The post-COVID e-commerce world will look different for sports brands, expert says

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - marchmeena29
©Getty Images - marchmeena29

Related tags Sports nutrition sector Sports Nutrition Summit USA Sports nutrition products

The market distortions caused by the pandemic have accelerated e-commerce trends that will permanently alter the sports nutrition marketplace, an observer says.

Marc Brush is principal in the consulting firm Bend LLC.  In addition, he’s a former editor of Nutrition Business Journal and as such has been involved in teh dietary supplement industry for more than a decade.  Brush will be a participant in NutraIngredients-USA’s upcoming Sports & Active Nutrition Summit, a virtual event that kicks off on Thursday, Jan. 28.  Brush will take part in the first of the summit’s four sessions, which is titled The Changing Retail Landscape for Sports and Active Nutrition

Pandemic supercharges e-commerce

The changes caused by the pandemic have accelerated trends of all kinds.  That’s particularly true in e-commerce, Brush said.  Overall US e-commerce sales were projected to have hit about $710 billion in 2020, up from about $602 billion the year previously.  That represents a 14.5% share of the overall retail market in 2020, up from about 11% in 2019.

“I think you have to look at the market pre-COVID and post-COVID,” Brush said.  “Before all of this there were clear trends toward personalization, and clear trends toward more growth in the e-commerce ned of the market over brick and mortar.”

Beyond just accelerating the growth in e-commerce, Brush said the events of the past year have also altered the character of the typical consumer.

“It has skewed the market younger and more toward millennial women and Gen Z.  It’s gotten the market increasingly away from teh GNC-type bodybuilder,” he said.

Brush said savvy brands are using these changes to their advantage.  The interaction offered at brick and mortar retailers, especially in the natural channel, has always been cited as one of the strengths of the dietary supplement industry. Brands could explain the benefits of their products face to face and could get to know their consumers in the process, thereby building a bond.

E-commerce done right can work that way, too, Brush said. And it can be an even faster and cheaper way to the same end.

“Smart market strategies that will carry forward foster that relationship,” ​he said. “E-commerce can be used to incentivize rewards, and that’s a way to create a sticky customer.”

“Once someone is a bit stickier and becomes a repeat purchaser you start to learn more about them,” ​he added.

Sticky customers could help save sports brands

Brush said it’s not quite as cut and dried as the former bit might make it seem.  There is still a lot to learn about how to truly connect with consumers via e-commerce, but more is being learned all the time, and the rate of knowledge gained is accelerating.

“The entire e-commerce game is pretty new compared to the story of terrestrial retail.  People in the sports category were there at the beginning trying to figure out strategies that worked,” ​he said.

“This is where the sports category was pretty smart.  They figured out they could use these dedicated customers as beta testers.  You’d give them special SKUs, such as flavors available only to them.  They’d get closer to your brand, help you figure out what works, and in the process you’d learn more about them,”​ he said.

That experience may help some sports brands survive the coming storm, Brush said.  Malls are dying, office parks stand empty, gyms are closed or limping along at fractional capacity.  So it’s not rocket science for many brands to see that e-commerce offers a lifeline.

“The competition has just gotten insane,” ​Brush said. “COVID has accelerated this trend toward ecommerce so much that a-commerce may be as big as the natural channel in a couple of years. Getting noticed is going to become a nightmare.”

Jan 28 - Feb 25, 2021   -   Four Online Events


  • The Changing Retail Landscape for Sports & Active Nutrition - Jan 28
  • The Opportunity of the Microbiome - Feb 4
  • Recovery - Feb 18
  • White Spaces in Sports & Active Nutrition - Feb 25

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