The athletic and outdoor industries have traditionally been “guy” industries, illustrated by the fact that most of the executive boards and management teams of major companies in this space fall short when it comes to gender diversity.
Historically, most athletic brands have used the strategy of “shrink it and pink it” to develop women’s products. But tailoring a man’s shoe to a woman’s foot is not the solution. Girls are made differently than boys; a man’s foot is more rectangular in shape, while a woman’s is more triangular and narrower at the heel than the forefoot. Simply making smaller men’s shoes results in ill-fitting women’s shoes, and we all know that fit is very important to consumers – not only in footwear, but apparel as well.
To determine what they must do, brands and retailers must first understand the female consumer.
- Women are females first and customers second. Brands need to develop women-specific products in order to grow this important segment of the athletic and outdoor markets.
- Women are often the problem solvers in their relationships. If your product can make her life better, easier, cheaper and faster, that goes a long way. Versatile, multi-functional products are a real plus.
- Sweat the details; she will notice. Spend time making your product the best it can be for the price. Little details can make the difference between a product she buys and one she loves.
- Female consumers are very willing to connect with brands and retailers via social media. At the same time, they are sharing everything with their friends. For decades, retailers and brands have been telling us how and what to buy, but the shift to social shopping will see female customers “selling” to each other.
Next brands and retailers can move into what they need to do.
- They need to celebrate femininity. Many women embrace their femininity and have taken to the broader concept of “lifestyle.” Her shoes and apparel have to function, be comfortable, be versatile, and be cute.
- They must be loyal to women. Loyalty in this case means consistency in design, direction, and product performance. Female shoppers want to understand and follow the evolution of the brand, but they also demand consistency in both how the product looks and how it performs.
- Show her how to wear it. Products that are fully accessorized at retail are a huge plus. Helping women put an entire outfit together is another great way to be loyal.
- If you build a brand relationship with a female shopper, she becomes a brand ambassador. If she trusts your brand, she will tell her friends and family about it. Strong brands must deepen and nurture that relationship. The minute you take her for granted, you’ve lost her.
- Women, especially Millennials, want brands that share their values. Brands and retailers must express their vision and mission in clear and concise terms, and open a dialogue with their customers about these values.
There’s a gap in the industry, which I see as an opportunity for brands to step in and better understand and speak to women’s retail needs. During a time when gender lines are blurring and products are being marketed to accommodate everyone across the gender spectrum, this is as good a time as any to develop new ways to sell and create products.