The practice of showrooming continues to plague retailers, and seems to be building in frequency. According to Forbes Business blogger Brian K. Walker, senior vice president for strategy at Hybris Software, “There is a crisis in retail. During the 2013 holiday shopping season, U.S. retailers received approximately half the holiday foot traffic they experienced just three years ago, according to ShopperTrak.” Recent data from Forrester Research shows that 56 percent of consumers have used a mobile device to research products at home, 38 percent have used a mobile device to check inventory availability while on their way to a store and 34 percent have used a mobile device to research products while in a store.
But snow sports retailers have an edge. They are an innovative, savvy group with a never-say-die spirit, and their big advantage is with their customer base, which tends to be more passionate, enthusiastic and lifestyle-driven than in other industries. Most snow sports retailers know the ins and outs of building a loyal customer base better than any other type of retailer out there. Our past articles about showrooming have focused on customer service and service programs that shops have implemented to bring customers into the store. But there are many facets to providing customers with the experience they’re looking for to keep them coming back to brick and mortar retailers.
Raul Pinto, co-owner of Satellite Board Shop, said that for his shop, the most important aspect is reflecting the snowboard lifestyle. “We can’t do all of the same things that big corporations like Amazon can, like offer unconditional returns, but it’s not in snowboarding’s best interest to do those things,” he said. “Instead we focus on those customers who are interested in the lifestyle aspect and who want to come into the shop and be a part of it.”
For that group, he considers it his job to provide the total lifestyle experience that they’re looking for. “We’re lucky because we’re on the new front of selling lifestyle back into the sport. Tons of shops have closed in past years because they couldn’t compete with the internet and big box stores, but I believe that’s because they lost sight of the passionate lifestyle customer. Ski shops were selling snowboards just to get on the bandwagon, but they didn’t have knowledgeable sales people, so people were not able to progress and they dropped out. I think as the new guard, it’s our job to make sure the experience is always really positive. That comes down to making sure the look of our shop reflects the lifestyle, and to the personalities and the expertise you can offer in the shop. That’s something that you simply can’t fake.”
Pinto says he accomplishes that by, first, making sure his employees are the most knowledgeable out there and the most passionate about what they do. “Our customers know we’re experts and we can say with confidence that we picked the best stuff. Satellite customers are considered tastemakers in the same way our shop is considered a tastemaker, and we want to offer the things that help them promote their individuality and be first on a trend. They know they can trust our staff to help them be a part of the lifestyle and lead them on a progression in their sport.”
Pinto says it’s also important that the shop reflects the total lifestyle aspect and shows customers the merchandise in an innovative way, “Overall the interior of the store is special because it was all custom built by us. There’s nothing standard or re-merched into the scheme, because we’re selling the Satellite experience. Then we try to merchandise the store with multiple brands in a way that have cohesion in each grouping while hopefully speaking to different types of customers. We hope this way of looking at the merchandise helps promote the individuality of that customer and they feel they’re getting something special by being shown the merchandise in a different way. There will be things that we see that go together, like a mountain look vs street wear, but we can also cross over certain items that will speak to a customer in a new way. The difference is that you might see these same things on stacks and racks somewhere else, but here it’s on display.”
Nathan Crain, store manager at the Outdoor Gear Exchange, agrees that creating an in-store lifestyle experience is key. “It’s a critical challenge to all brick and mortar retailers, especially snow sports retailers, to provide that in-store experience for their customers. We’re able to engage our customers right when they walk in the door, because it’s a fun and educational environment,” he said. “We have a huge space with a lot of merchandise and very knowledgeable sales people, but we also work to display that merchandise so that it reflects the lifestyle. We have local artists’ work on display because we feel the connection between sports and art is important, and we have a lot of multi-media presentations throughout the store to help educate or entertain.”
Crain said that while his budget is obviously smaller than big box shops, he and his staff use innovative ideas and a little elbow grease to make the shop speak to the outdoor lifestyle. “We build out a lot of store-within-a-store type of displays, often using local barn wood or recycled materials, to show a curated selection of items or one specific type of item. We feel that this kind of display keeps our customers engaged and helps them sort through all the offerings, while feeling they’re a part of the outdoor lifestyle simply by being in the store.”
Tyler Bunch, co-owner of the Alpine Ski Shop, said that selling lifestyle has been important for him and his co-owner and brother, Chris Bunch. Back when their parents owned the Alpine Ski Shop, things were different, but now they must find innovative ways to bring customers into the shop. “We participate in every skate event out there, and we promote them in the shop, so that makes us a part of the community. People see our shop as a hub for the ski, snowboard and skate community and we support that with our Facebook page and in the shop. There’s a lot of interaction going on between our customers and us.”
Bunch said that as far as merchandising, simple works for them. “We try to keep the shop open and airy, so it’s easy for people to try things out, navigate around and hang out. Beyond that, we try to group our merchandise in interesting ways to help people get a feel for how things can go together, which I think sets the store experience apart from the internet. People obviously benefit from the interaction in the shop, to learn about the merchandise and to be able to understand how it all works together.”
It’s clear that a move towards engaging customers in the lifestyle aspect of the store experience is critical. As brick and mortar retailers learn more and more that the internet is here to stay, they are tuning in to what makes this industry special in the first place: passion for the sport. That’s something that the internet simply can’t convey. As Raul Pinto concluded, “I think it’s down to the people who genuinely love the sport and the lifestyle of it. And it’s impossible to have that lifestyle that people are looking for in any environment other than the shop that is right there in the middle of it.”