Changes In Retailing

The Internet and amusement-themed shopping areas seem to be the biggest threat to traditional specialty-shop retailers in the next few years. In a workshop presented the second night of the TransWorld Snowboarding Industry Conference, five panelists addressed the subject of changes in retailing and gave attendees an interesting view into the possible future of our sport.

“There are 90-million people on the Internet today,” said Susan Darling, from Microsoft’s Commerce and Retailing division. She also listed a number of retail-related Internet stats: There are 400,000 commercial Web sites; 1-800-Flowers does 35-million dollars in sales on Web; and by the year 2002, there will be 300-billion dollars in sales transactions on the Web.

Today most businesses use the Internet for commercial reasons, but in the future it will be a business-to-business conduit. “The Web will replace the fax machine,” Darling predicted.

Dean Iwate, the online store manager at Recreational Equipment, Inc., put Darling’s overview into the retail perspective with a discussion of how the Web has been used by his company. He said REI had experienced 400-percent growth with its online business in the last year. But he pointed out that it’s still a challenge to get people to shop online. He stated that 62 percent of Web users say it’s difficult to shop online and the number-one reason why people don’t buy something is because of bank-card security. However, the medium is gaining its fans as well, and the number-one reason people say they shop online is for convenience.

REI’s online strategy is to add value to its customers shopping experience. The company currently sells more than 10,000 products on its Web site and will try to integrate its online business in its stores by installing Internet kiosks in every retail location.

Chris Churchill, the media supervisor for the online marketing agency Left Field, discussed how putting up a Web site isn’t enough to let consumers know you exist. “You have to use the ‘net to its full ability,” he said. “Manufacturers need to drive the consumer to retailers.” He added that retailers should partner with Web companies to bring added value to its customers and to keep its margins high.

He outlined a series of different ways online marketing can be done including using banner advertising, e-mail marketing, and giveaways over the net.

Another challenge to traditional specialty stores is the new movement in entertainment-based retailing. The Intrawest Corporation has pushed the concept to the edge with its Showcase snowboard store in Whistler, Canada, where the shop holds big macaroni-and-cheese parties and has go-go dancers in the display windows and on the counters during weekends and holidays.

Todd Friesen, director of retail at Whistler/Blackcomb resort, said the new business is about entertainment, then atmosphere, but points out the shop is also into grassroots involvement by supporting the local clubs and events with the ultimate goal of growing the sport.

Taking the concept one step further was Michael Gerard, marketing director for the Glacier Sports Center, who discussed the planned Gotcha Glacier amusement park/mall slated to be built in Anaheim, California. It will be an indoor snowboard/ski slope along with wave pool, ice rink, retail stores, and food courts. With a captive audience and year-round snowboarding, a store in the Gotcha Glacier would definitely have a big edge over the local competition.