Outdoor Retailer Online: COVID-19 & Diversity and Inclusion in the Outdoor Industry


Outdoor Retailer’s Summer Market may have been canceled, but retailers, brands, and industry professionals were still able to virtually come together and exchange insight through the first-ever Outdoor Retailer Online event.

During the three-day event, attendees were able to watch live-streamed presentations that covered some of the most relevant issues facing today’s outdoor industry. COVID-19 and Diversity and Inclusion were two of the main themes that dominated this year’s presentations, and given current events, that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.


COVID-19 and its effects on the Sports and Outdoor industry

In a presentation on the impact of COVID-19, Matt Powell and Julia Day of the NPD Group echoed what most of the industry has been saying for the last several months.

“We don’t think that we go back to the previous levels [referring to the growth in e-commerce sales],” said NPD Global Industry Analyst Matt Powell. “We think consumers have learned to shop online. They’re buying more things online than they’ve ever bought, whether it’s meals, or groceries, or sneakers. We already thought we were going to hit about 50% penetration in e-commerce in 5 to 10 years. We think the timeline has moved up 3 to 5 years.”

Growth in e-commerce has taken place alongside brick-and-mortar closures. According to Powell, about 4,000 closures have been announced this year. While many of these closures could be attributed to the outbreak of COVID-19, mass brick-and-mortar closures were already happening well before the pandemic.

In early March, Modell’s Sporting Goods filed for bankruptcy and announced plans to close all of its 153 stores. Sports Authority, Sports Chalet, and Performance Bicycle also closed their doors within the last five years. The so-called “retail apocalypse” has been underway for some time, but COVID-19 is catalyzing this process. According to Powell, some analysts have predicted that as many as 25,000 brick-and-mortar closures could take place by the end of this year, which is pretty staggering when compared to the 9,0000 closures that took place in 2019.

These trends reiterate just how important it is for brands to be embracing e-commerce to the fullest. Consumer demand is booming in many areas of sports and outdoor, and the brands that can meet that demand online are the ones that are going to come out on top. Health and fitness equipment, outdoor gear, running footwear — all of these categories are performing well as consumers look for ways to entertain themselves outside.

If you’d like to hear more about outdoor retail trends, consumer insights, and the impact of COVID-19, check out NPD’s Outdoor Retailer webinar.


Diversity and Inclusion in the Sports and Outdoor industry

Large scale civil unrest and protests against systemic racism in the US have created a time of reflection and introspection for many brands. At this year’s Outdoor Retailer Online, speakers gave insight on how brands can address these issues in their own businesses.

Angelou Ezeilo is the author of the book “Engage, Connect, Protect”. She is also the CEO and founder of the Greening Youth Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to engaging under-represented youth and young adults while connecting them to the outdoors and careers in conservation. During her presentation, she talked about how systemic racism exists in the sports and outdoor industry, and what brands and businesses can do to enact change.

While explaining how the private sports and outdoor industry is connected to Ezeilo’s mission to connect diverse youth to the environment, she said, “I say the public lands are inextricably connected to the outdoor retail industry. It’s literally the playground for outdoor retail.”

She went on to say, “If you engage diverse people, you increase your market base and include the number one consumer… It’s important to know how to interact with Black and indigenous people of color, how to communicate with Black and indigenous people of color. What are the various cultures? What does that even entail? What makes them tick? What might be considered offensive? What are their values? All of those things are important to attract, engage, and retain talent. Because diverse talent is directly connected to your business’s relevancy.”

Ezeilo goes on to encourage businesses to remove HR practices that serve as roadblocks for diverse talent. She said that while recruiting, businesses should consider seeking talent from colleges and trade schools. She also recommends partnering with organizations that are already connected with audiences that brands are trying to reach, but that first and foremost, it’s important to listen.

“First, listen,” said Ezeilo. “This is an area that you do not know a lot about, so if you partner with an organization that does work with that audience, first listen. Understand the pain points of these communities that you’re trying to reach.”

Later in her presentation, Ezeilo talked about how brands should feature more diversity in their advertisements, product photos, and outreach. Some other tips included: getting early exposure to diverse audiences, investing in programs that engage with young and diverse people, and finding diverse influencers that share your brand’s core values and ideas.

If you’d like to hear more about diversity from Ezeilo, check out the Outdoor Industry Association’s website.


Final Thoughts

Outdoor Retailer looked different this year, but it was still full of great speakers and insight on the current issues facing the sports and outdoor retail industry. Didn’t have time to attend this year? Outdoor Retailer has made this year’s virtual presentations available on their website.