Why E-Commerce Is More Important Than Ever to Outdoor Retailers and Brands

Not all was doom and gloom during The NPD Group Inc.’s U.S. Retail and Consumer Trend Presentation on Thursday at the 2019 Outdoor Retailer Snow Show. But the firm’s senior sports industry adviser, Matt Powell, did highlight the industry’s glaring weakness: e-commerce.

“The consumer wants to shop how and when and wherever they want to. They’re going to use their phone, they’re going to shop in physical stores. And the lines between what’s a physical store purchase with an online purchase are starting to blend, as well. Retailers need to figure out how to get the internet into the store,” Powell stated during his speech. 

Just how important is e-commerce to the shoe business? According to data from NPD’s retail tracking service, footwear had 29 percent e-commerce retail penetration during the 12-month period ending in September.

“We think this number goes to 50 percent in five to 10 years,” Powell said during his presentation. “A lot of this driven by direct-to-consumer. As the brands do more and more direct-to-consumer, almost all of that [retail penetration] is coming out of e-commerce. … I do not expect that we’ll see growth out of the physical store channel.”

And the outdoor shoe market could use the sales boost. According to NPD’s data, footwear sales were flat from January to November 2018. (The athletic footwear market fared far better; sales were up 6.9 percent to $18.5 billion.)

Following the presentation, Powell offered FN an explanation of what he’d like to see outdoor retailers and brands do to rectify this issue.

“They can bring in e-commerce into their stores by having computers there, letting the consumers see what’s online, helping them find the product if they don’t have it in their stores. It may mean that they’re losing the sale, but they probably lost that sale already, so they’re finding a way to make sure the customer is serviced,” he explained. “If they have a question about a product, the internet is there to help explain it. There’s got to be a computer right on the selling floor.”

While lackluster e-commerce effort is an industry problem, some brands in the marketplace have figured out the benefits of a robust web business.

Brian Linton, founder and CEO of ocean conservation-focused apparel brand United by Blue, explained to FN that the benefits of e-commerce aren’t just financial.

“It’s an important part of telling our brand story, especially when it comes to telling some of the more innovative material stories and things like Bison Fiber,” said the label’s founder and CEO, Brian Linton. “[And] on occasion, we’ll have online exclusives — styles that aren’t in the wholesale line — when it makes sense because time to market is quicker. And if we want to launch something to get a read on it, there’s benefits to launching it direct-to-consumer before putting it in the wholesale line.”

The exec said e-commerce accounts for roughly 35 percent of United by Blue’s overall business, with 10 percent coming from its brick-and-mortar stores and the balance going to wholesale.

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