Will the Outdoor Sector Follow the Digital Example of Outdoor by ISPO
Having watched the evolving marketing pitch made for the move of ISPO’s July show to Munich, with its regular mentions of ‘digital’, I was struck by John Traynor’s Forbes article, titled “Digital Innovation At OutDoor By ISPO Trade Fair Will Be A Winner For The Outdoor Industries”.
Key stakeholders in the sector clearly see digital infrastructure and assets as crucial to engagement and development within the trade, but it’s questionable whether this appetite has had a noticeable impact on the two most important relationships - those between a brand and its target consumer and between a retailer and its customers. Even the more experiential retailers in this sector, such as Ellis Brigham, aren’t leveraging current digital capabilities.
Scaling from trade relationships to consumer relationships is, of course, an issue, but it’s worth considering that, if there’s one attribute of the digital revolution that sets it apart from previous shifts in economic models, it’s the incredibly low cost of scaling. In most cases, it’s the consumers themselves that bear the costs of the digital delivery systems (smartphones, smart TVs, Prime subscriptions, etc.) with retailers and brand owners being responsible ‘only’ for content development and distribution.
The practical concern that should be a cause for reflection in the outdoors sector is the limited application of digital opportunities when compared to other consumer good sectors and the generally lower level of awareness of what’s already tried, tested and making an impact elsewhere.
Challenges to the Current Model
Everyone in the sector understands the challenges to the traditional activity-centric model of retail distribution that’s come from big marketplaces, such as Amazon, and the disruption to brand messages caused by the ‘social validation’ of third-party community websites, user reviews and commentary. What’s important to recognise is that this isn’t a new model that will stabilise over time; it’s the first major shift in what will become constantly evolving models, often driven by digital disruption happening far faster and more cheaply than physical disruption.
For evidence of this, just look to one of Europe’s leading logistics players that has quietly signed agreements with leading sports and apparel brands to sell goods direct from its much-used smartphone app. Now, it may be that, just like companies 20 years ago that erroneously believed ownership of the ‘billing relationship’ was the key to digital success, the ‘delivery relationship’ may prove to be not especially ‘sticky’ for customers - but who would have viewed a delivery business, albeit a trusted brand, as a player in the selling chain a few years ago?
Extrapolate this out to a place where anyone with a consumer touch-point is looking for ways to extract value from consumers by building relevance and a value-adding proposition. Whilst many of these will be simply accelerated versions of old relationships, they will have an impact on the current participants, even if it’s just a VR skiing app with clothing options for purchase, the outdoor gear store with an immersive adventure travel sales area or a brand ambassador live-casting on their own selling website, using 3PL to manage product logistics.
All this and much more is happening in other sectors and will come to the outdoors - and the existing players don’t need to be ready, they need to lead. The alternative isn’t so much that someone steals their lunch, but that several disruptive changes nibble enough from the plate that there’s insufficient margin and future value left to respond successfully.