Just months before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the Outdoor Industry Association released a study showing that only half of the U.S. population participated in outdoor recreation.
Lise Aangeenbrug, the association’s executive director, told Outside Online that the study showed that America was becoming “an indoor nation.”
But COVID-19 changed everything for outdoor recreation. Public health orders essentially gave Americans two options: stay at home or get outside. One survey found that 66% of Americans said they’re doing more outdoor activities close to home in a post-COVID world and 32% are participating in more outdoor activities than ever.
This shift in outdoor recreation has been reflected in ecommerce behaviors. Outdoor products, which Amazon originally deprioritized at the beginning of the pandemic, saw a huge spike in opportunity as people spent more time outside. But brands couldn’t fully harness the increased demand because of supply issues—they either didn’t have enough product on hand or enough product allocated specifically to Amazon.
As a result, many outdoor brands have changed their ecommerce strategies for 2021 in hopes of being more prepared for what’s shaping up to be another big year for outdoor gear.
Will the demand for outdoor gear remain high in 2021?
It’s difficult to predict how mass vaccinations and a decrease in coronavirus infections will affect the ecommerce demand for outdoor gear. While people may have a newfound appreciation for nature thanks to 2020’s lockdowns, they may also decide to revert to their old ways of spending most of their time indoors. But some key indicators show that the demand for outdoor gear will remain high in 2021.
National park data, for example, shows that people are more eager than ever to visit national parks in 2021. Great Smoky Mountains National Park experienced its busiest January ever in 2021 with more than 500,000 visitors. Zion National Park reported more than 172,000 visits in January 2021, making it only the third time ever the park topped 100,000 visits in January. The Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina also experienced its busiest January on record in 2021.
The demand for hunting and fishing licenses has also dramatically increased since the onset of the pandemic. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife issued more fishing licenses in 2020 than it had in a single year since 2008. California hunting licenses also increased by 11% from 2019 to 2020. Oregon sold 18% more angling licenses in 2020 than it did in 2019. Idaho also saw dramatic increases in fishing license sales.
In a similar vein, boat sales have also seen record highs amid coronavirus shutdowns. The National Marine Manufacturers Association reported more powerboat purchases in 2020 than the industry has seen since before the 2008 recession.
If people continue to use their newly purchased outdoor gear, licenses, and boats, then 2021 will be another year with a heightened focus on outdoor recreation close to home. As vaccination rates rise, it’s also likely that consumers will travel and plan bigger adventures to make up for lost time.
How outdoor brands are adapting to a post-COVID world
While different outdoor brands are responding differently to the new ecommerce landscape in the industry, most are shifting their focus toward direct-to-consumer business. Some are launching new products and tools to meet the increasing demand for outdoor products.
Carie Behe, the GTM Marketing Manager for Cotopaxi, has seen outdoor recreation grow in popularity since she started working in the industry more than a decade ago. But she said COVID took that growth to the next level. Cotopaxi is preparing for another big season for close-to-home recreation with new launches in 2021 and eventually international travel and big adventure trips in late 2021 and 2022.
“The brand sees that there is this increased level of outdoor participation, that there is an increased number of people that are recreating closer to home and are looking for versatile products that can go with them on various outdoor adventures,” Behe said. “I think Cotopaxi is really doing a great job of addressing that with some of the products that we're launching this summer.”
Charlie Ninegar, the Vice President of Sales for Nixon Watches, said the pandemic shifted Nixon’s balance between wholesale business and direct-to-consumer business. While both channels saw increased demand, direct-to-consumer business especially flourished in 2020. Nixon was already heading in that direction, but the pandemic accelerated the process.
“If any business in a brand was lagging in their focus on direct selling efforts, the pandemic must have changed their point of view on that,” Ninegar said. “It’s not an option, if you were a product category like us, to not be focused on that side of the business. The pandemic doubled down on how important it is to have a direct relationship with your customers.”
Flip flop brand Havaianas has also seen a shift to digital business as a result of the pandemic. Havaianas President Jacob Uhland said that COVID-19 took Havaianas’ sales from 70% brick-and-mortar and 30% digital to 70% digital and 30% brick-and-mortar. In response, Havaianas closed 14 of its 21 storefronts and prioritized its website.
“We call it the digital revolution,” Uhland said. “We’ve pivoted all of our investments into all of our digital channels. Our stores were off significantly, but we were able to cover 100% of that loss through Havaianas.com.”
Uhland said he believes in the future of brick-and-mortar, however, and doesn’t expect ecommerce to maintain its current level of prominence as the pandemic draws to an end.
Like Havaianas, insole brand Superfeet also made up for its brick-and-mortar losses with a shift to ecommerce. Linda Balfour, the Vice President of Marketing at Superfeet, said the pandemic accelerated Superfeet’s ecommerce efforts, which will continue to remain a focus into 2021.
“We launched an online insole recommendation tool and product videos to help people easily find the right Superfeet for them,” Balfour said about Superfeet’s adaptations to a post-COVID world. “Further development and deployment of those tools will remain a high priority for us and will be core to how we operate in the future.”
The future of outdoor brands
Although no one can predict the future of ecommerce—a fact that 2020 has made abundantly clear—it’s evident that the demand for outdoor gear will remain high in 2021. It’s also evident that outdoor brands, along with brands in almost every other category, have entered a digital revolution with direct-to-consumer business at its forefront.
If your brand is looking to be better prepared for digital ecommerce and the demand of online marketplaces, Pattern can help. Talk through your concerns and brand needs with us today.