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Outdoor Retailers Get Hands-On: Trends and Tips for Engagement

Timbuk2 prototype. Image © Gensler

The outdoor retail industry is consistently on the forefront of creating truly engaging shopping experiences. Leaders in the field have found ways to delight shoppers by aligning company values with the lifestyle and beliefs of the customer base. As a recent speaker at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Tradeshow in Salt Lake City, I experienced first-hand some of the latest trends taking hold in the world of outdoor retail.

Hands-On Demos

Consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, are increasingly more invested in brands that court their participation. Demonstrating a product provides the customer with an opportunity to truly experience how it looks, feels and works. This tactic was a big success for many brands at the tradeshow, and is something that can be thoughtfully brought into brick-and-mortar stores. Some retailers are programming their stores to allow consumers to test products outdoors. By allowing consumers to demo merchandise, this strategy creates a testing mechanism for retailers, while educating consumers and strengthening community relationships.

In keeping with the tradeshow’s demo theme, a full sized pool invited consumers to test paddle boards, kayaks and various water toys. Additionally, Timbuk2 ‘Love of Bike’ hosted a stationary bike demo to support the broader product line moving from messenger bags to commuter bags to lifestyle-focused offerings.

Timbuk2 prototype. Image © Gensler

Reuse, Repurpose, Repair

Consumers are increasingly demanding transparency, as they take an interest in the ethical practices of the brands they follow. Patagonia brought their concept of reuse, repurpose and repair to the Tradeshow, highlighting their longstanding commitment to the environment. Continuing with a theme carried out in their retail stores, they brought the concept of mobile repair to the customer, offering on-site fixes to products and gear. When it comes to heavily used or old products beyond saving, Patagonia encourages its customers to return items to the store for recycling and donation. Patagonia wants its clothing to live long, and most importantly, to never end up in a landfill.

Brands such as TOMS, Patagonia and H&M are appealing to eco-conscious consumers with upcycling and recycling programs. Lululemon’s Lab concept store in New York offers shoppers a behind-the-scenes look into the design and construction process, facilitating transparency by allowing consumers to engage with designers, share feedback and understand how products are made.

North Face retail prototype. Image © Gensler

Another key to consumer engagement is activating the senses. Designers know that color can drive consumer preference. Ultra-bright, primary colors have dominated for the past few years, but now consumers are being more selective in their purchases. They want products that can be used for crossover activities – more subdued tones that can take them from the gym to running to social activities. Today’s colors are more restrained with tone-on-tone trending with more saturated, serious colors and androgynous hues.

In today’s competitive retail environment, it’s not enough to just pitch your wares on a shelf. Outdoor retailers are stepping up their game by offering participatory experiences that engage the senses and align with consumers’ beliefs. And ultimately, to encourage them to get outdoors.

North Face retail prototype. Image © Gensler

Jill Nickels has over 20 years of experience building brands and bringing them to life in built environments. As a senior strategist with Gensler, she works with companies from all industries. Contact her at jill_nickels@gensler.com.