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Summer Visits Heat Up For Recreation and Outdoor Gear Chains

by 
Shira Petrack
 on 
August 28, 2023
Summer Visits Heat Up For Recreation and Outdoor Gear Chains

With the warm weather upon us, we dove into the foot traffic and demographic data for REI, Patagonia, Sierra, and Columbia Sportswear to see how these recreational and outdoor gear chains are faring. 

Gearing Up for Summer 

With summer in full swing, many Americans are choosing to spend time hiking, camping, and generally enjoying all the pleasures nature has to offer during the season. And part of heading for the great outdoors involves getting gear ready for the trip, with stores like REI, Patagonia, Sierra, and Columbia Sportswear serving as go-to destinations for boots and tents. 

Of the four brands analyzed, REI enjoys the largest visit share, receiving over half of total visits to the four retailers. The company is also expanding, with several new stores slated for opening in 2023, which means that the nation’s largest consumer co-op is likely to maintain its top position. But REI is facing increasingly fierce competition from TJX-owned Sierra, which has expanded aggressively and currently operates 81 locations as of May 2023, up from just 35 stores in February 2019.

Visits Heating Up 

While Sierra is expanding the most aggressively, all four brands analyzed experienced consistent year-over-year (YoY) visit growth between January and July 2023 and outperformed the wider apparel. The steady YoY growth indicates that the ongoing economic headwinds are not holding consumers back from gearing up and enjoying outdoor recreation.

Median Visit Duration Also Increases

REI, Patagonia, Sierra, and Columbia Sportswear are not just seeing an increase in overall visits. Median visit duration to three of the four analyzed chains also increased YoY, indicating that shoppers are spending more time in-store. 

The increase in median visit duration highlights the added value that brick-and-mortar retail outlets bring to consumers. Although shoppers can do product research online, experiencing certain items directly – seeing how tools work, touching the fabrics, and trying on apparel – can offer invaluable input when making a purchasing decision. Despite the increase in e-commerce in recent years, the YoY increase in median visit duration for the analyzed brands suggests that 2023 consumers are still interested in spending time in physical stores to get a feel for products in real life. 

The longer in-store dwell times may also partially explain these brands’ success – consumers may be drawn to these chains’ stores to try out their apparel and tools after a COVID-induced hiatus in recreational activities. 

Affluent Visitor Base Drives Traffic 

Analyzing demographics in the four brands’ True Trade Area suggests an additional factor driving visit growth to REI, Patagonia, Sierra, and Columbia Sportswear. The four brands draw visitors from census blocks with an elevated median household income, both relative to the wider apparel category and to the nationwide average. This means that the visitor base for these chains is likely less impacted by the current headwinds that shoppers at other chains – which could be helping REI, Patagonia, Sierra, and Columbia Sportswear stay ahead of the pack. The combination of longer visits and an audience with income to spend could help reinforce the visit growth and drive even larger store expansion plans.

With the weather likely to remain warm for another couple of months, these outdoor-oriented retailers are well positioned to continue their growth streak. And as the colder months arrive, ski trips and other cold-weather activities may bring an even further boost to the sector. 

For more data-driven foot traffic insights, visit placer.ai/blog

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