The future may hold far fewer and radically redesigned stores, analysts say.
Sports enthusiasts love to talk about their triumphs, and more sporting goods e-retailers are making it possible for them to tell not just their friends about their exploits but the whole world.
DicksSportingGoods.com is filled with crisp shots of all kinds of goods and players. But those are for the products. So the e-retailer launched Bragging Board, where everyone from fishermen to hunters can post stories and pictures from their adventures. Likewise, Cabelas.com offers Memories in the Field, where customers can present stories about their outdoors feats.
BestKiteboarding.com serves up about 128 gigabytes of videos every month and says video is the biggest driver for getting shoppers back to the site. Videos include customers showing their stuff on kiteboards, not just discussing their best waves.
Moosejaw.com encourages customers to send in as many photographs as they can, especially ones displaying the Moosejaw flag--for example, climbers planting the flag atop a mountain. For products, the e-retailer added Ajax as part of a redesign so shoppers can quickly view product information without having to click back and forth between pages.
Additionally, Moosejaw is a pioneer in m-commerce. It has embraced text messaging as much as its customers have. Customers who buy on Moosejaw.com, for instance, can opt for a tracking number to be sent to their mobile phone. 25% of customers who place an order sign up to get texted.
At Altrec.com, the e-retailer is providing plenty of information to customers. Its adventure publication and educational site, GreatOutdoors.com, is filled with news, how-to`s and features on outdoor sports and travel.
REI.com joined a major trend in e-commerce by adding customer reviews. Since it began offering the tool in late August, it has amassed more than 18,000 reviews. To give customers even more to consider, it also bulked up information on product pages.
And at Golfballs.com, the merchant has been making it easier for shoppers to find and create personalized products. It has simplified search and navigation for personalization options, which includes imprinting names or goofy sayings on golf balls.
Outdoor gear retailer Altrec Inc. makes sure its customer service staff takes all their vacation time. That`s because the company knows that they`ll spend it camping, biking, climbing mountains, and doing other extreme things that will inform and improve the advice they offer customers.
"We have an aggressive vacation policy for our customer service people, so that their experience is fresh and relevant," says Mike Morford, CEO of Altrec, based in Kirkland, Wash. "Sometimes our vendors will send products with them to test."
Morford`s dearest wish is for everyone to get out of the house and off the main road for at least a little while. To that end, the company operates two sites--the pure retail play at altrec.com, where each offering is unconditionally guaranteed, and a combination store/adventure publication/educational site at GreatOutdoors.com (motto: "Inspire, Equip, Connect, and GO"). GreatOutdoors is packed with news, how-to`s, and features on outdoor sports and travel. If the reading inspires the desire to purchase something, the customer is sent to greatoutdoors.altrec.com.
"That split makes sense from both a conceptual standpoint and for search-engine optimization," says Sucharita Mulpuru, principal analyst at Forrester Research. Visitors to GreatOutdoors can bookmark articles with several different tools, such as del.icio.us or Digg. "The more they engage with the content, the more likely it is to drive traffic to Altrec."
Altrec has owned the GreatOutdoors brand since 2000, but is only now starting to develop it fully, with a redesign that debuted in October. Morford is rapidly beefing up the content, with videos and interviews with noted outdoorsmen and women. The company is also expanding its product selection, currently at about 40,000 items, adding an outlet section, and trying to grow its affiliate program.
Forrester`s Mulpuru admires Altrec`s strategy of gathering opt-in e-mail addresses through a product giveaway sweepstakes combined with a newsletter offer. "It`s increasingly difficult to get good opt-in e-mail addresses," she says. "Anyone coming to the site who`s a product enthusiast is likely to sign up, and it`s a low investment to get that valuable address." Back to Top
Surfing the web
Kiteboarding--riding the waves on a small board using a kite for propulsion and maneuvering--is a relatively new extreme sport that combines aspects of surfing, snowboarding and parasailing. Troy Lawson, chief technology officer at Best Kiteboarding, Delray Beach, Fla., estimates there are fewer than a million kiteboarders, though he says they are spread throughout the 191 countries and territories with which the company does business.
Best Kiteboarding is the largest single retailer in the kiteboarding space, based on kites sold, Lawson says. "Most kiteboarding companies are small and local and don`t sell to the masses," he adds.
As the sport grows, Bestkiteboarding.com is set to be a popular home on the web. "The Best Kiteboarding site is among the most comprehensive I`ve seen as a go-to site for anyone interested in a narrowly defined extreme sport," says George Whalin, president and CEO of Retail Management Consultants. He applauds the wide product selection, wealth of information about the sport, community-building forums and canny use of online video.
The site serves 128 gigabytes of videos per month. "Videos are the biggest driver for getting people back to our web site," Lawson says. "Even if you run specials, people don`t buy every single day. We have guys across the world sending stuff to our in-house video editors." Another driver is the forums, where enthusiasts swap product information and opinions.
BestKiteboarding.com leads a double life--as a direct-to-consumer site and a customer center for resellers, who have a separate log-in and tool set for managing their accounts.