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Outdoor Industry to Embrace Omnichannel Commerce

Outdoor brands and retailers need to “think about the continuum of engagement” with their customers by using multiple channels of distribution and sales, according to Mark Lavelle, SVP and head of global product and strategy at eBay Enterprise. Lavelle addressed outdoor industry leaders and partners at the annual Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) Rendezvous held October 7 – 9 in Asheville, North Carolina.

With customer expectations higher than ever and technology growing increasingly complex, the result is a proliferation of retail platforms leaving the traditional specialty outdoor retailer in the dust. As outdoor categories multiply and new brands enter the market, outdoor retailers who are unable to stock and deliver everything all the time are being challenged for market share by big box retailers, retail brands and digital commerce.

“The digital revolution is the basis for a revolution in commerce. Internet browsing is eclipsing TV time, creating a new reality for brands and advertisers,” Lavelle pointed out, adding that the web is expected to influence 60 percent of all retail purchases by 2017. Millennials, who have grown up with technology and social networking, have totally different expectations of the shopping experience, he explained.

Lavelle presented a number of developments in omnichannel commerce as examples of how the channels of sales and distribution are changing.

New sensor technology is enabling touchscreen storefronts in partnership with eBay, such as those launched at Kate Spade in New York and at Sony, TOMS, and Rebecca Minkoff at the Westfield San Francisco Center. Shoppers can browse through the items with a swipe on the screen, then enter their phone numbers to purchase the products on display through PayPal or a credit card. In the case of Kate Spade in New York, a courier can deliver the item to local customers in an hour.

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The digital storefronts allow brands to expand their customer reach through “vertical marketing” in a busy shopping area, without paying for expensive retail square footage.

Technology also connects buyers with sellers, allowing them to use data to provide their customers with personalized experiences. This is giving rise to anticipatory commerce: online sites like Trunk Club (menswear) and Birch Box (cosmetics) which are accessed by subscription, send goods before customers know they need them.

The anticipatory model turns the traditional 270-day, offshore supply chain on its head. “We’ve now entered an era in which the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge of and engagement with customers,” said Lavelle, quoting global research and advisory firm Forrester Research. This is especially true in the outdoor industry, with a core consumer who is already engaged with the outdoors, versus the challenge of engaging a new Millennial constituency.

Lavelle reminded his audience that consumers still need to have a human touch point, recommending that experiential marketing should be used to drive transactions into the store. In-store touchscreens are also being used by the likes of Nike, Adidas and others to help educate shoppers about product attributes, or to customize and order product unavailable or out of stock in the store.

Dick’s Sporting Goods offers its online customers the option to deliver direct, or ship to the store for customer pick-up. “Stores are now fulfilment centers,” Lavelle explained; while in other cases “pop-up” stores are serving as the physical representation of a successful online retail site.

Nike’s new Fuel Station prototype shop in Shoreditch, London, further pushes the envelope with interactive walls, in-shop recording and analysis of a consumer’s running style, and computer stations that automatically set up newly-purchased Nike Fuel Bands.

While the store doesn’t stock the complete line, iPads are available on the walls or from the sales staff to function as a catalogue or provide answers to customers’ questions.

On a more local scale, Lavelle praised outdoor hosiery brand Farm to Feet for its sales and distribution diversity. Launched by private label manufacturer Nester Hosiery, the made-in-America brand went directly to consumers with its story about American workers and ingredients, integrating its website with other channels such as Facebook, eBay and Twitter. “Rethink how you collaborate and partner,” he advised.

In creating an omnichannel framework, Lavelle suggested that brands and retailers develop a holistic view of the customer and their organization. “Your business equals your customer,” he said. “Understand their journey; travel it with them; but expect the boundaries to shift.”

Based in Boulder, Colorado and Washington, DC, the OIA is an advocate for its membership of over 4000 manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, sales representatives, and retailers. Rendezvous is its premier education forum for the leadership of the outdoor industry, offering opportunities for learning, networking, collaboration, and service.