COVID-19 has brought in the new norm, both in terms of personal lifestyle and buying behavior of people. Not all of the retail industry is doomed, thanks to retail software solutions which have helped run groceries or emergency supplies like medicines online. The sports and leisure goods industry is no exception even though it has faced stagnancy due to infinite delays and cancellation of international events.
Retail software solutions in the athleisure market have helped companies gauge the intent of purchasers to make lifestyle-based investments for their day-to-day lives. Retailers have learned to design customer-centric software solutions that consider the following findings:
- An NPD Checkout survey found that compared to the pre-COVID era, exercising at home is ready to take the online sports retail by storm by 70%
- In April of 2020, two-thirds of all athletic shoes sold in the US were sold online
- Twice as many people are using online app-based exercise classes
- It has also been found that consumers are more likely to increase their exercising activity post-COVID
More reasons why sports goods will see heightened interest
COVID-19, albeit its uncertainties, has been a blessing in disguise. Consider this:
- There’s a renewed zeal to stay fit with the onset of the pandemic, which demands staying healthy and exercising daily.
- With people working from home full time, there’s a lesser expense on commuting, saving consumers an extra chunk of their disposable incomes. Coupled with expenses saved from leisure traveling, child care, culture, and sports events, the sum merely grows by leaps and bounds.
- Conventional sportswear per se is gradually shifting gears toward athleisure or sportswear as a fashion trend with the growing influence of celebrities on the Internet performing various sports activities at home.
- One-size-fits-all, that’s the emerging trend when customers jog, attend a meeting or sleep in the same sweatpants and casual-formal upper wear
There’s a common pattern visible here- customers have started taking control of their own choices. They decide here what to do, how much to spend, where to spend and when to spend. If brands appeal to these choices, they win the customer’s loyalty. Period. That’s probably why the Athleisure companies, no matter their scale, are more concerned about designing loyalty programs that match the lifestyle and the choices of the customers- both new and veteran to avoid a shift to their competitors who might play smart who communicate exactly what the customers wish to hear.
COVID shifts gears, bringing a shift to how brands communicate
Retail enterprises have to be tactful now. The pointers we mentioned right above are just a few pointers that brands are making a connection with while designing loyalty programs. As we progress, we’ll come across more of these pointers and the way they are paving a new era of customer engagement.
Some sports brands continue to maintain their physical outlets for the people who love to visit them, feel the products, and indulge, but they also have to be prepared for the buyers online who need equally heightened experience when it comes to product selection. Not to say, now that the vaccine is out, a considerable number of people vaccinated, people still prefer staying indoors indulging in no-contact shopping for the fear of the second wave. Online shopping is here to stay.
So, here’s where brands need to re-think, re-construct and re-communicate with renewed enthusiasm for an uncertain future that still holds hope for a healthier lifestyle. However, that does not come easy. You have to first ask yourself- Have I answered the questions that the user has for me? Because finding the right answers and communicating them the right way at the right time is the key to brand loyalty and customer engagement.
This might be tricky but not impossible to achieve.
First things first, to design effective and robust customer loyalty programs, you have to understand whether your customers need them in the first place. And that can happen only over maintaining a steady flow of communication. Let them participate in re-creating your brand value. Integrating real-time reviews through chatbot applications or mobile apps will make customers feel heard. Customer participation is a must and that can be increased by leveraging or implementing loyalty programs that can trigger a customer review and buying cycle. For instance, giving away small prizes or discount coupons for feedback and reviews, which will enhance both the reliability and the profitability of the company.
Online and social media surveys are powerful weapons, but speaking to your existing customers overpowers them all. Has remote work lifestyles changed the way they think about healthcare? Are they keen on it? How much time can they spare for a walk or a run? What outfits suit them and how much are they willing to spend on sports goods? These will help you determine how you can maintain trust in your brand, products, and services, how you can reset the expectations of the customers and how will you recover the customer experience in the future.
Remember, it is equally important to shore up customer relationships as it is to maintain the bottom line. This brings us to the data shared by the NPD Checkout survey about consumers preferring to work out at home, giving a clearer picture about the inclination of consumers during the pandemic. Having said that, it also needs to be considered that these very people might prefer using affordable sports goods rather than luxury sports garments, which inadvertently means that popular or high-end sports retailers have to re-consider pricing; Otherwise, the consumers may shift to other low-cost competition.
It completely depends on the socio-economic-demographic situation of the retailers how they conduct their surveys, but we have a few observations of our own. Things that customers are found to be considering while making buying choices.
They like brands that support cost-conscious buying:
This is possible only when you leverage on your existing set-up, which ensures that neither of you- as a buyer or a consumer have to bear the pressure of increased costs in these testing times. For example, if you have an outlet, you have already crossed the first milestone to build upon an e-commerce platform, which entails you build upon the brand first. Your customers know you for the quality of the product, now it’s time to support their idea of ‘cost-conscious buying. After all, pricing is a big factor in these times when your loyal customers might not have a source of income.
As per a report by Accenture, 33% of all consumers are finding themselves financially squeezed with less disposable as compared to the pre-COVID times. This chunk outnumbers the 26% of resource-rich buyers (we have been speaking about earlier) who have increased their capacity and the time to enjoy athleisure.
There are visible choices even among the buying population who are keen on Flash sales and discount offers. Communicating the same online and offline is a matter of consideration and the only ray of hope for one of the most struggling retail sectors. A double-edged sword fuels the flame of a healthy lifestyle among enthusiasts and encourages them to continue with the practice, fuelling the ‘athleisure’ sale.
Brands that promise same-day delivery:
Customers are looking for same-day delivery even in trying times, which sometimes takes ages because of overworked manpower. Dick’s Sporting Goods have all leveraged their store footprints to launch same-day delivery by tapping into on-demand delivery platforms- a simple way to engage customers with their brand. They have used apps to get their products displayed on third-party sites to be picked up by the same party when there’s an order. This way they save on delivery resources while ensuring that the order fill rate is met. Now, why is that important?
68% of consumers said fast shipping would lead them to place an online order, according to a February 2021 Digital Commerce 360/Bizrate Insights survey of 1,047 shoppers on conversion rate.
Imagine the extent of your business profitability if you prove yourself to be committed to selling affordable, good quality products with a promise to deliver on the same day!
But if customers are willing to pay for same-day delivery then how can customers be cost-conscious? The answer is hidden in the question itself. Consumers are willing to pay to keep themselves unexposed during a pandemic at a scale of COVID. They’d rather invest in that rather than on the product. So, that’s where the ‘consciousness’ comes in. To not being able to provide this option to consumers can put retailers in a sore spot, especially when the following figures are so high. For instance, same-day delivery for personal care items increased 44% in 2020 as compared to 2019. The Apparels section also witnessed a surge of 154% in 2020 than in 2019. Relating the same-day delivery demand for sports goods and garments can easily be encompassed here because that’s the kind of passive communication we were talking about where retailers can send out the message “we understand and therefore we care”.
Adding loyalty programs associated with same-day delivery or affordable purchasing, thus makes the brand known and talked about, bringing one lead after another.
But, it’s easier said than done, especially when you have no idea about the kind of setup you’d need to design such programs.
Technical problems that come in the way of building loyalty
Tracking user buying uncertainties:
Top of the lot insecurities that sports retailers have is to predict the buying patterns of their customers. Incessant data churning and customer surveys are the only way out here. COVID or no COVID, customers rely most on companies that are willing to fulfill their taste for fashion and comfort. With the onset of the pandemic, the control of sports retailers on their customer’s moods has derailed. While we have already established that more people in the COVID and post-COVID era are exercising out of the home than dropping sports from their lives, uncertainties loom if the pandemic continues. Simply put, reading customers’ minds will come to a grinding halt if you do not have technologies like Data Analytics and an expert to implement that into your business model. And for that, you need to talk to retail software solutions specialists.
Single-day shipment facilities:
Do you have the resources to make single-day shipment possible? If not, there must be a plan to divert resources from the less-in-demand products to the ones that have an increasing demand, for instance, athleisure or workout-work garments, which has outdone the demand for traditional sports garments and leisure products.
According to a study by JP Morgan on stimulus spending, consumers are really keen on spending on athleisure. On similar lines, the Wall Street Journal said that close to 24% of those surveyed chose active/athleisure wear among the top-three category where they intend to spend their stimulus checks. No wonder, the U.S athleisure market is expected to reach $257.1 billion by 2026, as per Allied Market Research.
For obvious reasons, consumers who buy it do not have the time to plan their day-to-day activities. Their choice of product identifies clearly that they like to wear comfortable clothing that is great for a run, looks good on zoom, and super comfortable for bed. So, the demand is real-time, which can only be fulfilled with express shipments.
Implementing a robust delivery set-up guarantees footfalls virtually. Sports retailers could build smart apps of their own to collaborate with third-party delivery partners who can make that possible. In fact, that’s what popular sports brand Dick’s Sports Goods has been doing with Instacart to fulfill the same-day delivery demand.
This would require you to have a complete application development process that caters to aspects like API integration, AI and ML-enabled technologies, Data Analytics capabilities, IoT-enabled solutions, for a smoother and seamless user experience. Unless these are in place, designing customer loyalty or benefit programs for effective engagement is next to impossible.
Predicting the future and inventory preparedness:
Inventory preparedness is possible only when there’s a data churning application, reading into the consumer’s whims and fancies. This will help companies stay prepared ahead of time, especially because of the effect COVID had on countries supplying raw materials for sports goods to the US and the other regions.
As per a market intelligence report by S&P Global, a bigger hurdle than sports garments and athleisure companies have been facing is the interruption of raw material supplies from Vietnam. Although the complications might not just be restricted to the virus, it certainly plays a role in cutting down supplies. So, if companies know about the demand they are looking at in the future with the help of predictive analysis, they can order way ahead in time to work on the order-fulfillment rate. Is that possible? 100% yes, but with the help of AI-enabled multi-scanners and data Analytics. The forces combined can evaluate market trends, predict the future trend and recommend the inventory requirements. Getting associated with a retail software solutions developer is the best way you could integrate the same in your business.
Convincing people that buying online is as good as shopping from an outlet:
Till the end of 2019, the retail boom was shouldered by physical outlets where customers stepped in, got the look and the feel of the product first hand, trying them out before buying. Scenarios have changed, which means consumers would expect retailers to offer similar kinds of possibilities available online. The experience of buying a product should be enhanced with customization. Much like buying a product from IKEA online, customers might now prefer sports companies to provide similar experiences with the aid of virtual reality and artificial intelligence. However, little is known about the integration of such technology in the online sports retail sector, this sure could be a vantage point to win the hard-to-win virtual competition. You could sure be the gamechanger here with an online retail software solution by getting an expert recommendation in the field of AI/ML-enabled solutions and technology in the Sports products industry.
Maintaining product hygiene:
One of the key hurdles that online retail worldwide faced was to convince their customers that packages do not carry the virus and that they follow standard hygiene procedures in manufacturing, packaging, and facilitation centers, which ensure premium-quality hygienic products. The same holds for the sports garments and leisure products segment. It all depends on the kind of communication brands choose to share with their customers to help them get over the fear of contraction through packaging. But, the onus also lies on making what they claim about hygiene possible in reality too. Emerging AI technologies as retail business software solutions for maintaining hygiene standards in a manufacturing setup can help here. Only you need top experts to recommend when and how to integrate the technology in the supply chain.
It’s clear where we are heading when it comes to sports garments and athleisure retailing- both online and physically. The integration of technology- be it for advertising communications or for developing fitness apps to stay in trend, or for streamlining manufacturing, production, and delivery processes, sports brands have to rethink their strategies during COVID and beyond. And, these necessarily have to be designed around customer engagement.
As per a consumer behavior viewpoint by the NPD Checkout survey, sports good consumers are planning to exercise more even after COVID-19 is over. This goes without saying that the buying trends continue to stay too. People who have accepted and acknowledged the new norm will continue to shop online and stay active indoors because they have already tasted comfort in it. A 40-80% surge in indoor sporting activity related to yoga and pilates is already visible since the pandemic hit and the trend is only increasing even after the lockdown situation is somewhat relaxed.
Certainly, it is up to the brands how they read their consumers’ minds, get their reviews recorded, use retail industry software and communicate the renewed zeal with which they are committed to the buyers. Do they still wish to continue with their manual practices or take the help of technology!
Because sportswear comprises 20-30% of the wider apparel market, its resilience to the effects of COVID-19 is important. Brands like Nike and Dick’s sporting have resorted to digital platforms to derive over 30% of their revenues even during the pandemic. Overall, their sales grew by triple digits even when they had to shut shops in some of the worst-hit areas of the world. With little means to convince customers to reach their stores, brands have to rely on integrating technology with sports retail to win minds, hearts, and the competitive market. When customer engagement is the mantra, digital technology cannot stay behind.
Ask yourself- Am I missing a retail software solutions guru for my business?
High time to give it a thought.