Outdoor goods, and the adventuresome image they personify, are a part of the lifestyle of the people who buy them. From activewear to sporting goods, outdoor products represent an extension of the consumer’s personality. The adventure/healthy lifestyle theme therefore runs through the marketing and messaging of outdoor brands, with rich landscape imagery, emphasis on personal performance and inspirational messages. This stands in stark contrast to how brands engage with consumers in other retail verticals. In recent years, these outdoor brands and retailers have grown in prominence and are driving the prolific growth in the vertical. Noticing the rapid growth, general apparel brands have also expanded their offerings to mimic and even compete with the legacy outdoor set. This report focuses on the activity of shoppers in the outdoor vertical and the digital commerce sites on which they engage.
Outdoor Heats Up
Outdoor retailers are enjoying a period of great growth in digital commerce. The source of that growth is well balanced, as traffic is increasing at a high rate, and those visits are also productive and growing. Overall, about three-fourths of that growth can be attributed to rise in attraction, and one-quarter from an increase in visit spend, which mirrors the growth distribution rate across all verticals. However, the scale of both of those growth factors is much greater in outdoor.
The growth factor that distinguishes outdoor from other verticals is attraction. Year-over-year, traffic to outdoor sites is up 38%, serving as a clear indicator of shoppers’ interest in this vertical. Across all of digital commerce, attraction was up 21%. The trend towards athleisure is magnetic, pulling in shoppers that previously would not be considered outdoor buyers.
This increase in traffic is proving to be productive too, with YoY growth in visit spend (a measure of the change in conversion rate and average order value) up 11%. This increase is nearly double the 6% YoY increase overall in digital commerce retail. With both major indicators pointing up, attraction and visit spend, outdoor retailers are racing to gain share within this attractive market. This growth is already transforming the retail market, pulling outdoor into the mainstream, leading to investments in key brand messaging campaigns, as is seen with Old Navy’s ‘Built for Play’ campaign – outdoor is growing and traditional nonoutdoor focused retail is noticing. Shoppers should expect retailers to offer loyalty initiatives and provide high levels of service to find differentiation that will drive retention, especially for those new to market.
The Action Connection
Once upon a time, retailing was a relatively simple matter of connecting customers to products that fit their needs and lifestyle. Today the journey is a far more complex and sophisticated affair, with myriad digital touchpoints and brand choices. Across all retail verticals, the most successful brands employ novel ways to make and maintain a connection with customers. In the outdoor category, that connector is action, and retailers aim to personify and infuse action into all they do. In perhaps no other retail vertical is lifestyle and aspiration so infused into the branding as in outdoor. One need look no further than the homepage of many outdoor brands for evidence of this; 76% of sites use this valuable real estate to issue a call to arms, with phrases like ‘Run Happy,’ ‘live wild,’ ‘Forever Faster’ and ‘Make Your Mark.’ Brands are epitomizing action in order to establish a connection with their active shoppers. Why? Because people buy from those they can relate to. When this connection is made and deemed authentic by the shopper, the products become the vehicle for enabling the activity that empowers them to live the active lifestyle embodied in the message.
Consumers of outdoor gear tend to obsess over the details of how it’s made. That’s why nearly 30% of sites have messaging focused on the technology behind their products. Columbia Sportswear, for example, highlights their Omni-Shade, Omni-Tech and Omni-Freeze technology via their ‘Shop-to-Stay’ module on their home page, while devoting another section to more than a dozen “omni” technologies including “Omni-Shield Blood and Guts,” which, well, you’ll have to see for yourself. Icebreaker is a great example of an outdoor brand that’s connecting with its customers by sharing information that’s important to them. Its ‘Why Icebreaker Merino’ section not only has comprehensive text and video about the “what, why and how” of its merino wool but also a ‘Trace Your Garment’ feature, using a ‘Baacode’ to trace the origin of the wool back to specific sheep stations in New Zealand.
The technology helps guide shoppers to the best gear, with the shopper self-selecting the desired climate, activity or size they are shopping for. Many outdoor sites merchandise product pages with content associated accordingly. Brooks Running, for example, not only has a 10-step interactive Shoe Finder, but also a “Stride Signature” section to determine the best shoes based on gait, and a “Shop Shoes by Experience” section. These tools have been extremely successful, particularly for the firsttime Brooks shopper.
“Consumers are bringing sport into lifestyle, bringing fashion into sport and even carrying activewear into the workplace.” Chris Hardisty, Head of Ecommerce, PUMA North America
A valuable engagement tool for any retail brand, but particularly in outdoor, is user-generated content, because it validates the brand’s credibility and creates an opportunity for the retailer to engage on a deeper, less promotional, level with shoppers. Black Diamond Equipment is extraordinary in this regard. The site’s ‘Experience’ section features scores of gorgeous photos and videos of climbers and skiers in its gear, with first-person vignettes describing the action. The outdoor/adventure/active market is tailor-made for this type of content.
Like many retailers, Black Diamond is responding to the fastgrowing rise in mobile shopping. Enabling shopping on the go has reduced friction from the buying process, and allows shoppers to spontaneously buy. The rapid migration of both order and traffic share towards phones cements this new shopping reality. In yet another example of the deep connection consumers have with their active gear, outdoor retailers regularly offer customization of their products. Whether picking the right color combination, monogramming or designing with your own images, activewear is a canvas for enthusiasts to express themselves. Of the sites we analyzed, nearly 24% offered shoppers the ability to customize product. When it comes to the outdoor market, there may be no other slice of the apparel pie whose products evoke such passion, connection and immersion into one’s lifestyle. That’s precisely why retailers in the outdoor category are leading the charge to create shopping experiences that transcend the transaction and serve as a call to action.