James Backhouse, marketing director at Evans Cycles, talks to Essential Retail about taking on online-only upstarts, selling ‘the wind in your hair’ and tapping into the booming in-store events and experiences market.

1.) Selling an experience

According to recent Barclaycard research, British consumers no longer see the high street as just somewhere to make a purchase and are opting for retailers that offer engaging and entertaining experiences. Consumer spending on experiences is up 10.5% so far this year. Whilst 36% of the retailers surveyed now host events in-store, such as classes, courses and exclusive sales previews, with 19% planning to start doing so in the next three years.

Evans Cycles is at the front of the pack here. “Offering more than just a place to ‘buy stuff’ is very important to us,” says Backhouse. “We’re selling an experience – the wind in your hair – and good bike shops have long been a hub for the local cycling community. As online-only retailers have grown, it’s even more important that a real-world shop has a compelling reason to bring customers through the door. It’s also a reminder that there are lots of advantages that physical shops bring over an online-only presence, which we want to make the most of.”

2.) Events, dear boy, events

Evans Cycles has piloted the hosting of organised bike ride events at its stores this year, with great success, it says.

The idea of running rides from each store has been around for many years at Evans Cycles, notes Backhouse. “The challenge is how to run a local activity when we have 60+ shops, and in a way that delivers a consistent – but not corporate – experience,” he says.

“We trialled a few different formats over the last few years and have hit on a great formula: our events team organise the event and a combination of the local store and our central marketing team advertise it to our customers. We have exceeded our entry target by over 50% this year, with 98% of riders saying they would recommend the ride to a friend. It has also introduced organised rides to a new audience: 30% of participants have never been on an organised ride before they join us on our store rides.”

The retailer will be running a full series of store rides in 2018, with 54 events across the country. “We have made a few minor tweaks to the schedule but are basically just aiming to build on the success from this year. The entry targets will be higher, so beating budget by 50% will be much tougher.”

3.) Stores are still important

The aforementioned Barclaycard research also finds that decision makers are looking to increase in-store events and experiences investment by a further 113% over the next 24 months. To accommodate this, retailers intend to significantly reduce the amount they are investing in other business priorities, such as revamping their store layout (which they plan to decrease by 51%), increasing the variety and amount of stock (41%), or improving their website layout (33%).

This, however, isn’t the case at Evans Cycles. “In the store rides, we have managed to create an event format that delivers a great customer experience (and all the associated marketing benefits) at a low cost. So we are in the lucky position of being able to continue these and other in-store events without having to cut back on other investment. In fact, over the coming year we will be investing significantly in our existing stores to improve the customer experience and their ‘shoppability’, as well as our online experience,” says Backhouse.

4.) Leveraging in-store technology

Evans Cycles has a distinct advantage over its pureplay rivals. Backhouse comments: “It’s a fact of life that bikes are still bought in person by the vast majority of people, and we don’t see that changing any time soon (you try returning a bike that’s the wrong size when it’s been delivered to your home). So yes, stores will continue to be part of our proposition.”

The priority with in-store technology is to give customers access to the extended range that the retailer carries on its website. “Even our biggest stores only carry a fraction of our stock, and every online product can be available in any store the next day with Click & Collect – so we want to make this shopping experience as simple and seamless as possible. If the store doesn’t have a particular model, colour or rare bottom bracket dimension, our website almost certainly does.”

5.) Fine-tuning the digital experience

Buying a bike is completely different to, say, buying a book from Amazon. But the ultimate aim is the same: to make the online and mobile researching and purchasing experience as effortless as possible. “If you know exactly what you want, we will get you through the checkout process as fast as possible. If you are researching, we aim to give you all the advice and content you need to make your decision,” comments Backhouse.

For example, Evans Cycles creates dedicated pages for model families that explain the features and benefits of the range and show all the different specifications available, often alongside video content.

For customers in search of advice, it has an extensive set of buying guides that help explain the often bewildering range of bike products/specifications/brands. These are accessible at different points along a customer’s journey, from the homepage (e.g. the high-visibility banner currently live), to product lister pages to individual product details pages. All this content is available on both desktop and mobile, with the main difference being the mobile site has a pared-back set of banners to adjust for the browsing and viewing experience.