Outdoor evolution: New consumer behavior goes beyond just the millennials

SNEWS talks to Market Insights Manager Lorna Caputo on the realities of changing consumer shopping habits and outdoor recreation experiences.
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This is the third of three Q&As SNEWS brings you, interviewing experts at Outdoor Industry Association, who are working to help shepherd the future of outdoor retail. (Read the first article on consumer segmentation, here and the second on social listening, here. It all gets the conversation rolling, and next month, we’ll follow up with brand and retailer reaction of the changing landscape.

Okay, we admit it. We’re tired of hearing about the millennials, too.

OIA_QA_LornaCaputo

But step back for a moment and look at the bigger picture. A lot of the talk about the next generation of consumers isn’t just what the young folk are doing.

It’s a wider reality that shopping behavior and outdoor recreation are rapidly changing at all ages — young and old — as we all deal with tighter schedules, a greater variety of interests and technology that even the baby boomers are latching on to.

When you read “millennials” in that next article or research report, it’s time to start reading “a majority of consumers.”

To gain more insight on what today’s consumers are seeking from their outdoor brand and retail interactions, we turn to Lorna Caputo, Market Insights Manager at OIA. She tells us four top trends to look out for and how brick-and-mortar retail can replicate successful online strategies in the store for a more seamless shopping experience.

Briefly, what are the top topics when you talk about the future of outdoor retail?
New digital technologies, shifting demographics, new consumers’ attitudes and evolving shopping behaviors are all shaping the future of outdoor retail. Today’s active lifestyle consumers want unique experiences both in how they shop and how they engage in outdoor activities. With less leisure time, retailers and manufacturers have to work harder than ever to capture their attention. In our work with IDEO, we identified four opportunity areas for connecting with today’s broader market of outdoor consumers.

>> Social + connected: Technology is an inherent part of today’s lifestyle and a vital component in how consumers want to participate in and share their outdoor experiences. Recognizing this evolution in behavior, along with the demand for instant gratification, seamless shopping experiences, personalized offerings and convenience, is important in order for retailers to meet evolving customer expectations.

>> Inclusive: With greater diversity in both demographics and outdoor behaviors among young consumers, the definition of outdoor recreation is changing. The need to embrace a broader range of motivations for engaging in the outdoors is essential in order for our industry to be relevant to its next generation of customers.

>> Accessible: Living in urban environments with limited leisure time, many of today’s consumers want easy outdoor experiences they can integrate into their daily lives. This is driving the need for brands and retailers to bring outdoor to where consumers are and provide accessible opportunities for them to engage in outdoor experiences that require less effort on their part.

>> Experiential: Millennials want stories to tell and embrace brands that can be an authentic part of that story. The shift away from transactions and selling to relationships and experiences is forcing businesses to define and tell their brand story, beyond the products they sell, in order to be relevant and authentic to these consumers.

How can outdoor retailers feed some those immediate gratification expectations of today’s consumers?
Expectations around convenience will continue to increase. Making it easier, faster and more convenient for shoppers to get what they need is where innovation at retail needs to occur.

Retailers and manufacturers will need to become more customer-centric and nimble through convenience-driven offerings like multiple shopping platforms, cross-channel fulfillment (buy online, pick up in-store), expedited shipping or delivery services. They also need to make products available when and where consumers want it. In other industries, we are already seeing more products being sold through interactive window shops, pop up stores, self-serve kiosks and mobile retail to drive sales 24/7.

There’s been a surge of consumer-created content online. Can that work at the brick-and-mortar level?
Both Pinterest and Instagram have established themselves as effective selling platforms for many companies. Consumers, especially Gen Y, like to discover products in an authentic, personalized manner rather than being talked at through advertising. In addition, they are relying more on word-of-mouth, user-generated content and social reviews than advertisements for purchase decisions.

Retailers have the opportunity to leverage social platforms to promote relevant products and value to consumers in a seamless, personalized environment. One example of how that can translate to the brick-and-mortar environment is retailers promoting which of their products are popular on social media sites through merchandising or video in the store.

Explain how the so-called 'sharing economy' could work its way into the outdoors and opportunities for brands and retailers?
Younger consumers are interested in having access to many unique experiences and are often hesitant to make investments in products for one particular activity. This creates challenges for retailers as consumers increasingly look to share or rent versus buy products as a means for feeding their desire for variety. Retailers in other industries are being forced to reinvent business models to provide easier access to their products without requiring long-term investment. This changing behavior will likely have impact on outdoor as these consumers take over purchasing power in the industry. Used product programs and hosted events provide opportunities for non-core consumers to participate in outdoor activities.

Other industries have recognized the importance of attracting a more diverse and ethnic audience, which will soon become the majority. Why is the outdoor industry behind? Where are some opportunities?
There is a strong need for the industry to understand the generational and cultural differences that exist across the different age and ethnic groups. Currently, 70 percent of outdoor participants are Caucasian, and this has sustained the industry for many years. But as demographic shifts occur, the outdoor industry has to understand how these new groups want to engage in outdoor recreation and enable them to do it on their own terms. The traditional image of outdoor lacks relevance to many of these new consumers, and the industry is in great danger of losing the opportunity to gain them as customers if it doesn’t cater to their more social, family-focused and casual desires for outdoor experiences. This is an area where we plan to get a better level of understanding around for our members.

Tell us about OIA’s Reinvent Retail Innovation Contest and what you’re looking for from retailers?
We are currently running a Reinvent Retail Innovation Contest to inspire our members to use these insights to implement new and innovative retail practices that engage non-core consumers. Three stories will be selected and featured in O.R. Daily at Summer Market 2014. The entry form is available on the OIA website under Outdoor Retail of the Future for those interested in participating.

For more information and questions, email research@outdoorindustry.org or feel free to comment below, or email SNEWS

--David Clucas

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