As the sharing economy continues to be a hot topic among consumers, outdoor retailers and brands are finding success by adding rental and leasing options to their stores and websites.
Elysa Walk, chief business officer at Burton Snowboards, sees the rental business growing considerably among Burton’s retail partners, and the company recently launched its own rental service.
At Erik’s Bike Shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota, leasing ski and snowboards for kids has been “great business,” for more than a decade, owner Erik Saltvold said.
Walk and Saltvold were on a consumer trends panel along with Chris Speyer, senior vice president of REI, at the Sea Otter Classic Summit last month at the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa in Monterey, California.
The panel was moderated by Anne Mezzenga and Chris Walton, co-founders of retail trends podcast Omni Talk.
The following are some key takeaways from that panel.
Efficiency at Erik’s Bike Shop
Saltvold is mindful that staffing churn is an ongoing issue at retail, and the sales associates walking the floor aren’t always the most experienced.
“Anything that we can do to prepare the customer better when they arrive at the store, so that the sale can be more efficient is helpful,” he said.
To that end, his company offers centralized support where a customer can call and talk to an educated salesperson. The sale can be made over the phone and the customer can pick it up when they get there.
“We’re trying to create a convenient shopping experience for people,” Saltvold said.
Erik’s is using e-commerce data to track when, how, and where consumers want to buy, then connecting all the data points.
Most consumers buying a bike, for example, come prepared and have narrowed down their choice to a few selections.
They visit the store for the final confirmation by talking to a salesperson and testing the product in person.
Saltvold’s company is still mainly a brick-and-mortar business, “but the digital experience supports the brick-and-mortar sale, so we’re working on ways to connect those dots,” he said.
To do that, his company tries to collect all the data points in the customer relationship management (CRM) system and feed them into one central database.
Another area where Erik’s has found success: Guaranteeing trade-backs on kids’ bikes.
“Once you do that, that customer is yours for life,” Saltvold said. “When the bike comes with a guaranteed value, that customer is unlikely to go anywhere else. That’s a great way we’re building loyalty at a young age.”
Buying Options at Burton
Customers want to look at a product and potentially buy it online, but they have a variety of ways to take possession of it.
They may go to a wholesaler, or pick it up at their front door, or have it delivered to their hotel room at a resort.
“It’s all over the place what consumers want right now,” Walk said. “Taking it to that next level where you’re connecting with your customer wherever they want to pick it up is a big, big advantage.”
Walk said the online shopping site Locally.com is a good tool that brands can use to help customers find the product they want at stores near them.
Another point of emphasis for Burton is re-commerce, including rental and resale.
For example, when a customer brings back a pair of goggles but they rip the box, Burton honors the return in full. However, Burton can’t then resell the product as new because of the damaged box. So Burton is working with a third party to figure out a solution where Burton could sell the goggle as a “certified, pre-owned” product.
“That’s the way of the future,” she said, adding that it lines up with Burton’s commitment to sustainability and keeping products out of landfills.
Meanwhile, Burton is updating its customer data platform to become more nimble and customizable.
“We want to speak to our customers in a unique way,” Walk said. She mentioned that their customer base includes a wide range of demographics, and “it’s hard to speak to each of them in their own way without alienating others.”
Removing Friction at REI
The pandemic forced REI to do things in an unusual way. Speyer mentioned the “green vest,” which is what REI sales associates wear while on the retail floor as they help customers and answer questions.
“Anybody who knows REI knows that the green vests on the floor experience is really essential,” he said.
When REI closed down its stores it was forced to think about how to duplicate that service online.
They brought in their sales associates to try to develop a version of the green vest but still haven’t perfected it in a way that’s efficient or creates a great experience, Speyer said.
“If you get somebody who wants to go camping, versus somebody that wants to buy a bike versus somebody that wants to go for a run, those are three really different experiences and require three different portfolios of expertise,” he added.
Speyer estimated that 70% of REI customers who are shopping for a technical product such as a bike or a pair of skis start their journey online, then most of the sales happen in the store.
That means taking the friction out of the system is really important to make sure the sale is completed smoothly, he added.
“There are places where this is a huge opportunity to deepen loyalty and also solve some value problems,” Speyer said.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.