When did camping suddenly become cool again?
Have you noticed more and more of your friends on social media lately posting pictures from a campsite or musical festival as part of their vacations? Do you yourself have any outdoor wilderness getaways or nights under the stars planned for anytime soon?
It used to be that camping was that dreaded weekend trip your dad or uncles dragged you on at least once a summer where you had to leave behind your video games and air conditioning, eat food from a can and poop in the woods.
But now, thanks to a shift in consumer trends and mindsets, it seems like everybody’s camping — particularly millennials.
And recent retail figures seem to bear this out as well, according to a new consumer study by The NDP Group. Within the $19 billion family vacation and outdoor adventure category, sales of outdoor camping equipment and related products have risen markedly over the past 12 months, particularly sales of coolers, cargo racks, tents and tent accessories, hammocks, sleeping bags and inflatable mattresses.
Cooler sales (including soft-sided and hard-sided coolers) grew more than 50 percent in the past year, cargo rack parts almost 40 percent, sleeping bags more than 20 percent and tent poles and tent parts about 20 percent.
“U.S. consumers are more motivated to take road trips and seek adventure this summer. This is providing a boost to many aspects of the economy, including the outdoor and sporting goods markets,” Matt Powell, NPD’s vice president and sports industry analyst, said. “It’s not only lower gas prices but also a shift in the consumer mindset toward experiential spending that has made road tripping appealing to more consumers.”
So, besides lower gas prices, what’s fueling this consumeristic drive to return to nature?
First, you have to remember that millennials are very much a trend-influenced generation of consumers, so if all of a sudden they see all their friends posting pictures of their weekend camping trip by the lake or weeklong getaway to Yosemite on Instagram and Facebook, then they themselves are going to want to start posting those same types of pictures online so as not to seem uncool or out of the loop.
Second, pitching a tent in the woods for a week and eating cans of baked beans and Dinty Moore stew is much more affordable for the average millennial than jetting off to Paris or Miami for a weeklong vacation. And even those millennials that can afford to do so might be much less inclined to since so many of their friends cannot afford to go with them. A camping trip is a communal activity that lets friends get back to nature and share similar experiences that they might not be able to afford to once they all return to “civilization.”
And third, you can’t talk about the return to prominence of the camping trip without factoring in the meteoric rise in popularity of music festivals since the late 2000s. It’s become a veritable rite of passage each summer lately to see umpteen numbers of your friends posting their Bonnaroo or Coachella pictures online, and you saying to yourself, “Damn, I really need to go to that festival next year.” Plus, there’s something to be said for spending an entire week camped in a field in the middle of nowhere with your best friends listening to your favorite artists and partaking of certain substances (if that’s your thing).
“Consumers today, especially millennials, are investing in experiences more so than purely material items,” Powell noted. “They seek products that offer, and are part of, an experience — a critical trend for retailers and manufacturers to keep in mind as they seek unique ways to market their products. An activity like camping fits in nicely with this attitude and has much to do with its recent success.”
A recent report from Business Insider also came up with similar findings. The modern consumer seems to be shifting purchasing habits away from apparel or simply buying ever more “stuff” to purchasing “experiences” and "big-ticket items," like vacations, swimming pools or a new car or boat.
So, if you’re a retailer that’s wondering where your customers have gone lately or pondering ways you can entice younger consumers to walk through your doors (or browse your products online), you might want to look into outdoor or recreational goods.