How the Pandemic Has Affected Outdoor Retailers & Spaces
The pandemic has had a significant effect on consumer behavior over the last three years, but not all of it has been negative. Prolonged periods of time in lockdown and away from family, friends, and retail shops left consumers feeling lonely and in need of connection. When restrictions began to ease and people were allowed to be outdoors in public spaces once again, they took to the great outdoors enthusiastically. More Americans than ever before, many of whom had never participated in outdoor activities, began taking daily walks and hikes, trail running, boating, fishing, biking, and just spending time in parks and other public outdoor spaces. This surge then carried over to a period of growth in the retail area of the outdoor industry, which is projected to continue even now that pandemic restrictions have mostly been lifted.
Using Climate Adaptation as a Guide
For decades, outdoor industry managers, retailers, and enthusiasts have made changes to the way they experience the great outdoors due to climate change. Areas that were once popular destinations for skiing, water sports, and hiking have slowly become less accessible and more protected due to the effects of climate change on surrounding wildlife and landscapes. Melting glaciers, late snow, and heavy erosion have changed many popular skiing and snowboarding destinations forever. Yet we have adapted quickly and found alternative ways to keep enjoying the great outdoors despite these huge, sweeping changes. Likewise, at the start of the pandemic, those in the outdoor industry found ways to adapt to pandemic restrictions and find ways to get out of the house without risking their safety and health, or that of others. Hiking and walking in remote areas without many visitors were safe, healthy ways to counteract the effects of feeling cooped up and disconnected from the world.
Restrictions on Physical Shopping Experiences
Even as pandemic restrictions were lifted, there were still heavy restrictions on shopping in-person at grocery, convenience, and retail stores. Employees and customers had to practice social distancing, masks were required in most stores, and the number of customers allowed in at one time was limited. Many consumers avoided physical storefronts entirely, while others refused to comply with restrictions and avoided stores that required them. Online retailers saw a spike in business, especially in the outdoor industry, as people purchased gear, clothing, shoes, and equipment that allowed them to stay in shape even though they couldn’t go to the gym. The huge boom in online sales has carried over into the current state of the pandemic, as many people got used to shopping online and have found it to be easier, more convenient, and just as satisfying as visiting retail stores in-person. Third-party delivery apps have also seen a huge surge in use that continues today, as people place record numbers of requests for delivery from restaurants, fast food locations, grocery and convenience stores, and retail stores.
The Push to Shop Local
Another change to the retail shopping experience at the start of the pandemic was the push to shop local. This partly grew in popularity due to necessity. Shipping and freight challenges and pandemic restrictions severely disrupted the supply chain, so shopping at local shops and businesses, as well as using local suppliers and manufacturers, became a necessity. Many people weren’t able or allowed to travel outside of their state, and so there was a much higher demand on locally produced products. Locally owned outdoor retail stores and resale sporting goods stores benefitted from the ‘shop local’ movement, but it’s still not clear if that trend will continue through the next year.
Access to Outdoor Spaces
Access to outdoor spaces decreased during the first two years of the pandemic. National and local parks were forced to shut down, both to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and because they didn’t have the staffing, expertise, and budget to comply with necessary restrictions and protocols. When the media first started reporting that people could leave their houses and take ‘mental health walks’ around their neighborhoods as long as they complied with social distancing, many people realized that their neighborhoods weren’t really walkable or pedestrian friendly. Without a local park or hiking trail to use, people began to feel even more cooped up and isolated. As soon as local parks began easing restrictions and allowing people back in, visitors came in droves to let their kids play on the equipment (even when it was blocked off with tape and signs) and to use the track, exercise equipment, and picnic tables. When National Parks started allowing visitors again, there was a huge spike in attendance, with people taking advantage of the freedom associated with working from home to schedule road trips, camping trips, and hiking trips at National Parks. The National Parks system saw a dramatic increase in first-time visitors, and a huge spike in family or group visits. As pandemic restrictions have lifted in the past two years, the number of visitors to local, state, and National Parks has remained fairly consistent.
Demands on City Parks & Recreation Systems
The increase in visitors to city parks meant an increased demand on city parks and recreation systems. This resulted in an increase in hiring across the country, as city park managers and city human resources tried to hire back staff that they lost at the start of the pandemic. Cities around the country hired janitorial staff, maintenance crews, security personnel, training and human resources staff, managers, and activities coordinators. City parks slowly started reinstating summer programs for adults and children, and reopening libraries, community centers, gyms, basketball courts, and swimming pools. The surge in demand for these spaces created a push for increased maintenance of equipment and public spaces, and greater resources for staff and the public. In order to comply with existing restrictions and rehiring needs, city parks and recreation systems had to increase their budgets and find a way to get money for PPE. Now that restrictions have loosened, visitors are still crowding city parks and taking part in parks and recreation activities, bringing in increased revenue through activity fees and membership fees.
The Effect of Inflation on Outdoor Activities
Inflation has affected almost every aspect of American life post-pandemic. Ticket prices for outdoor experiences have risen steadily, partly in an attempt to increase profits and partly to pad budgets in case there is another lockdown or period of recession. Plane and train tickets and gas prices have also increased, making travel prohibitively expensive for those who want to visit state and National Parks outside of their area. Adventure travel has become more expensive; though in more remote areas that are still recovering from the pandemic, it is actually cheaper than it has ever been. The prices of outdoor gear, clothing, camping and hiking supplies, and equipment has also been steadily increasing. This makes it harder for people who are newer to the outdoors to experience everything it has to offer. If prices continue to rise, the outdoor industry will either see another decline, or customers will permanently turn to resale shops and discount stores for their gear and equipment.
The Future of Outdoor Recreation Post-Pandemic
The future of outdoor recreation post-pandemic looks bright; however, increased demand on local resources, climate change, budget and staffing issues, and inflation might all conspire to cause another downward shift in visitors and participation. If outdoor industry managers and leaders can find a way to balance profit with need, they might have a hand in making the outdoors accessible to all for as long as possible. While everyone can’t afford to travel to remote destinations (or even across the country) to experience the beauty of the great outdoors, everyone deserves to have unfettered access to nature and outdoor spaces so that they can take advantage of the health benefits such access offers. Many people who started working from home during the pandemic didn’t ever return to working in an office, and we also saw a new demographic of Americans created: those who decided to leave the 9 to 5 work life behind entirely and start up their own company, become their own boss, and find non-traditional earning methods. These people continue to take advantage of outdoor spaces and have the freedom, means, and desire to travel and experience life outside their immediate region. If the outdoor industry can find a way to continue appealing to a wide sector of the American population and also strive to make the outdoors accessible to all, it can continue its growth period into the future.
Keep Up With Changes in the Outdoor Industry
Staying informed about the latest changes in the outdoor industry will make it easier for you to adapt, evolve, and grow. By signing up for our email list and keeping up with our blog, our team at Advanced Outdoor Solutions can make sure you’re up to date and ready to adapt to any new changes that are sweeping the outdoor recreation industry. Our team of outdoor enthusiasts loves to research, analyze, and present the latest trends and data in outdoor activities so that you can stay informed about changes that impact your business.
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