The Sports & Outdoors category experienced tremendous growth in 2020. As the pandemic forced gyms to close and social gatherings became smaller and less frequent, consumers invested in home gyms and outdoor recreation. Kaspien’s data shows Amazon sales in the Sports & Outdoors category grew 80% year-over-year!
While category sales are expected to grow at humbler rates in 2021, consumer buying behavior has permanently shifted. More consumers are comfortable exercising away from the gym, at-home equipment providers like Peloton are encouraging the shift, and outdoor enthusiasts new and old have taken advantage of Amazon to supply their adventure gear.
This shifting landscape presents immense opportunities for brands in the Sports & Outdoors category. Historically, many of these brands have treated Amazon as a secondary sales channel, and it’s under-optimized as a result. 2020 made ecommerce a more important sales channel, and those who optimize their Amazon channel and integrate it into their overall brand strategy first will be best positioned to increase their market share in the coming years.
The Sports & Outdoors category on Amazon saw significant sales growth year-on-year spurred by the global pandemic. When health clubs closed, consumers brought the gym home. When social gatherings became limited, more consumers spent their leisure time (and money) on outdoor recreation.
As demonstrated by the next three graphs, COVID-19 drove significant sales growth for multiple product types in this category, from sports to defense to survival gear.
Even outside of Amazon, we saw examples of at-home Sports & Fitness booming, with Peloton taking the spotlight. Peloton’s earnings show total revenue reach $1.8 billion in 2020, a 100% increase year-on-year, and their subscription revenue reached $121.2 million, a 99% increase year-on-year.
According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), the fitness industry lost $20 billion in 2020. At least 8 national gym networks filed for bankruptcy in 2020.
The Outdoor Recreation industry fared far better, with the NPD Group reporting strong growth in multiple outdoor activities:
- Dollar sales of bicycles increased 63% in June 2020 versus the same time the previous year.
- Dollar sales of paddle sports increased 56% in June 2020 versus the same time the previous year.
- Dollar sales of golf equipment increased 51% in June 2020 versus the same time the previous year.
- Dollar sales of camping equipment increased 31% in June 2020 versus the same time the previous year.
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Three Tiers of Shoppers
Products in the Sports & Outdoors category vary greatly in quality and price, which results in multiple, distinct audiences. As such, it’s helpful to think of Sports & Outdoors shoppers as three tiers: Entry level, middle, and luxury.
Entry level shoppers are those trying out a new activity for the first time and have not yet established brand loyalty. They seek the best deal, as they need to validate their interest before spending more dollars.
Middle level shoppers have an established interest in the Sports & Outdoors category. They’ve found brands and products they like, but balance that interest with a fixed budget. They are knowledgeable about some technical details for their given product interest.
Luxury level shoppers have a strong interest in the Sports & Outdoors category and demonstrate a mixture of brand loyalty and experimentation. They have preferred brands, but if an innovative new product is released, they may be willing to try it. These shoppers tend to be (or think they are) very knowledgeable about their area of interest and are willing to pay for premium products.
For brands selling in this space, it’s important to identify which tier your products aim to appease. These tiers are very basic and shoppers can fluctuate between them over time and for different products. However, they can be expanded upon to build marketing personas for your brand, making them even more actionable.
Improvement & Recreation
While shoppers in this category vary greatly in their product knowledge and budget, they do share an important commonality: an interest in competition, self-improvement, and recreation.
The products in this category, whether it’s dumbbells, basketballs, or tents, all relate to at least one of the three interests and oftentimes all three. Shoppers want to get better at something and enjoy that task (or the results of it!). The brands that speak to all three interests in their marketing and branding will be best positioned to engage their target audience.
Loyalty Increases with Technicality
Brand loyalty in this space will differ due to a number of factors, including the shopper tiers, but one of the most telling factors is product technicality. Shoppers are more likely to patronize the same brand for products that are complex or require compatibility. Simple, more generic products like elastic bands or weights, tend to have lower brand loyalty as the differentiating factors are more limited.
That said, shoppers will readily depart from a brand if an innovative new product breaks into the market or the brand has a limited product catalog.
Both Sports & Fitness brands and Outdoor Recreation brands have a history of cultivating engaged communities. In some aspects, this can be traced back to category shoppers’ interest in competition, self-improvement, and recreation.
Ambitions around sports, fitness, hiking, climbing, etc. are readily fueled by a sense of community, motivating each other through camaraderie and rivalry. Many of these activities also require dedicated practice and skill, which leads to specialized knowledge that is shared through tips and training.
Brands in this space can and should actively contribute to community building to earn brand loyalty and support growth.
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