Customers are not shopping, they’re buying, say store owners.
Jon is the manager of a famous mountain shop in southwest Colorado. He explained to me that with newly reduced hours and a limited number of customers allowed inside his shop at one time, the store was crushing previous sales records. The small town Jon is in has been locked down, restaurants forced to serve locals and tourists outside, and all festivals, movies and live music have been canceled for the summer. Yet, sales soar.
Jon is not alone in this experience. Other mountaineering shops tell me the same story of unusually strong sales and an expanding clientele.
I work in the back of a kayak and surf shop fifty miles north of Jon. Business here has been crazy as well, with a lot of the incoming boats, SUPs and boards sold before they even come out of the box. The daily crush of customers includes the expected die-hard enthusiasts, a good number of newbies and interestingly, old grey haired funhogs showing off skills they picked up in the ’80s. After all, it makes sense that in these unsettled times what could be safer, or more private, than taking friends and family out for a little time on the water?
What is interesting is that although the new clientele might be unaccustomed to an outdoor sport; they aren’t inexperienced at being a consumer. And unlike every customer in history before them, this new group is learning to buy all of their toys, clothes and food without traditional indoor shopping. Safer inside has meant a massive movement to Internet and the home delivery of all manner of consumer goods. Safer at the curb has translated into a click and carry out mindset, where we don’t have to go inside to make a selection. With all of the information, experiences and recommendations on the Internet, today’s web educated customers know not only what they want to do; they know what they want to buy.
A new outdoor community is coalescing around us and redefining the outdoor business in the process. Unable to socialize indoors, locked out of the gym and tired of binge watching Netflix, an increasing number of people are turning to the outdoors, i.e. the natural world, as an inexpensive and convenient place to simply do something active and spend time together.
The change may be a bubble. Gas prices will eventually go up, bars and restaurants will reopen and people will smile at one another again on the street. Our new outdoorists might go back to living a life in captivity, returning to indoor work and indoor play. Shopping could go back to being an activity, an end to itself.
COVID-19 will be remembered for many things. The contagion has changed our viewpoint regarding every aspect of living with ourselves and with one another. Perhaps the most sublime will be the realignment of personal values and prioritization of the outdoors, aka planet Earth. It’s about time.
Disclaimer: Mr. Gray wonders how people will eat outside this winter and predicts Target’s Christmas advertising will include insulated picnic outerwear. Textile Insight’s Publisher may not share in his opinions or frozen finger food.