Camping is one of the few areas of the travel industry that has experienced growth since the start of COVID-19.
According to the Kampground of America’s Growth of Camping Amid COVID-19 report, 21% of leisure travelers went on a camping trip over the summer. Nearly half of those campers were either camping for the first time or renewing their interest without having camped in several or more years.
For many new and returning campers, their trip to the outdoors was preceded by gear shopping.
Shopping peaked in mid-to-late summer
GSI Outdoors is a brand that specializes in outdoor cookware and dining products. Their product assortment spans everything from ultralight backpacking cookware to car camping stoves and partyware.
Like many Sports and Outdoors brands, GSI Outdoors experienced a rush of consumer interest in July and August.
“July and August were some of our biggest sales months ever,” said GSI Outdoors Director of Sales Tom Hathaway. “Everything at our brick-and-mortar retailers was selling out, and there was really strong demand across all of our product segments.”
Consumer interest in camping gear started building in June, and dollar sales of camping equipment increased 31% for that month year-over-year, per data from NPD. For GSI Outdoors, some of their most popular products during those rush months included stoves, larger pot sets, and anything to do with coffee.
“We were definitely seeing a lot of first-time campers come in and buy our gear, which is great,” said Hathaway. “Coffee products in particular did really well. People know they may be getting up with the sun, so good coffee is especially important.”
For sports and outdoors, the shopping journey still starts at brick and mortar
According to Hathaway, brick and mortar was GSI Outdoor’s strongest sales channel over the summer. That is the opposite of what’s happening in many other retail categories where e-commerce has become the top-performer.
Sports and Outdoors shopping —in most cases — still starts at brick and mortar. Here’s why: most consumers don’t know what kind of camping gear they want or need. Brick-and-mortar stores like REI present an opportunity for shoppers to explore products and brands. It’s part of the adventure.
E-commerce comes in as a sales channel later, after consumers have had a chance to use the product and familiarize themselves with the brand. That’s when consumers jump online to explore what else brands have to offer.
Younger consumers are camping more
According to the Kampground of America’s annual report, first-time campers represented a much younger demographic this year: 19% Millennial, 17% Gen X, and 15% Gen Z. Reaching those younger demographics requires a different approach from brands.
“When we think of the younger generations, like Millennials and Gen Z, we have to realize that they’re looking for different things in a product — whether that be sustainability, practicality, or cost,” said Hathaway. “We actually develop many of our products to be cross-functional, meaning that they can be used outdoors and in everyday life, and that approach has worked well.”
The outlook for 2021
Will the heightened interest in camping in the outdoors continue into 2021? Kampground of America estimates 18% of new campers will continue camping in 2021, and campers that prefer tents or cabins have the highest likelihood of continuing to camp.
For brands, reaching that 18% of returning campers will take innovation, something GSI Outdoors is continually doing.
“We’re always developing new products and looking for ways to encourage the appreciation of the outdoors,” said Hathaway. “Hopefully they [new campers] do come back, and they keep camping. Maybe one of the silver linings to come out of all of this will be a renewed interest in the outdoors, I think that’s what we’re really hoping for.”