Why is being stuck indoors boosting outdoor product sales?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/xavierarnau
Aug 24, 2020
Tom Ryan

The stay-at-home economy has supported strong trends toward home cooking and home improvement projects, but it has also more surprisingly led to a surge in sales in outdoor categories, from running shoes to bikes, kayaks, tents, swimming pools and motorhomes.

NPD Group’s in-store POS tracking data showed sales for the month of June jumped 63 percent in bicycles; 56 percent across paddle sports (kayaks, paddleboards, rafts and canoes); 51 percent in golf equipment; 31 percent in camping gear and 22 percent in binoculars for bird watching.

Consumers are believed to be looking for activities that can be done in open spaces while playing team sports and heading to gyms, movie theaters, beaches and shopping malls are restricted or off-limits.

The spike in people running, walking and cycling is also believed to be partly driven by a heightened focus on health following the pandemic’s arrival. People with underlying conditions, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, face a higher risk of severe COVID-19.

Spending time outdoors has also been shown to decrease stress and anxiety. Surveys from the American Psychological Association have found a significant increase in stress levels among Americans due to COVID-19 daily infections, civil unrest, economic and education uncertainties, and the hostile political environment.

Helen Johnson-Leipold, CEO at Johnson Outdoors, a maker of kayaks and camping equipment, said on her company’s recent quarterly conference call that people ”are eager for recreational activities that are rejuvenating to the mind, body and spirit and safe to enjoy.”

Many outdoor brands are also hopeful that those discovering or rediscovering outdoor activities will develop life-long interests.

“The silver lining in the pandemic is that Americans now, more than ever, have reunited and rediscovered outdoor activities,” said Christopher Metz, CEO of Vista Outdoor, the

parent of Bell Helmets, Giro, CamelBak, Blackburn and other outdoor brands, on his company’s recent quarterly call. “We believe the structural change is not three or six months within our country and lifestyles, but the beginning of a new norm and a way of life.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What factors do you see driving interest in outdoor categories during the pandemic? Is the momentum sustainable? How can outdoor brands and retailers ensure newcomers to outdoor activities become lifelong fans?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Factors driving interest in outdoor categories include the restrictions on indoor activities, absence of organized sports and extra dollars from cancelled vacations. "
"These outdoor categories, in my mind, are not really outdoor categories, as we might traditionally define them. They are escape products."
"Gyms are closed in many places. Foreign travel is largely out of the question. Put the two things together and you have a recipe for staycations..."

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27 Comments on "Why is being stuck indoors boosting outdoor product sales?"


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Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

I think this is not surprising at all. People being forced to stay at home means they have more time to go outdoors when they can. Add the element of cabin fever — it is only logical. Generally there have been fewer or no restrictions on outdoor activities.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

I think it’s clear why outdoor categories are surging; to me, the more interesting question will be how we can sustain the interest. Perhaps never before has post-purchase engagement had such an obvious opportunity to impact customer lifetime value. Investments in travel guides, online forums, education and training, store associate expertise, and social media programs can have a major impact on how many kayaks are gathering dust hanging on garage hooks six months from now.

David Naumann
BrainTrust
David Naumann
CEO and President, Cogent Creative Consulting
3 months 2 days ago

In addition to having more time for outdoor sports, the several months of closed fitness centers has driven a huge increase in demand for outdoor sports gear. It has also dramatically increased the demand for indoor sports gear to create at-home workout environments for exercise people normally did at health clubs – hence the huge increase in revenues for Peloton and Nautilus. Once everyone “gears-up,” there will be a dip in demand and the winners will be the companies like Peloton that generate revenues through monthly subscription services.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

We all are striving to disconnect from our phones, our work-at-home-prisons in front of draining Zoom calls, and discover something other than the all doom, all gloom news. #surprisingnotsurprising

Raj B. Shroff
BrainTrust

Factors driving interest in outdoor categories include the restrictions on indoor activities, absence of organized sports and extra dollars from cancelled vacations.

As for the momentum being sustainable, I would think it will plateau once the portion of the population buying the kayaks, bikes, etc. hits its max reach. The other challenge outdoor companies will face is that the purchase frequency for many big items is limited. Some people have one kayak for life. So all these new folks will never need to buy another canoe, kayak, paddleboard, etc.

To help their consumers become lifelong fans, outdoor brands and retailers can provide loyalty programs, recycling programs and share information on how-tos and other expertise for their consumers to get the most enjoyment out of their activities.

It has been great to see all the new people out and about, let’s hope it lasts — the benefits are incredible.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Kayaking is also VERY socially distanced. It’s pandemic perfect.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Although I believe people don’t need another kayak, the market for accessories, maps and trails, paddling/hiking groups, and corollary products is enormous. I’m already re-outfitting my kayaks, and even considering buying new ones. There are tons of groups sharing hiking trails to boat put-ins across the US — and with so much closed down, it only makes sense. Once hooked, the outdoors can be very attractive. I’ve never heard of a boater who didn’t try out fishing. I don’t believe it’ll be limited to the single product purchases.

More than anything, there is Zoom fatigue, and any chance to step away from that will be a welcome change for many customers.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

There are two big factors here: 1.) after sitting inside all day in your house, getting outside seems better than ever, also the “spread” effect from being on Zoom in one place all day puts a little flame under said posterior and 2.) suddenly you CAN go outside — whether it’s before you start or during lunch or after your Zoom calls, you can easily just jump outside — this is good news for Dick’s, REI, Patagonia, etc. And maybe for our overall health. (This is a glass half full perspective.)

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Many factors are affecting our return to the outdoors. These are “cabin fever,” the fact that outdoor activities are safer than indoor ones, a recognition that we need exercise — we may need to lose weight, we’re remembering that we were much more active when many of us were younger. It happens to be a win/win for consumers and outdoor-related retailers and service providers.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

“Cabin fever.” Quite simply. The spike will flatten as more localities ease stay at home restrictions.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

The stay at home or shelter at home mandates don’t mean stay indoors. (We all know that!) However the changes in work, entertainment and more have forced a lifestyle change and given opportunity to do activities that include hiking, biking, boating, etc. there has been a surge in these outdoor activities. Retailers should ride this out as long as they can. As life returns back to pre-pandemic behaviors, and it will eventually, sales will drop, however smart retailers will capitalize on the newcomers to the outdoor industry. Short term, sales are much higher. Long term, sales are a little higher.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust
Count me in the group. I have taken up kayaking (as in the photo — the inflatables are so much easier to travel with) and as long as you can a.) find one and b.) get a decent one, they are really fun. Since I live in Florida, and the inflatables can go in your trunk or back seat, I see this as a long-term activity. I’m not going out on the ocean, but rivers and streams are a blast. I even got a fake GoPro camera to go with. Yes I have a pool and have exercised in it throughout the pandemic, but sometimes it’s nice to look at natural beauty. I do have a bike, but it needs serious repairs and requires going to a store, waiting in line (they are apparently really long) and waiting for it to be fixed. And I don’t much want to put a bike rack on my car. So for me, the momentum is totally sustainable. Now having said all of that, here we have another example… Read more »
Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Health, safety and social benefits will fuel outdoor categories’ sales over the medium term.

We’re turning to nature and outdoor fitness to soothe us during a stressful year. Rural areas generally have fewer COVID-19 cases and we’re allowed to spend time with more people when we’re outdoors. More parents are even enrolling their children in schools near their cottages to embrace a safe, healthy outdoor lifestyle all year round.

Companies can show outdoor activities as fun, healthy and social, and share basic tips to attract novices and earn their loyalty.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Gyms are closed in many places. Foreign travel is largely out of the question. Put the two things together and you have a recipe for staycations in the great American wilderness and many more people keeping fit and healthy out of doors. That’s pushed up sales of everything from camping equipment to bikes. A lot of this isn’t driven by “new money” coming into the category, it is spend being reallocated from other things like travel and gym fees. That suggests that the heightened spend will only be sustainable for so long as the disruption continues. After that, spend will likely moderate to pre-pandemic levels.

Ryan Grogman
BrainTrust

There are a variety of factors driving the surge in outdoor activity sales. For one, due to cohabitating, parenting, working and cooking primarily from home, many consumers are feeling pent up indoors, and just getting outside to take a walk is a release. Next, with gyms closed and many folks turning towards unhealthy eating and drinking habits during the pandemic, outdoor activities such as cycling, hiking and running are great opportunities to increase exercise. Like most changed habits during the pandemic, I don’t expect the exponential growth to continue, but I do expect a lot of the gains to hold as a return to healthier lifestyles will provide immediate benefits both physically and mentally.

David Leibowitz
BrainTrust

Yes, the momentum is sustainable because behaviors will stick.

Unfortunately, indoor facilities that offered ways to get a sweat on – like gyms, yoga, karate classes and rock climbing — are closing and will continue to do so. Once restrictions fully ease, people will already have the equipment and comfort level to do more at home – or close to home.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

When being indoors is forced upon us, we tend to put a higher value on what we are missing out on, such as all sorts of outdoor activities — both, in anticipation of and in the actual using of the new gear. Merely purchasing them makes you hopeful for the future. The practical application validates the purchase decision as we appreciate the outdoors even more than before the pandemic lockdowns.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Not a surprising development at all, as the relentless quarantined and always digitally connected life has resulted in folks rediscovering local staycations and nature road trips.

With so many vacations deferred or canceled due to the COVID-19 disruptions, people are seeking safe havens to get away with their families and friends. The outdoors offers that oasis, and it will be a significant opportunity for REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and many other retailers.

Bindu Gupta
BrainTrust

The pandemic has led to a flood of content online and the consumer can only spend a limited amount of time digesting it. I believe this is also one of the major factors that is driving interest in outdoor activities in addition to an increased focus on health. It is highly possible that people have built these habits for the longer term and brands should tap into this by providing more engaging products as well as experiences.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Outdoor activities are seen as safer and, in fact, maybe the only venues for housebound Americans to get out and get some fresh air and change their environment. Like any trend, after the forces stimulating the trend change some customers will stick with it, some will go back to their old ways, and some will move to the next trend. As to the second question, if I were a manufacturer or retailer of outdoor goods, I would be actively trying to find ways of building community around my brand.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

For outdoor products, tribal marketing can be extraordinarily effective.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

It is not a surprise at all. These outdoor categories, in my mind, are not really outdoor categories, as we might traditionally define them. They are escape products. That is, how can I get a change of scenery without risking COVID-19 exposure?

Over the last several years, biking in NYC has increased considerably. But as I sit outside here doing my BrainTrust duty I observe, as I have throughout the COVID-19 experience, the further increase in biking. Where once I saw dozens of bikers pass in an hour, I now see hundreds.

How many city folks have opted for the country for the summer, with the need for activities to keep themselves busy? How long lasting will this be? It all depends on what the “new normal” is. As long as there is a desire to escape, it will stay strong.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

This isn’t just about selling outdoor products at retail, at least for any sustainable growth. Customers can lose interest quickly, especially if they don’t have the connection and support they need for a new sport or activity (pandemic or not). The opportunity here is to not just be a source of education, but to build a community of people sharing their experiences, issues and ideas. Nothing is more powerful than people connecting with people.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Participating in outdoor activities while socially distanced is certainly an attraction. Is it sustainable? Depends upon whether people have positive experiences. How to help that? Find ways to help beginners make smart choices about equipment and its usage. Maybe information about places to go in the area would be helpful. Providing safety information would also be helpful.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Some of the explanations given by those in the industry seem awfully complicated. What’s going on seems far simpler.

In a world of lock down, we want freedom so we focus where we’ve had freedom in the past — outdoors.

This seems to be an under-recognized element of the success of outdoor stores. I often choose REI to buy everyday shoes because shopping at REI reminds me of all the tremendous things I’ve done outdoors.

Joe Skorupa
BrainTrust

After all the good comments let me add one: families with kids need something fun to do that does not involve a blue screen. So many previous kid-friendly options are closed right now — play dates, organized sports, camps, lessons and even school — so parents are turning to the outdoor categories. The current boom will not be sustainable at this high level, but retailers have a clear opportunity to convert a new cohort of parents and children into lifelong fans. Personally, I am glad to see it.

Brian Cluster
BrainTrust

Since many work-frome-home employees are literally tied to their desk eight to 10 or more hours per day, the last thing many people want to do is to travel across town to go inside again. The outdoors provides many more options for fitness than a typical gym. After the pandemic subsides, I believe that there will be many who relish the outdoor workouts and many will retain these activities while others will go back to their gyms and other indoor work out activities. Outdoor retailers can benefit by going back to creating local events, tours and other activities that accentuate the social and physical benefits of outdoor recreation. After this extended quarantine, some people will be cautious, but I believe that others will be interested in more meaningful connections via outdoor adventures.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Factors driving interest in outdoor categories include the restrictions on indoor activities, absence of organized sports and extra dollars from cancelled vacations. "
"These outdoor categories, in my mind, are not really outdoor categories, as we might traditionally define them. They are escape products."
"Gyms are closed in many places. Foreign travel is largely out of the question. Put the two things together and you have a recipe for staycations..."

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