Creating an online community of customers is super important for retailers these days. Being able to build a strong customer following for a reason other than just offering the retail basics of value for money and good customer service is a great way to build brand loyalty. A modern, content rich blog that inspires potential customers to engage with the brand is an essential part of online retailing.
Let’s compare how 2 or 3 of the biggest outdoor retailers from both side of the Atlantic do this. We’re talking about similar sized (within their respective markets) retailers with similar profiles who stock similar brands. It’s not difficult to see that the US retailers are in some cases way ahead when it comes to the quality and breadth of material they are creating, especially when it comes to professional, athlete driven content.
Backcountry.com are perhaps the most progressive of the big US online retailers. Maybe it’s because they are an online only set up and can afford to contribute more resources towards their blog(s) and customer driven community. Whatever the reason, they get it right.
The ‘articles’ section of Backcountry.com is a blog type feed of content written by a mix of Backcountry sponsored athletes and professional writers, along with reviews and product feedback from Backcountry customers. There is a great mix of long and short format stuff, crisp images, good looking videos and genuinely informative material that is updated several times a week. The browsing process is slick and everything looks great, including the font which is easy attractive and easy to read. The content has an expert tone without being elitist. And yes, you read that correctly, Backcountry.com has a team of sponsored athletes. An impressive team it is too. If every clothing and equipment manufacturer can have a team of athletes to persuade customers to buy into their product, then why not a retailer also? Furthermore, they take the time to create excellent videos (see above) and even an entire website dedicated to communicating their brand message.
Backcountry have a huge amount of original material on Youtube. The video below is from their ‘Backcountry Basics’ series and features Bruce Tremper, one of the world’s foremast avalanche professionals, talking about several aspects of avalanche safety. We are talking about original, professional material presented by an expert who is trusted in their field. It’s really good stuff.
A tweet from REI caught my attention recently. It was a link to an article on their blog written by a pro photographers Matt and Agnes Hage based around a ski touring trip to Iceland. It’s a beautiful and inspiring piece or work about a destination that seems to on the minds of an increasing number of backcountry skiers and splitboarders right now. I spent a few minutes soaking up the arctic stoke then had a short browse through the rest of REI’s site too. I’ve visited the blog several times since and assuming they continue to publish content of a similar quality, I’ll continue to do so.
This article represents the kind of investment that I think retailers should be making. Take a look through the blogs of similar retailers from the UK. Snow+Rock are the kind of company I would expect to find interesting stuff from; they have great stores, a website that looks the part and a very progressive attitude towards new brands and gear in general. Clearly they don’t feel that their blog is worth investing in though – it’s clunky, full of generic content, has broken links and generally isn’t a patch on what you see from either Backcountry or REI.
The Clymb are another retailer from the USA who are making big efforts to publish original and engaging professional grade material. Yes there are some top 10’s and basic gear reviews on their blog but they’re mixed up with some really nicely written articles from well known names like Brendan Leonard and Jim Harris. Again, it’s clear to see that the guys at The Clymb are prepared to invest time and money in making sure that their company stands for more than just great product at discount prices.
So how does perhaps the biggest quality outdoor retailer in the UK compare? No doubt Cotswold do some things very well but compared to Backcountry, REI and The Clymb their site has a very sterile feel to it. As far as I can see Cotswold don’t have a blog, though they do have a section of the website they call ‘The Knowledge‘. It’s a kind of online gear guide with info and videos presented mainly by Cotswold staff. It looks informative enough but it’s not the kind of thing that gets the juices flowing. Not only is the content itself on the dull side but the look and usability of the site is dated. There’s no style there, nothing inspiring.
I could roll out some more examples of how US sites like Backcountry.com and The Clymb are way ahead when it comes to blog content, but I don’t really need to. Just check it out for yourself. That’s the thing – it all speaks for itself. There’s no secret to all of this. Most of us spend our lives online these days and it doesn’t take an expert to work out who’s making the effort and who isn’t.
Perhaps the British consumer is less responsive to high quality content than those in North America? I’m not sure about that. I’d be willing to bet that if the big UK retailers were prepared to invest a little time and money in the same way that the likes of Backcountry.com clearly have then the pay back would be there. We’re not talking about enormous sums of money either; putting a small team together to create original material and maybe commission one professional piece of work per week would require a relatively low budget, certainly when compared to costs elsewhere in the company.
Doing business online is all about getting people onto your site and the more ways you have of achieving that the better. Retailers in a busy and competitive market who are able to draw in potential customers for reasons other than product and price will be at an advantage. Blogging shouldn’t be an afterthought these days – especially for big retailers who have ample resources. Investing in the creation of original, inspiring blog content is an important tool with which to form brand identity and create a strong community of followers.
Community Through Content is a regular series on The Path Less Trodden which takes a look at the best creative digital content from outdoor brands and retailers.