Urs Weber is a running professional. Not one who sets a new personal record every week, but someone who can’t be fooled when it comes to the scene. The book author and editor of Germany’s “Runner’s World” is a specialist in equipment questions. At ISPO MUNICH 2017, Urs Weber will take to the Health and Fitness stage for running lectures and will once again moderate the Running Shoe Symposium on Monday, February 6, in the ICM.
“There’s still major growth going on in running,” says Urs Weber. “The sport is becoming more and more of a mass phenomenon, it’s extremely broadly positioned, and continues to find new interested parties from target groups who just a few years ago weren’t into running.” Weber lists “students, hip young runners, under-30-year-olds who previously could only be found in fitness studios at best, and even under-20-year-olds. Running has just become cool.” And that applies above all for the female target group, whose share now makes up “more than 50 percent” of young runners, according to Weber.
“The running scene is networking more and more,” says “Runner’s World” expert Urs Weber. “Running can no longer be imagined without social channels.” Of course, some do still jog all by themselves – but the trend is heading very clearly towards a community experience where everyone arranges to meet one another via the network.
Urs Weber says: “Many running clubs, even the classic ones that got together long before digitalization, now organize their runs via online social groups.” And that’s not just to meet new people and not do laps alone – “rather, because many people are uploading and documenting their own runs in these online groups,” Weber explains. “It’s like a sort of journal.”
The industry has long since reacted to the trend of digital run documentation. “Through excellent work, app developers have made it possible for everyone to run together at a high level,” says Weber. There are almost no manufacturers not attempting to reach the running clientele directly through social media.
From Runtastic and Strava, the classics among mileage-counters, to Nike Running, Polar, Garmin, all to way to small start-ups: There are almost too many good running apps, rather than too few. “Runner’s World” expert Urs Weber: “It’s more of a problem of orienting yourself and finding one good app that’s also used in your community.” As a consequence, interfaces are becoming more important and transfer options to other networks is a crucial criterion.
The fact that running is now becoming social running also poses some new challenges for retail. Consumers orient themselves online, then meet up offline to run.
Many no longer find the path to the retailer, so retail needs to come to the runner, Weber concludes. “Retailers need to be in contact with the scene. And they need to be where the scene is currently staying.”
That can be an appearance in social networks, a booth at major running events like the marathon trade fairs or small local running competitions, or even an onsite visit with the running groups. “Retailers need to show up where the runners are,” says Weber, “People don’t come into the store on their own anymore.”
The fact that outfitters are paying more attention to the community naturally also means showcasing their products much more transparently. They can’t just react to trends, they need to set them. “Running has become much more trendy,” says Urs Weber. “The variety in brands has seen an incredible increase.” But it’s not just the major outfitters who affect the running direction and style.
They’re often driven, or at least inspired, by small newcomers. “The smaller outfitters succeed in making products that you can use to distance yourself from the masses,” Weber says, and names the Danish trend brand Say Sky, ISPO BRANDNEW 2016 winner, and ON, which first established itself in the shoe sector but now aims to get started with cool clothing, as well.
Urs Weber: “Styles are becoming more diverse, and different for every type of running. That’s how you set yourself apart. The trail runners wear different styles than the urban runners. That’s how special brands develop their own character for the respective target group.”
When it comes to running shoes, nobody fools Weber. Every season, he test dozens upon dozens of new models for “Runner’s World.” “The vast number of various models is climbing,” says Germany’s number one running shoe expert, “but also the number shoes that a runner wears. Statistically, each runner in Germany has 5.3 pairs of running shoes.” Especially because they “also take different shoes for different terrains,” says Weber. “In addition to their normal training shoes, many runners also have special trail shoes, winter running shoes, barefoot running shoes, and competition shoes.”
But what does that mean for retailers? “That consultation will continue to become more and more important,” he says. In the face of the vast variety and new suppliers, he also sees new opportunities and risks ahead of retailers. For one, online retail is increasing, and with it the availability of online information. At the same time, however, the consumer is looking for personal consultation that he or she won’t find on the web.
“The retailer needs to be able to make a fast diagnosis, and then apply individual filters to find the half dozen models in the enormous product range that are actually suited to the respective runner,” Urs Weber says.
“And the retailer has to see how they can use the treadmill analysis and where its limits are, because it alone isn’t convincing.” Urs Weber is talking about the “paradigm shift in running shoe consultation – because you don’t just look at the stepping behavior, you also have to note the entire sequence of movements.
Running style is individual. There is no ideal. People used to think that pronation was harmful. Today we know that’s nonsense.”
The readiness to pay money for running is growing, something true of all segments. This trend is winning through in product innovation especially: The market for wearables is getting bigger and bigger, the selection more and more diverse – but also more and more unclear, especially considering tech corporations like Apple and Samsung are pushing into the market now that running is becoming a lifestyle. This also represents new challenges for retailers.
“You sometimes have to have the courage to advise against products that the customer doesn’t need, or that aren’t well-engineered,” Weber believes, and explains: “People who run a lot and already have a running watch don’t need another fitness tracker. And lots of products still aren’t really done being technically balanced. That’s where you, as a good retailer, need to make sure the consumer doesn’t suddenly become a product tester.”