Outdoor outfitter REI is poised for a digital makeover

Seattle—REI may be known for its enormous stores that recreate the outdoor experience inside, but the retailer is remaking itself in the digital era, building out digital flagships and mobile apps that aim to further engage its customer base of outdoor enthusiasts.

"We believe our digital assets represent our 21st century flagship experience," CEO Jerry Stritzke said during Tuesday's opening keynote at Shop.org. "We are making a next generation change, to be there for our customers whenever and wherever they need us."

The 76-year-old retailer was early to online retail, launching its website in 1996. But that site has not kept pace with how shoppers use the Web today and the retailer is in the midst of a complete remodel of its online presence. Online sales make up roughly 25 percent of the outfitters total revenue.

Mobile is just one more channel for REI to interact with the shopper and efforts here are more centered on engagement than m-commerce. And they are expressly targeted to smartphone users, rather than tablets which are largely replacing the desktop in terms of how consumers use them.

REI recently replatformed its mobile website and launched an app dedicated to delivering snow reports, so the REI's outdoor enthusiast shoppers can bookmark favorite ski resorts, check weather conditions and get updates from other users while on the slopes.

"Many more mobile moments are happening in our store," said Stritzke. "We call them mobile selling assistants. The No. 1 site visited (from smartphones) in stores is REI.com. We have to do everything mobile first."

"We know that more than 75 percent of people who buy in-store preceded that store visit, within seven days, with a visit to one of our digital properties," Stritzke added. Much of what happens online is gleaning information from the REI user community and experts, then narrowing choices before coming into the store. "Some of the equipment we sell is pretty technical. The reality is that if it's sized improperly or used wrong, pretty bad things can happen."   

REI's new website will be completely revamped. Whereas the current site is organized around the way the retailer views its business—with tabs for the store, the outlet, etc.—the new one will be organized around the shopper.

And while the REI outlet may be more integrated into the new online experience, it also presents an opportunity for growth, said Stritzke, along with more physical stores throughout the United States.

See all of FierceRetail's Shop.org 2014 coverage here.

*A version of this story originally appeared in FierceRetail's sister publication FierceMobileRetail.

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