More Than a Transaction: Customer Experience Matters in Athleisure Sales

Under Armour. Lululemon. Fabletics. Athleta. Marika. YOGASMOGA.

The list of activewear product lines goes on, and the growing interest around active lifestyles – and activewear to match – shows no sign of slowing. In this increasingly popular market, consumers have a myriad of choices in front of them. The key for these brands and retailers to stand out will be to take advantage of the trend of retail convergence: the notion that e-commerce and the physical store are merging.

Consider the potential internal dialogue that occurs when a shopper attempts to decide which performance shirt to buy. Does it have sweat-wicking capabilities? Does it protect from UV rays? How does one ever know that he or she is making the best purchase? More importantly, how does someone new to the active lifestyle enter the activewear market and make a purchase appropriate to his or her needs, unless given expert guidance and advice?

The activewear market boom is largely driven by Millennials, a shopping demographic that was once thought to prefer online shopping over brick-and-mortar locations. A recent TimeTrade survey asked Millennials about their purchasing habits, and the answers were somewhat surprising: more than 90 percent of Millennials planned to shop in-store as often or more frequently in 2015 than they had in 2014, demonstrating that Millennials still value in-store experiences. Further, Millennials are more likely to book an appointment before shopping than any other age group surveyed – illustrating this demographic's desire to speak with a knowledgeable associate when making purchase decisions.

The reality is that shoppers do use the Internet and mobile platforms but mostly, it seems, as research mechanisms to help narrow down their choices rather than as a platform for transacting. Most respondents (53 percent) noted that they would narrow their purchasing choices down to two to three products, while a full 38 percent knew exactly what product they were looking to buy in the store based on their online research. However, only 13 percent of respondents have actually made a product purchase on their mobile device. Rather than complete the sale online, consumers look to in-store help for guidance during the buying phase. Leading retailers today are aware of this purchase behavior, and are using their online presence to drive a high-value in-store experience.

The path to purchase for activewear
You're ready to buy some new running gear.  You've done your research, narrowed down your choices to the top three brands that have caught your eye, and walk into a retail store to make the final purchase. Immediately, a sales associate is available to assist you, and can give you the specific use case for the items on your short list. It turns out that you were looking at running clothes, and your primary intention is to train outside throughout all seasons – which happens to affect the apparel that's right for your specific needs.

Your sales associate introduces a fourth option into the mix and explains the merits of this activewear brand. Not only do you like the associate personally – and 60 percent of respondents noted they would be more likely to buy additional products if that was the case – but you have also had a positive experience with the retailer and brand, greatly increasing the chances that you will go back to that store – and that associate – for your next purchase.

For retailers that want to capture the in-store activewear buyer's attention, there are three important steps:
  • Understand your consumer is connected, and work within that reality: While a customer will likely know the need he or she is trying to fulfill, and, in many cases, have an idea of what he or she would like to buy, the decision is far from made when a shopper enters the store. For 85 percent of respondents, the desire to "touch and feel" products before making a final purchase decision is what drives them in – giving retailers ample opportunity to help influence purchasing decisions. Embrace consumers' pre-purchase research habits, and understand that they are likely to come to the store armed with basic knowledge – so make sure your staff is even more skilled to handle their questions.
  • Deliver on the promise of a personalized experience: We live in an omnichannel world, and with the advent of big data, personalization is more prevalent – and expected – than ever before. As this trend continues, retailers that fail to deliver a personalized experience will struggle to keep their customers. The key: converting the valuable customer data that can be captured during the customer's path to purchase into valuable insight.
  • Staff up on knowledgeable in-store associates to win customer loyalty: A happy customer will very likely become a loyal customer if the retailer gets it right. "Getting it right" means having in-store experts at-the-ready – particularly for complicated departments like activewear – who can answer questions, provide personal anecdotes and advice, and ultimately, help customers find exactly what they need.
Most shoppers want a guided experience where an expert sales associate quickly understands their needs, educates them on the options, recommends suitable products and, most importantly, provides the kind of experience that creates store and brand loyalty.

Mike Lewis is the CMO at TimeTrade, a provider an appointment scheduling SaaS solution to consumer retail, retail banking, health and wellness and higher education customers. The company recently reached a milestone of enabling more than 310 million consumer-to-business transactions.

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