The Great 8

8 Great Ideas for Retailers to Lean On

Good news for retailers to lean on in the months ahead...

1. Fuel the Momentum for Outdoor Adventure. Take Advantage of Category Trends.

After months of nesting and staying at home due to COVID-19 in the Lost Spring of 2020, Americans’ have a growing appetite for getting outside and “doing something.” Anything. After all, there are only so many banana breads that can be baked. Four activities seeing renewed interest are: family bicycling, fishing, yard games and camping. With some outdoor specialty retailers reporting some bicycle out-of-stocks for the season by mid-May, two corporate beneficiaries of rising participation in these outdoor endeavors have been Dorel Industries, parent of bike brands Schwinn and Cannondale, and Camping World. Findings from the 2020 North American Camping Report from Kampgrounds of America, issued in late April, suggest the ongoing pandemic combined with general caution and travel limitations is driving the interest. While RV travel is predicted to be a “particularly viable vacation option” in 2020, refuge in the great outdoors will be the backyard for some. For the two weeks ended May 2, according to NPD Group retail data, sales of key camping basics were up substantially. These increases ranged from a 119-percent increase for camp sets to a 30 percent year-over-year improvement for recreational tents.

2. Expand Your Community Beyond Core Clientele.

Consumers have a new thirst for outdoor fitness and activities amid the COVID-19 crisis and stay-at-home orders. Ed McAlister, founder of River Sport Outfitters in Knoxville, TN says he and his outdoor specialty peers need to take advantage of this trend with a steady stream of friendly advice, product knowledge and conversation.

“It seems as if someone turned the clock back,” contends McAlister, who started his shop 37 years ago. “I’m sort of hoping that we are providing something to those people who may have gotten out of the habit and doing these things. Maybe they’re now having a second thought—‘Wow, this is fun! Let’s continue doing it when this is over.’”

3. Think Outside the Box.

A recent white paper from Highlinebeta.com urges retailers “to rethink their customers’ buyer journey and think harder about strategic partnerships” that will enable them to rapidly expand their digital, social and marketplace footprints in order to stay competitive and flexible in challenging times.

“Retailers in the Customer Experience category will compete by paying extremely close attention to consumer behavior shifts as well as technology trends and tools… Many of these shifts are likely to become permanent and will need to be more tightly integrated into the existing experiences retailers already offer… These retailers may find it necessary to instill and protect organizational growth mindset and culture and focus innovation efforts not on technology but on their customers’ needs and wants, building an ecosystem of tools around jobs the consumers hire them for…” Highlinebeta writes.

Take your retail experience to where consumers are — Amazon, Facebook, Instagram and others.

4. Embrace Changed Consumer Behaviors and Adapt.

Go forward expectations in brick-and-mortar will be empathy for employees and customers alike combined with technology to make interaction and transactions easier and without possible health risks. Consumers’ enthusiasm for in-store experiences has shifted to a desire for speed, convenience, and transparency.

In a recent OIA webinar, Chris Hogue, head of strategy and product for LiveArea, a global commerce experience agency noted that “safety” is important for employees and customers — and retailers should not overlook the importance of customers “feeling” safe. This “emotional safety” can be as important as physical safety. Retailers should make sure all employees can communicate safety procedures to customers.

Curbside delivery and contact-less purchases, neither of which had huge traction pre-COVID-19, are unlikely to dissipate. Retailers should embrace this new normal. Five key areas for retailers of any size to meet customer preferences in this new normal are: inventory accuracy, curbside delivery, an online order fulfillment area, in-store mobile point-of-sale and the capability for an in-store customer account.

“The premium on being genuine has gone through the roof,” suggests Chris Baldwin, executive chairman of BJ’s Wholesale Club, speaking on a recent National Retail Federation webinar. “Six months ago, how many retailers would have thought safety would be of paramount importance. How do we make people feel safe? It’s easier said than done but it’s the primary marketing message of the future.”

The role of stores has changed. A store must do more than just sell items. Customers have brands selling direct to them and they have e-com options.

So why do they need stores? The store is an experience.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Partner With Other Entities To Grow Your Brand & Reach.

Given the current climate, retailers of all shapes and sizes can’t afford to ignore partnerships that can help your brand and products reach consumers. An example from the big-box side: In mid-April, Designer Brands, parent of the DSW footwear and accessory chain, struck a partnership with Midwest supermarket operator Hy-Vee. Why? To meet consumers where they are. The two initially created an online experience of DSW’s offerings on Hy-Vee’s website that offered buy-online, pick-up in the grocery store capabilities. That was to be followed by a pilot program offering family footwear styles in a pallet format at 120 Hy-Vee locations followed by the launch of several DSW shop-in-shops in select Hy-Vee locations over time.

In another collaborative example: Outside Cleveland in Rocky River, OH, Cleveland Outpost is sharing retail space with Nalu Stand Up Paddle & Surf. The idea behind the new outdoor specialty shop focused on used outdoor gear and rentals is to create an outdoor-oriented community by getting locals to try new activities with expertise and affordable equipment.

Meanwhile, co-op giant REI has teamed with West Elm to create a curated assortment of chairs, side tables, blankets, pillows and kitchenware for online customers of either retailer.

6. Remember Resilience

Navigating uncharted waters in an overall stressed retail climate can be scary, but only those that can adapt their roadmap and go-forward strategies to changing realities will have the opportunity to survive and thrive.

“I am truly worried about the 60 percent of the companies in retail that barely break even during normal times. I would place much of the independent retailers in that category,” Carl Boutet, chief strategist for Studio Rx, recently said. “The good news is that this is also the category where the greatest stories of resilience and transformations will come to life.”

Consider the journey of For Now, a three-year old Boston Seaport District specialty shop that showcases varied, smaller maker brands and relies largely on the lunchtime crowd and tourists passing by for the majority of its business. When For Now was forced to close due to the pandemic, it ramped up its digital presence to reach customers. The owners are planning online broadcasts to shoppers from inside the store to discuss what’s in stock, tell stories behind each brand being carried and answer questions. The program will continue after the store re-opens for business.

7. Embrace E-Com

Like it or not, this is no longer just for “the big guys,” although businesses of all sizes could probably learn a lesson or two from them.

Kohl’s has worked tirelessly to create an omnichannel experience for its customers as it has expanded its loyal customer base to 65 million. In the first quarter, the retailer experienced 24 percent digital sales growth, improving throughout the period despite shuttered stores. Shoe Carnival, meanwhile, realized triple-digit, year-over-year growth in ecommerce sales during the first quarter, which it attributed to recent technology investments. The chain’s ecommerce sales rose more than 500 percent for the four weeks ended May 16.

In U.S. retail overall, e-com penetration for an 8-week period in April and May grew to 27% of overall retail sales, up from  16% — a dramatic acceleration. Likewise, “click and collect” is now a must, with a 208% increase y-o-y in April for BOPIS orders among U.S. retailers.

8. Reward Loyalty

The role of stores has changed. A store must do more than just sell items. Customers have brands selling direct to them and they have e-com options galore. So why do consumers need brick-and-mortar stores? One key reason: The store is an experience. This is good news for outdoor shops who excel in offering experiences.

What else can retailers do to retain and attract customers? Focus on loyalty and on incentivizing people to come to the store. Program perks, such as concierge service, premium appointments, discounts, personalized communications or other offerings, can enhance the loyalty programs that many specialty retailers already have in place. Re-examining loyalty program perks is a project worth focusing on.

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