Connecting the Digital World to the Outdoor Industry

The Role Of E-Commerce Services for Outdoor Products Is Shifting

Brand manufacturers, and especially those in today's retail landscape, have evolved. Consumers have heightened expectations for digital commerce and that means brands now have an obligation to master online selling. 

Companies that provide compelling shopping experiences will generate better results than their competition. This is because they will demonstrate value through engaging with different kinds of customers, providing incentives for customer loyalty, all in today's rapidly changing retail environment.

The study found three key reasons why consumers shop online with brand manufacturers. They are:

  • A complete display of products: Most retail stores do not carry the full line of an outdoor industry brand products. 59% of respondents already use a brand manufacturer’s website for researching products and usually make their purchase there as well
  • Brand engagement: 37% of respondents expect a more engaging experience on a brand manufacturer’s website than a retailer’s.
  • Competitive pricing: Half of the respondents expect better prices on a brand manufacturer’s website than on a retailer’s website

This study also found the multi-dimensional role of the brand manufacturer illustrates the value consumers place on information and channel consistency, especially as almost half of online shoppers have visited mobile and social channels along with digital and physical stores.

Omnichannel is the new normal

Source: Insightful Stats + Infographic from OuterBox

For companies that make outdoor gear and lifestyle products, the omnichannel push is taking hold. There is a need to have ecommerce services for outdoor companies to sell directly to customers and a physical store that carries their products. They should also be selling on major e-tail sites like Amazon, Moosejaw, Sierra Trading Post, etc. 

Check this insightful research from Contevo — which found a whopping 65% of consumers begin their journey to purchase on a smartphone

Even if a shopper waits until they get back to a computer to buy from you, they’re still doing research on mobile. They continue to read your content via mobile through social media, email or other channels. All this time you need to be putting your best foot forward.

Get the Complete Guide to e-Commerce Services for the Outdoor Industry

This means consumers are spreading out their retail purchasing across channels, forcing retailers to spread out their online marketing budgets. Paid search, affiliate marketing, and email all increased their share of e-commerce referrals last year, according to Custora. Paid search especially stood out as a major source of spending by retailers. 

IBM found that smartphone traffic beat both tablet and desktop, making up 53% of all online traffic. But mobile still only accounted for 29% of all online sales. Mobile continues to drive the most sales growth for retailers, but actual sales still aren't keeping up with retail traffic on mobile.

comScore 2015 Share of Retail Time Spent vs. Spending by Platform

Unfortunately Neither Outdoor Retailers Still Aren't "All In" On Being Optimized for Mobile

Retailers only have themselves to blame for underperformance on mobile, as many still aren't using best practices for mobile websites and apps. Only 60% of the top 100 global retailers currently have a dedicated mobile website. Get this, a whopping 80 % of shoppers use a mobile phone inside of a physical store to search product reviews, compare prices, or locate alternative stores.

Use this 25-point mobile commerce optimization checklist to conduct a thorough audit and develop a better understanding of what actions need to be taken.

The increase in online shopping has put stress on the shipping and logistics industry. The number of UPS ground packages delivered on time during the holidays fell from 97% in 2014 to 91% in 2015, according to ShipMatrix.

Retailers are beginning to explore alternative shipping options. Earlier this year Gilt Groupe switched its primary ground shipper from UPS to Newgistics.

Outdoor industry product manufacturers that can't afford to invest in alternative shipping options are offering consumers more fulfillment options using what many of them do have — brick-and-mortar stores. Buying online and picking up in-store, also called click and collect, made up about 30% of e-commerce sales at Sam's Club in 2015.

For many businesses that sell products or services, the emergence of e-Commerce has been a major game changer. 

Some businesses have closed up shop and moved completely online to avoid unnecessary overhead costs and maximize profits. Others supplement their brick and mortar stores with an online presence to gain even more market share. But regardless of how large an e-commerce role plays in your business plan, everyone can agree that it is absolutely crucial if you expect to compete in the market. And why wouldn’t you? 

Shea Bennet at the Social Times found that more than $1.2 million dollars are spent every 30 seconds via e-commerce. That’s astronomical and a perfect example of how the market has changed over the last 20 years.

In case the last few paragraphs haven't convinced you, let me tell you now: you need to be selling your products online. But how is the best way to do so? 

Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as the question. There are tons of different solutions ranging anywhere from a pay pal button you put on your site, to a full-blown custom database with customer manager, inventory, payment processing and much more. 

Choose an E-commerce Solution That's Right for Your Customer

So herein lies the first step. I've found that Rachel Andres of Smashing Magazine has a great article on how to get started with E-commerce, but I've added a few of my own critical elements regarding choosing an e-commerce solution.

Before writing any code or trying an off-the-shelf package, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • What are you selling?
  • What shopping functionality should you offer?
  • How will you take payment?
  • How will items be delivered?
  • What reporting and other functionalities are required?

It is important to have a baseline of your business to really figure out what your needs are. If you’re only selling one product, you may not need a big, all-encompassing storefront. On the flip side, if you have a wide variety of products with multiple variations, utilizing a PayPal button for each one might not be the most efficient way to present your products to the consumer.

As a rough guide, I’ve always followed this rule of thumb:

1 – 5 products: Should require little more than payment buttons.

5 – 10 products: You would be best suited to use a simple shopping cart that you can add to an existing website.

10-unlimited products: E-commerce Storefront solution will provide you the framework necessary to handle multiple products, payments, invoices, admin. Etc. This is a very good solution for the majority of people who want to sell online.

500-unlimited products: You might consider a custom built solution if you have rigid sales guidelines, customer management requirements or other special circumstances with your store. I personally only recommend this option for a very specific client base that has the needs that would require a custom built solution. More about that later.

So now that we have an idea of what’s out there, let’s talk about each option a little more in depth.

Pay Pal Buttons

PayPal buttons are very easy to implement and (quite obviously) run through PayPal, which is arguably the most common online payment solution out there. They can be added to any website by generating the code through your PayPal account and then placing their button on your website. 

When you create the button, it is tied to a specific product and price. When a user clicks on the button, they are redirected to PayPal’s website in order to complete the transaction. It is easy and familiar, but it’s not very professional as it takes your customer off your website to PayPal’s website, and it’s very troublesome to purchase more than one item at a time. That’s why I recommend it for only selling a small number of products.

There is a beefed up version of the PayPal button called a shopping cart. Homestead offers a solution called a simple store. It’s similar to a button in that it’s easy to add to your site, the difference is that it allows customers to add more than one item to a cart before checking out. However, you’re still redirected to PayPal and it lacks many features like inventory management, integration with other software stacks, and other critical elements that many business owners need to be tracking.

Storefront

A storefront is a full E-commerce solution. Anytime you go to an E-commerce website, you’re interacting with an online E-commerce storefront. PayPal buttons are for singular transactions. Storefronts are E-commerce websites that allow people to purchase multiple products.

Storefronts have significantly more functionality and have the power to stand on their own. What that means is they must have the look and feel of a modern website. This is why you need to find an E-commerce solution that provides the most positive user experience. Kevin Strawbridge of E-commerce Consulting writes:

These “packages” would handle things like page layout, content management (CMS), product inventory management (PIM), payment gateways, onsite search, and a multitude of other tools to create a better user experience.

All of these are very important to the user experience and must be considered when evaluating E-commerce solutions. There are many out-of-the-box companies that have already taken the heavy lifting of creating the framework you need to sell. Some of the more popular ones are Shopify and BigCommerce, among many others. 

These solutions address the necessary security needed when conducting business online. They keep credit card and other sensitive information private, they manage your customer base while keeping track of order history, and provide a very streamlined way to house your products. Even more, many of the aforementioned solutions have pre-designed templates that make it easier on those want a professional looking store without having to know how to code.

Are You Fully Prepared to Manage Your E-commerce Store?

You can always outsource the development of your E-commerce storefront to a company that can build you a custom database and store. This will make sure you're not limited by any of the restrictions that prepackaged solutions have. 

For instance, if you need more than 20 different pricing structures for your produces based on the level of the client who is shopping, you'll need a custom solution. However, having a custom store and database built for you is can get expensive when compared to ready-made solutions. 

Sure, you can build whatever cool feature you want into your store, but it may cost you 6 months worth of sales to do so. In addition, it will take time which could cost you in the long run. 

Here are my main points to consider when choosing to build or buy:

Time:

How quickly do you need your store up and running? It can take months or even years to have a custom solution bolted together with all the features you need. 

If you need to sell online sooner than later, a custom build probably won’t be your best bet. Even more, how much time will you need to devote to managing the store? Is this something can manage? Do you have someone else on your team who will manage it? Or do you need a partner agency to manage the store for you? 

Depending on your answer, you might choose one or the other.

Accessibility: 

If you’re very hands-on owner, you might get frustrated relying on someone else to update your store whenever you need. Not only will you have to pay each time (unless you’re paying a retainer), but you’ll have to wait usually 24-48 hours for the change to take place.

With an out of the box solution, you have far more control and can make changes on the fly as you go. Many solutions have controls over design and functionality as well. Even if it’s not perfect as it, you do have the ability to customize a little bit. Even if you have to hire a designer to style the look of the store, it’ll be far less trouble than having someone build an entire store from scratch. According to Bill Crouch of Bridgeline Digital:

“If you can get 85% out of the box, and have to tweak the last 15%, then do it.” 

Budget:

Perhaps the most important of all considerations, budget can determine your direction with more authority than anything else. 

It’s no secret, out of the box solutions are far cheaper than custom ones, but some people view this as an indication that one is less quality than the other. Don’t be fooled! The E-commerce industry is no young fledgling anymore. It’s had time to grow and refine itself so that the offers we have available today are the best solutions for selling online.

Paying a monthly fee to have a “prefab” solution will save you money, headaches, and a ton of time. 

Above all else, you want to keep your customer in mind when looking into e-commerce. You want to make sure that they have the most pleasant, hassle-free experience shopping on your store as possible. 

Sometimes a company is in a position to devote considerable equity to a project. They have very specific needs that a prebuilt solution can’t accommodate and the infrastructure in place to be able to wait an unspecified amount of time for their custom solution to be built. In these instances, I think that a custom solution is the best fit.

For the rest of us, out of the box solutions provide an easy setup, comprehensive tools, and budget-friendly commitments. Define what your needs are and identify the most important functionalities you require in a store. Then research the available options to see which one fulfills the most needs. 

E-Commerce and Inbound Marketing/Sales Platform Combination

Another emerging opportunity for outdoor brands is to combine a robust CRM, automated marketing, sales and customer experience platform with a top-notch e-Commerce store. Outdoor brands now have the opportunity to utilize such a dynamic duo through the recent native integration of the Shopify app store with HubSpot. HubSpot’s integration will allow Shopify merchants to bring specific sales data from the user’s Shopify store, including customers, orders, and products, into the HubSpot platform. The combined power of Shopify and HubSpot can give outdoor brands  the tools they need to build much more sophisticated e-commerce marketing strategies."

The new integration will make it easier than ever to bring HubSpot's power and insights to online merchants. Customers will be able to see online sales in HubSpot as deals, organize and analyze purchasing patterns, and measure customer lifetime value. The new integration will help e-Commerce marketers complete specific e-Commerce tasks, like sending transactional emails and building workflows for abandoned shopping cart remarketing.

(For customers not on the Shopify platform, HubSpot also announced its e-Commerce Bridge framework, a new API package that provides a streamlined and official way for developers to connect an online store to HubSpot. This will allow HubSpot customers to build custom integrations, or HubSpot partners to build e-Commerce integrations through the Connect Partner program.

It may be a very simple solution, or it may require a more complex framework. Either way, by placing yourself in your customers’ shoes, you can be sure that your visitors will have the best experience possible. And you can add to your bottom line by utilizing the wonderful power of E-commerce. 

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Topics: E-Commerce

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