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Retail, online, mobile as one: New Moosejaw CEO shares his business strategy with SNEWS

New Moosejaw CEO Eoin Comerford wants to create a seamless blend of the company's business online, in stores and across mobile platforms. He shares his strategy with SNEWS along with insights on the evolving outdoor retail landscape.

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Retailers and manufacturers might want to keep an eye on Moosejaw and its new CEO Eoin Comerford. The outdoor retailer, best known for its successful online business, is making strides in the physical store space, recently adding two news stores and planning more.

Whereas an online presence was once a support for the brick-and-mortar store, the strategy for some is shifting toward adding physical stores to spur online sales. But don’t think of retail, online and mobile commerce as separate channels any more, Comerford told us in an interview with SNEWS. Consumers view all the channels within a business as one. They expect seamless customer service, price and data across all platforms, he said.

Read on to see how else the retail industry is evolving at Moosejaw and why Comerford thinks some outdoor gearheads have forgotten about the fun of the outdoors.

Congratulations on the new job. Are there any immediate changes ahead for Moosejaw with the shift in leadership?

I don’t expect immediate changes in direction, since I have been very involved in setting our direction as the senior vice president of marketing and technology for the last 3 and a half years. That direction has lead Moosejaw to double industry growth the last two and a half years, so we are really looking to stay the course.

Moosejaw is embracing the “click-and-mortar” concept, opening new physical stores with a close relationship to its online and mobile business. What’s the strategy there?

While we are primarily online — it accounts for 75 percent of our business — we did start as a retail store in Michigan in 1992. Stores can become a driver for online business, especially for a brand-centric company like Moosejaw. Our Internet business is much stronger in our current store markets, driven by marketing synergies, brand recognition and the confidence that a local physical presence creates. We also strive for a seamless cross-channel experience with by offering Internet returns to stores or store orders that get shipped from Internet. The consumer doesn’t see channels anymore, they just want to buy something, and they expect a seamless experience whether they are in store, shopping online or mobile.

How else do you translate the online business in your stores? Are there different sale strategies for products online versus in the store?

Our stores are on average about 4,000 square feet, so obviously we can’t have our entire inventory out on the floor. But there’s synergy. We pick maybe 10 tents to have in our stores that are representative of the 300 tents available from our online inventory. So, a customer can come in to see that two-person tent in the store and then, if they need something larger, order the four-person version we have online. We’re seeing the gear business migrating faster online than the clothing side. Certainly clothing sells better in stores. People come in, they want to touch clothing, feel it, make sure it fits, and the same goes with footwear.

So in that situation in your stores, you face the same risks of “showrooming” as other specialty retailers — consumers can come in, try something on, scan it with their phone, and then go online to buy it for a lower price from a competitor. How do you train your staff to combat that?

It comes down to awareness, and equipping staff with mobile devices so they can pull up those competitor websites as well. We actually pull up price comparisons for customers before they can, and we have a price match policy for identical products found online. You don’t want them to walk away. If their answer is that they want to price check, we say, “Let’s do it right here in the store.” If we don’t have the product, or size, or color in the store, we can access our online inventory and have it ordered and shipped to them right away. We also have our Moosejaw Rewards loyalty program that gives our customers 5-10 percent back in points that can be redeemed for free gear and clothing.

Look a little further ahead into the future: What will be the next trend or technology to change outdoor retail?

Mobile will continue to be at the forefront of retail. More and more consumers will arrive at brick-and-mortar stores knowing what the store has in stock and how it is competitively priced. More online retailers will offer expedited shipping, further cutting into the instant gratification that brick and mortar enjoys. The real winners in brick and mortar will be the stores that rise above the price and convenience equation and offer a retail experience — retail as theater. Our goal at Moosejaw is to make visiting our stores so much fun that our customers stop by even when they don’t need to buy anything.

Some in the outdoor industry would argue that “retail theater” detracts from the technical and knowledgeable side of the business, how do you manage that?

We absolutely hire people who are experts in the outdoors, but, equally, they have a fun personality. You really have to have both. You can’t just hire a gearhead who is a dud in their personality. We feel some traditional brands and stores are overly serious, more than they should be. Being outdoors is about having fun. That’s our view of the world.

–David Clucas