Balance needed between on and offline sales, says consumer research

While standard thinking may be that all retail sales are shifting online, some product categories are now predicted to revert back in-store. With generational purchasing trends further muddying the waters, Crawford Davidson, Managing Director of Go Inspire Group, weighs up the current and future on and offline balance…

The refresh rate of UK bicycle stores has been at its lowest since the 1960s, with only three cycle shops opening for every ten that shut down.

Like many other retail sectors, the cycle industry is experiencing first-hand the threat of online shopping. As internet retailers gradually implement the same incentives typically used for in-store purchases (such as offering 30-day test-ride trial periods, as well as flexible delivery times or near-by collection points), traditional bicycle shops seem to have lost their unique selling point. Add to this the issue of rising rents, it is unsurprising to see cycle shops closing on the UK High Streets and they are not alone with many big brand names opting to close their physical outlets.

To better understand how the retail, and cycle retail, industry would be impacted by this ‘drift’ to online purchasing, Go Inspire Group commissioned independent research. The research canvassed the opinions of 1,000 people in the UK about the evolution of their shopping behaviour in five years’ time, as a means to predict the future balance between online and offline shopping. The results provide a measure of the extent to which cycling-related purchases and sports gear are evolving towards an exclusively online environment. When compared with purchasing trends for a wide variety of other product types it is possible to understand at what pace the sports industry was shifting onto online platforms compared to other product-types and sectors.

Respondents reported that not only bicycles, but all sports equipment and clothing will experience a 6% ‘drift’ towards online shopping between now and 2024. On the other hand, other studied categories such as fresh foods, household goods and personal hygiene products are all expected to revert back in-store. This highlights the existence of a ‘drift’ in which different retail types are driving towards online shopping in different gears. In this case, bicycles and cycling equipment are in the fast lane.

For sports equipment, this surge in online purchases stems from the wide availability of online reviews today, which allow customers to easily compare different models and inform their purchasing decisions. Often these reviews provide direct links to e-Commerce sites to complete the purchase or indeed, retailers are investing in setting up this type of review system on their own portals. Cycling enthusiasts, semi-professionals and professionals looking at the high-end cycle market- for high performance e-Bikes for example – will in fact typically research their purchase before buying given the steeper price of their preferred model and product range.

In spite of this, today’s customers present increasingly complex profiles, with activity over multiple postal and email addresses, browsing histories and shopping baskets. These multi-channel shoppers should therefore be approached in an omni-channel, integrated and coherent fashion regardless of where their purchase is finally made. While younger generations may be more present online, the novelty of direct mail marketing can actually be more effective in generating a purchase for this age group, especially due to the saturation of online platforms.

To shed further light on generational differences in purchasing trends, the survey divided results by age categories and found that the tendency to shop for sports equipment online was even stronger among Generation Z respondents (aged 18-24), with an 11% expected increase in their e-purchases. This was the highest percentage drift of all 21 product categories studied for this age group. While this reflects the same pattern exhibited in the mainstream population, studying the younger population’s purchasing forecasts in isolation is crucial for brands who want to win over this demographic. At the same time, with more disposable income than younger riders, older cyclists are more inclined to go the extra mile and invest in more expensive, high-end models and components. Marketers may therefore wish to consider not only the balance between their offline and online marketing channels, but also the range of products that are marketed on each end and the value of combining communication channels.

It is therefore important that marketers refrain from slamming the brakes on all offline marketing strategies before accurately measuring current and future shopping behaviours for their specific retail area, product range and demographic. Being aware of the different speeds at which various age groups are pedalling towards online purchases, and for which products in particular, is vital to any bike brand and should be incorporated into any savvy communication plan.

Related: A trend among young people seems to be emerging where shoppers will pay a premium for brands that have an eco-friendly track record and brand identity.