According to Google Analytics nearly 80% of the visitors to our website were men as of October 2018. Similar numbers were reflected in visitors to our Facebook page. This lack of gender parity isn't uncommon to the outdoor industry. According to their media kits, Outside Magazine has a readership that is only 30% female and Backpacker Magazine's is 33% female. A 2018 report by the Outdoor Industry Association shows that 46% of "outdoor participants" are female, so we'd like to get much closer to that percentage.
Our Google Analytics results in October 2018
We wanted to make our business more welcoming to women and non-binary outdoor adventurers so we launched a survey using Google Forms seeking feedback about our website. As an incentive we offered to email a 25% discount code to those who completed the survey. We received responses from 102 women and non-binary adventurers. You can see a copy of the survey here.
We asked responders where they get gear recommendations, selecting from a number of suggested choices. Here are the top sources in descending order.
- Review websites
- Social media
- Forums (such as Reddit)
- Staff at outdoor equipment shops
We found correlations between age groups—which we based on when Americans are most likely to go through career stages and become parents—and their preferred sources for gear recommendations. Here are the top three sources for gear recommendations by age group.
- 20-25 (1 person): Selected all options except "friends"
- 25-35 (27 people): Friends, Review Sites, YouTube
- 35-45 (34 people) Friends, Social Media, Review Sites
- 45-55 (15 people): Social Media, Friends, YouTube
- 55-65 (8 people): Blogs, Friends, Review Sites
- 65+ (6 people): YouTube, Review Sites, Friends
- Did not specify age: (11 people): Friends, Review Sites, YouTube
Race was as an optional demographic question at the end. Not enough respondents filled in a response other than some form of "white" for us to make any correlations based on race.
Some respondents mentioned particular gear recommendation sources by name. These included:
- Review sites: Outdoor Gear Lab, Backpacking Light, Wirecutter, The Trek
- Blogs: Hike Oregon, Bike Snob, Clever Hiker, Lady on a Rock, Andrew Skurka, Adventure Alan
- Magazines: Backpacker, Outside
- YouTube: Darwin onthetrail, Homemade Wanderlust
- Forums: Reddit Ultralight
- Social Media: Instagram, Facebook groups catering to their interests and/or focused on supporting other women and non-binary adventurers.
Of those who sought recommendations from gear retailers, survey respondents preferred local, small, and/or feminist businesses or sites with crowd-sourced product reviews, such as REI, Amazon, and Massdrop.
Brand PreferencesWe asked, “What brands do you like and why?” to try to determine what factors cause consumers to prefer a brand. Common responses included:
- Reasonable prices
- Variety of products
- Customer service
- Shipping options
- Returns and warranty
- For a particular fit (big feet for shoes, or packs, pads, and clothing for smaller bodies)
A note about fit: Not all people are the same size, although many of our respondents were looking for gear for smaller bodies, some had the opposite problem, finding gear too narrow for their needs.
Some preferences were based on the values and ethics of a particular gear company, rather than product attributes and service practices. Respondents particularly desired to support small businesses and to shop with companies that had an an “unpretentious” attitude and followed principles of social and environmental responsibility.
What is off-putting in a brand?
When asked how we could improve our website more welcoming and appealing, we received a lot of notes about racial, gender, and age representation in images. Representation matters. People like to see images and hear stories of people who are like them. Representation lets people know that they are welcome and the gear they are buying was made with them in mind.
We wanted to make sure we knew what to avoid. These are turn-offs:
- High prices
- Low quality/poor durability
- Overly masculine/overly feminine appearance (particularly patterns and colors)
- Overly masculine culture
- Lack of environmental/social responsibility
- Bad reviews
- Bad customer service
- Lack of accurate information
- Information difficult to understand
- Non-functioning gear (usually because too focused on appearance)
- Poor representation for race, gender, and body size
Method and Limitations
We cannot claim that this survey is a true representation of women and non-binary outdoor adventurers. Our sample size is too small (102 women and non-binary people) and it likely skews towards women living in the Pacific Northwest who are already our customers, missing many non-binary adventurers and women in other parts of the country and world. The survey was shared to women’s outdoors groups, primarily in the Pacific Northwest, but few of these groups use language explicitly inviting non-binary members.
It is difficult to target non-binary people, as this is something that Google, social media, and other communication services do not track well. We sent a notice about the survey to people on our mailing list who MailChimp expected to be “female,” but not to those that MailChimp believed were “male,” or who were “gender unknown,” with the intention that men would be less likely encounter the survey.
When people accessed the survey, they were first asked to answer whether or not they were a “woman or non-binary person” if they selected yes, they continued on to the questions. If they selected no, they were brought to the last page, thanking them for their participation.
In retrospect, there are a few questions we didn't think to ask. We should have asked if participants were parents. Being a parent can change or limit the type, frequency, duration, and intensity of outdoor adventuring. Additionally, some respondents may come from a long line of outdoor enthusiasts. We should have asked who gets gear recommendations from their parents, children, or other family members. What questions do you think we should have asked? Let us know in the comments.
Since we conducted the survey, we've added more photographs with women to our online catalog and added to the variety of products that we sell. For example, we now have a hygiene collection that includes cathole trowels, body lubricant, and soon, menstrual cups. We know that we can still do better in terms of gender, race, age, and body size representation and we will continue to work on it.
The percentage of visitors that Google regards as women has increased, even if we disregard the period of time when the survey was being administered. For the past 30 days (as of 12/18/18), website visitors have been half male (48%) and half female (50%). Is this a reaction to a more inclusive website? Or is this solely a factor of it being the holiday season and holiday shopping is considered a feminine chore? Time will tell!