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Golf Equipment’s Growing Constant Shopper Phenomenon

It’s the unofficial start of a new golf season as the calendar turns to January. Many of us may be cringing as we pay for our holiday shopping, but that won’t stop us from taking a look at all of the new golf equipment that will be introduced with great fanfare as we ramp up for the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando later this month.

The PGA Show used to be the apex and singular showcase of the equipment launch season. That is no longer the case, though there will still be much to see across the expansive halls of the Orange County Convention Center.

As we look back at the past decade, many will recall that the last 10 years saw the greatest proliferation of new and frequent golf equipment introductions that the industry has ever seen. While some will suggest that this is a reflection of the rampant technological innovation in equipment that has transformed the game at both elite and rank-and-file amateur levels, others will cast a skeptical eye and suggest that the narrowing of introduction cycles were attributable to marketing hype.

Similarly, it has been documented and maintained by many that the trend towards more frequent product introductions created an unhealthy glut of inventory that has left several lesser-tier OEMs and one formerly dominant specialty retailer in its wake. There are good supporting arguments for each of these observations, but one that is often overlooked has been the changing dynamic of how golfers shop for equipment.

Much of our industry research over the years has centered around the golfer’s equipment shopping experience and process. While an abundance of this is proprietary to our clients, we’ve also utilized our annual golfer omnibus study and some other publicly-available studies to gauge consumer appetites, the influence of various marketing mix elements and the transformation of retail channels. I’ll have more to say about this at my annual trends breakfast presentation at the PGA Show, and likely comment on it further in this space, thereafter. But as I eagerly await the learnings to be derived from this year’s omnibus, one trend that I’ll continue to watch will be what we’ve labeled, “The Constant Shopper Phenomenon.”

More common in verticals like fashion and computer hardware/high tech, a driving force behind the concept of a constant shopper segment is that styles and innovation are always changing. Marketing and product development have done a great job of rowing together to create a constant demand for the latest and greatest new introductions.

The old adage of “Keeping up with the Jones’” comes to mind.

Within the sector of golf hard goods, our research of 15-20 years ago typically showed consumer product replacement cycles of three-to-six years, variable across behavioral and demographic differences. In more recent equipment research, this replacement cycle has narrowed, and it has been accompanied by a commensurate growth in the percentage of golfers across all demographics and behavioral iterations, that claim to be “always in the market” for new equipment.

Over the past decade, we’ve seen that segment climb to nearly a third of golfers, and there are a number of factors that have brought us to this new reality. First and foremost, is the aforementioned supply-driven, marketing-fueled acceleration of product introductions. Golf equipment is certainly not as trend fickle as fashion or digital products, but perceptions of continually improving innovation and technology in equipment continue to be pervasive in our exploration of golf consumer attitudes.

This is akin to the traditional pull strategy, we observe in other markets. The growth and pervasiveness of digital communications, rife with countless consumer and expert generated reviews, has made it easier for golfers of all stripes to become an “equipment junkie.” While our research still sees the golf equipment gearhead as an extremely small portion of the market, the tools to recognize and perceive product evolution and differentiation are more rampant than ever before.

Another driver is in the push strategy and evolving nature of retail itself. Physical golf retail has become more experiential and cognizant of consumers’ needs for trial and innovation validation. Previously in this space, I wrote of the important role that launch monitors and more accessible custom fitting opportunities have played in providing this justification. Golfers come in to retail, see shiny new offerings and then can test it and find proof points in the interpretation of vector launch monitor numbers.

But perhaps most significant in retail’s evolving contribution to constant shopping has been the diffusion of satisfaction guarantees and liberal return policies. I’ve likely interviewed thousands of Southern California golfers over the past decade, and the overwhelming majority of them are quick to herald Roger Dunn’s 90-day 100% satisfaction guarantee. Put the latest new driver into play for three months, and then take it back and exchange it for a newer model that better suits your fancy.

Of course, golf retail is no longer just about physical golf shops. Equipment purchasing remains a high-touch, high-trial process, but our research has continued to show greater receptivity and adoption of digital marketplaces to facilitate transactions and hassle-free returns.

With new and recently cascaded models just a click away, the consumer is more likely to experiment in constant pursuit of what’s best for their game. Happy shopping!

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