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Selling the spirit of adventure

Just as many segments of the retail industry face colossal changes, so too does the outdoor market. The sector has suffered subdued growth over the last few years due to declining consumer sentiment, as well as the increased propensity for interstate travellers to stay in residences rather than camping, says IBISWorld senior analyst Tom Youl.

“The exception to outdoor equipment retailing’s downward trend has been within the clothing segment,” Youl tells Inside Retail Weekly

“Activewear brands, including Macpac and Kathmandu, have been performing well and are expected to report solid growth over the year ahead.”

This trend has led to a shift in the sector, with many outdoor retailers increasing the amount of clothing sold and downgrading larger, bulkier items such as tents and chairs. 

However, not all retailers are ditching the outdoors completely. 

Boating, camping, fishing

One of Australia’s largest retailers, Super Retail Group, owns offerings in many segments of the retail industry, from automotive to sporting goods. 

However, its Boating, Camping, Fishing (BCF) and Macpac brands fill somewhat of the same space – though attacking it from different angles. BCF’s strength lies in outdoor equipment, while Macpac offers a broader range of clothing and accessories.

For BCF, this focus on outdoor equipment creates a requirement that its staff are armed with detailed and up-to-date product knowledge, ensuring they are able to properly recommend and teach customers how their products work.

“Expertise and service is very important to us to provide our customers with the engaging experiences and superior solutions to get the most out of their leisure time,” says BCF acting managing director Ethan Orsini.

“The great thing about our team is their passion for all things boating, camping and fishing. Even if a customer knows exactly what they want, there is still the opportunity for us to connect with them to hear and share their passion.”

Despite this, Orsini notes that BCF understands that customers want to shop how they want to shop, and that their preferences may change from day to day. As such, the brand is constantly working to improve its customer experience both in-store and online.

“For example, our customers might choose to browse online before purchasing through click-and-collect, or on another occasion might purchase in-store and arrange for a home delivery,” Orisini explains. 

“We want to create an enjoyable and convenient experience every time, supported by a seamless connection between our digital channels and conveniently located stores.”

As such, the business runs an extensive training program for both its online and in-store teams to ensure superior service, product knowledge, and the ability to properly explain safety concepts to customers. 

“We are continually working to improve our customers’ shopping experience across all channels. This means ensuring we are everywhere our customers need us to be, and that we provide a seamless and engaging experience between our online devices and our physical stores every time,” Orisini says. 

Sharing the passion

Acquired last year by Super Retail Group, New Zealand brand Macpac has grown along a similar trajectory to BCF in that it offers outdoor clothing and equipment. 

However, while BCF offers only a selected range of BCF-branded products and largely offers other brands within its walls, Macpac specialises in creating and offering its private-label products. 

“We take pride in making quality products that last, so even though our online business is strong, we still find that the majority of people want to touch and feel the product they’re buying, particularly when they’re investing in something which they expect to last for many years,” Macpac chief executive Alex Brandon tells Inside Retail.

“We frequently find that our customers have done their research online, but they still like to see what they’re buying, and to have the opportunity to talk to our team about their decision before they make the final purchase.”

Given there is still a large focus on the in-store experience, Macpac is still keeping its own focus on physical, full-service stores, coupled with a range of digital shopping solutions, to offer the best all-round customer experience. 

“The majority of our products are of a technical nature, so for Macpac people, refining our knowledge is a continuous process that helps us to stay on top of our game within the industry and offer the best help and advice,” Brandon says. 

“Before a training manual is even lifted, [we begin] by bringing people into the team who are approachable, knowledgeable, completely in love with the outdoors, and who share our consumers’ passions and interests.

“In our experience, when you’re passionate about something, you simply enjoy sharing that enthusiasm and knowledge with others, regardless of their level of expertise.”

According to Brandon, this makes it easier for Macpac staff to relate to people at all skill levels – from those who know exactly what they need, to those who are starting out and are looking for guidance.

Try before you buy

French retailer Decathlon initially launched in Australia last year with a wide array of sporting goods through its four sports warehouses across the country. However, earlier this year, the retailer expanded its range into winter sports, offering a range of snow gear through the Wed’ze brand.

“In 2018, we had our first round of ‘learning’ in Sydney, and had a small range in Tempe and online,” Decathlon Australian chief executive Olivier Robinet tells Inside Retail

“Our customers asked us to expand the range, as the Wed’ze brand design actually has every kind of snow product: helmets, skis, snowboards – and all designed in the French Alps.”

Like Super Retail Group’s offerings, Decathlon also puts a strong focus on product knowledge – the sports retailer knows, however, that even given the right advice some consumers may still make the wrong choice, and offers customers the ability to trial goods for a week before paying.

“You can take a tent, a bushwalking pair of shoes, a jacket, socks, whatever you want. If you like it, you’ll pay for it. If not, bring it back,” Robinet said. 

“These kinds of amazing services are impossible to manage online.”

The online option

So, what happens in the case of an outdoor retailer that exists almost entirely online? Enter Snowys.

Founded in 1995, Snowys had a single store – a 1200sqm location in the inner western suburbs of Adelaide – before launching online in 2011. It launched with 5000 SKUs and the added value of “fast, free delivery”.

Since then, the business has opened a second retail location in Queensland, as well as two further distribution centres, to keep up with the business’s growth. 

“We work hard to bridge the touch-and-feel grab [online] by providing as much information as we can,” says Laine Wescombe, Snowy’s website manager.

“Customers can learn about products from our unique and high-quality product videos presented by members of the Snowys team. Our product pages feature super-rich content, such as floor-plan graphics, and user-generated content such as product reviews, images and descriptions.”

This approach works quite well for the most part, though Wescombe accepts that some customers will always want to be served by an expert, having an item explained and shown in detail. 

“As we grow, we acknowledge the need to provide our customers with both bricks-and-mortar and digital options,” says Wescombe. 

“Done right, physical stores offer the best buying experience from a touch-and-feel perspective. But getting it right is very difficult to do.”

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