customer score.
Customers loved almost everything about it, giving it five stars for value for money, product range, quality and staff helpfulness.
Founded in London in 1998, Sweaty Betty now has stores across England, two branches in Scotland and can be found in the US and Hong Kong. It offers delivery UK-wide and half of our respondents used its delivery service.
However, because the number of people who said they’d shopped with Sweaty Betty in our survey was quite small, we didn’t get enough ratings for its delivery service – a key criteria for becoming Which? Recommended Provider – meaning Sweaty Betty couldn’t be awarded this this time around.
How did Nike, Decathlon and other big brands do?
Sports and footwear giant Nike (Nike.com) put in a decent peformance, with four-star ratings for its range, product quality and value for money.
Decathlon (Decathlon.co.uk) also scored four stars for value for money and range – where else on the high street can you find a horse saddle, a kitesurfing kite and a bow and arrow all in one place?
To find out how other big names compare, such as Adidas and JD Sports, visit the full table of best and worst sports shops.
Sports Direct finishes bottom of the table
At the bottom of the table is Sports Direct, which scored 65% and only two stars on a number of measures including product guarantees/warranties.
The Mike Ashley-owned retail park regular also received just two stars for its Covid-19 response, in which we asked shoppers to rate stores and websites on how well they communicated pandemic-related changes such as queueing systems, social distancing and delivery delays.
Sports Direct was the only store to be rated so poorly on this measure while a number of stores, including Rohan and Sweaty Betty, achieved the full five stars for this.
Problems with returning goods
Another measure for which Sports Direct was the only retailer to score just two stars was its after sales and returns. This was reflected by one shopper in our survey, who said the retailer was a last option due to its ‘bad returns policy’.
Sports Direct and other Fraser Group-owned retailers only extended their returns windows after Which? called on them to review their policies during the first lockdown.
The brands were originally insisting that customers post unwanted items back within 28 days of receipt, despite clear rules from the government stating people should only leave their homes for food shopping or exercise.
When we put our survey findings to Sports Direct, a spokesperson said: ‘We value our customers’ opinions and are investing significant sums into improving the customer journey.’
But Sports Direct wasn’t the only retailer to perform poorly in comparison to the rest. The bottom six also included Costco.co.uk (67%), Littlewoods (67%), American Golf (68%), House of Fraser (69%) and Debenhams (69%). None of these managed more than three stars for product quality, guarantees, Covid-19 response or after sales service.
Find out more: which supermarkets do shoppers feel safest in?
How to buy the best exercise equipment
You don’t need to spend hundreds of pounds on equipment if you’re just starting out. Think about what you actually need for your requirements.
For example, if you want to exercise at home, a set of dumbbells or some resistance bands could form the basis of a good workout and may be all you need to begin with – and there are thousands of workouts available to watch for free on Youtube.
A weight bench is not essential for weight training, particularly if space is tight and you’re more interested in toning than building muscle. We’ve got guides to weights and weight benches as well as reviews of the best dumbbells to help you choose.
If you want to practise yoga, the only thing you really need to start with is a good yoga mat – check out our guide to yoga mats and accessories for help with that.
When it comes to more expensive equipment, ideally you should try before you buy. But a great place to start is our exercise equipment reviews section, covering cross trainers, exercise bikes, rowing machines and treadmills.
If exploring the great outdoors is more your thing, we’ve got advice on walking socks and boots as well as waterproof jackets in our guides to outdoor clothing.