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BLC speakers talk about shifting consumer needs

Published April 13, 2016
Millennials rise in importance for future growth.

MONTEREY, Calif. (BRAIN) — The speakers kicking off the Bicycle Leadership Conference Wednesday morning in this scenic bayside community talked about an evolving consumer and lagging retail and brand response to shifting demands and needs.

"Retail is broken," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market research firm The NPD, Group, a renowned expert on consumer experience and published author. "The way we treat consumers today is broken."

Cohen said businesses have to find ways to elevate the level of connection between consumers and brands and pointed to Apple as setting the bar of what today's shopper expects out of an in-store experience. For bike shops, that means learning how to take the bike store and turn it into a lifestyle store to reach beyond the cyclist and the core customer base and attract a broader audience, he said.

In fact, Cohen said retailers must break from many traditions, like selling based on traditional merchandising calendars or seasons. It's about being more in sync with consumers and giving them what they want when they need it, which could mean having key strong items in the stores a little longer, so consumers aren't forced to buy online when they can't find the product in store.

"We have to find ways to get connected with the consumer from a calendar perspective," he said, referring to a sandal ad that Nordstrom sent out in late February last year, when there was record snowfall in the East.

"It's recognizing that biking is a year-round sport," he said. "We can't think of it as the way we used to think of it."

Cohen talked about many opportunities for growth of sales in the industry including:

• Direct to consumer: Currently the industry is relying too much on worker at retail to tell a brand's story. "If you're not speaking direct to consumer in concert with a retailer, you're missing out," he said.

• Accessories: talking about new materials, new needs new stories

• Tapping into personalization and localization trends.

He said retailers should no longer be in the inventory business but in the showcase business. Instead of carrying deep inventory, retailers should be able to deliver a variety of product next day or in two days.

The future is not about omnichannel retail but omnipresence, Cohen said, which he described as a seamless connection between a brick-and-mortar store, online shopping site and a brand. Now through certain mobile apps and social media, consumers are buying products through photographs on Instagram or Twitter.

And while many businesses are chasing millennial consumers today, Cohen stressed that while it's a large segment of the market, just as important as age is life stage — whether they're going to school, moms, parents, empty nesters — and selling to multiple age groups and life stages.

Still, Tom Flierl, VP of marketing and business strategy at Hanson Dodge Creative, and Sarah Van Elzen, VP of brand engagement for Hanson Dodge Creative, presented a case for why millennials are important to today's brands and retailers.

Hanson Dodge is an integrated marketing agency that's worked with many consumer-facing brands both outside and inside the bike industry including Trek, Thule, SRAM and Saris. The agency recently relaunched the K Swiss tennis shoe brand to appeal to a younger demographic, using a campaign and recruiting millennials to produce content and provide shoe design, brand positioning, business plans, and social media guidance.

"Within a few months of the campaign, our target audience was stacking on the lower age spectrum," said Van Elzen, a millennial herself.

"The resurgence of K Swiss wasn't driven by product," added Flierl. "The company makes canvas and leather shoes. But it was driven by consumer insights, branding and online content. Content is going to drive everything when you talk about experience."

Flierl said the bike industry feels heavily product focused, with brand websites looking like catalogs. "You're immediately engaged with high-performance, white, male rider or with a bike but there's very little content about experience," he said.

And millennials, he claimed are experience not product driven with 77 percent preferring a cool experience over a cool product.

Flierl provided many stats on millennials about their social media activity, online habits and shopping preferences. They are more racially diverse, and they want to co-create brands and products, he said.

"Target millennials with more content, social, and experience marketing," he advised. "But that applies to typical bike consumer as well. They're not that different. The entire bike consumer set is more digital and social than the average consumer."

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