Eyebrows have been raised by an influential survey that ranks Sports Direct above tech titan Apple as a firm “trailblazing in global commerce”.
In a new index of the world’s top 30 international retailers, Mike Ashley’s sports chain comes fourth.
It’s beaten by Amazon and the UK’s Boohoo and Asos, but it’s one place higher than Apple.
Sports Direct was so glad that it sent out an announcement to the London Stock Exchange to celebrate.
Senior executive Michael Murray, who boasts the title of head of elevation, said he was “pleased that Sports Direct is starting to be mentioned in the same breath as other great companies”.
He said: “It’s a huge accolade for all our people, whom I’d like to thank for their loyalty and hard work.”
Mr Murray was keen to stress that it put Sports Direct among the world’s most innovative retailers, although the compilers of the list said that wasn’t quite what they were measuring.
The index was put together by a trio of retail specialists – Loqate, Planet Retail RNG and Retail Week.
Ian McGarrigle, co-founder of Retail Week, said: “UK retail – be it digital or physical – is renowned the world over for its competitiveness, with distinctive brands, products and talent.
“So it’s little surprise that recent history has shown UK retailers taking their propositions overseas.”
Robert Gregory, global research director of Planet Retail RNG, said the aim was to highlight how digital technology had changed the game for retailers, who no longer had to spend years building a network of stores in a country to reach shoppers outside their home market.
“Retailers, regardless of size, can reach more markets, even if they don’t have a physical presence,” he said.
However, many firms are surprisingly behind the times in adapting their international websites for shoppers in other territories.
That means allowing customers to change the language of the site or see the price in their own currency, as well as filling in addresses automatically when they enter their postcodes.
“Sports Direct actually did pretty well in terms of those capabilities,” said Mr Gregory.
“That clearly demonstrates that they’re geared up towards catering for those international shoppers.”
Mr Gregory also pointed out that Sports Direct’s range of products, based on fashion as well as sport, lent itself to being sold across borders.
By way of contrast, DIY retailers such as B&Q owner Kingfisher, which came in at number 19, were unlikely to do as well in international online sales because of differing safety standards and other factors.