For adventure luggage brand Eagle Creek and leading backpack retailer JanSport, this year has had quite a few surprising turns. Eagle Creek’s business is closely linked to the travel industry, so the business saw demand for suitcases plummet as air travel came to a standstill. JanSport wondered if it might face a similar struggle in the face of school closures. 

However, in the last few months, both brands pivoted to take advantage of new emerging consumer behaviors marketing and trends. Customers passed on rolling luggage and instead opted for duffel bags for their local travel adventures, while a surge in large backpacks characterized an altogether unusual Back to School shopping season. 

We asked VF Corporation, the parent company of JanSport and Eagle Creek, to elaborate on these new trends and evolving customer needs during our ongoing Fall Semester webinar series. We sat down with Ashley Peterson, an eCommerce Analyst at VF Corporation, to hear her perspective on what brands should expect this holiday season. Plus, Ashley shares how both VF Corporation brands have adapted to meet changing customer needs in innovative ways – from capitalizing on the resurgence of fanny pack popularity to creative packing cube usage, and more. 

Here’s what she had to share about the changing Holiday Shopper Psyche in 2020:


How have your consumers’ behaviors changed over the past six months?

It’s been very different for both our brands. At Eagle Creek, since we’re directly correlated with the travel industry, we were hit almost instantly with an interesting shift in buyer behaviors. When March 11th hit and the pandemic was declared, we saw the same nosedive as the travel industry. 

What’s been interesting is how people’s perception has changed. We’ve had to start understanding how their needs have shifted, and meet our customers where they’re at. We had to learn to provide them with what they want — not what we think they want.

On top of COVID-19, there are so many other social issues that are going on in the world that we can’t ignore. JanSport attracts a much younger customer and we have to appeal to an audience who is supposedly more “woke” than the hippies were back in the day. We need to prove that we care or we’ll lose these shoppers

We need to prove that we care or we’ll lose these shoppers

These customers are socially aware and will shift their buying behaviors to find products that meet their personal passions, like buying a bag made from recycled materials to reduce their impact on the planet. People are more aware of what’s going on in the world in general. At JanSport, we ask ourselves, “How can we appeal to the emotional side, as well — not just a customer’s need for a product or a good?”


Have you noticed a surge in certain product sales since the pandemic? 

Our product mix has completely changed. During this year’s Back to School season, people were buying bigger backpacks. Our fanny pack sales have really taken off because people are going on adventure hikes or want quick access to their PPE. I think with that product mix shift we’re also gaining exposure to new audiences who now know Jansport does more than just make school backpacks. 

Because people are staying home, many have taken to the Marie Kondo craze and started organizing and purging their homes. At Eagle Creek, we’ve seen different buyer behavior towards purchasing our packing cubes and luggage organizers and using them in more diverse ways than we’ve ever seen before. People aren’t just using them to organize their closets or luggage, they’re organizing their pantry or kid’s craft room to keep themselves sane while we’re all stuck in the same household.  


What are you doing to bring the in-store shopping experience online? 

We’ve actually started to push out more 3D product photography. One of the best things about offline shopping is that you can touch a product, see it, try it on, hold it next to you — decide for yourself if you’re going to look hip wheeling this suitcase through the airport or wearing this backpack around campus. Customers value being able to spin a product, see the entire thing, open it up, and see what’s in it.

Customers value being able to spin a product, see the entire thing, open it up, and see what’s in it.

We also have a separate experience that lets you view a product’s size in comparison to everyday items like a Nalgene, an iPad, and other things in your life that are super tangible. There’s nothing worse than getting a backpack and realizing it’s way smaller than you need it to be and having to go through the hassle of returning it and waiting for a new one. 

The other thing we’re using more of is user-generated content. That’s especially valuable for Jansport. People like to see what a bag looks like in the real world and on other people, especially if they can’t see it in a store. We’re putting a lot more emphasis on lifestyle product shoots and ways to show products in more tangible experience even through the computer screen.

People like to see what a bag looks like in the real world and on other people, especially if they can’t see it in a store.

Eagle Creek is really where we’re pushing hard for that 3D product imagery. There’s a lot of really cool features of our luggage pieces that you can’t really portray with just flat product images. Customers are visual and we could put the words on the page, but people don’t always read them. A 3D product image lets them actually spin it around on their screen and click on and discover features.


How are you helping shoppers find your products online? 

Say you’re shopping in-store at a Target that you shop at every day. You know exactly what aisles and departments you need to visit to find what you need. Now say you’re shopping on a website. You land on the homepage and there are so many options that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You have to ask yourself “What do I want?” and “What do I need?” We all know people don’t have long attention spans and they want things fast, so we wanted to reduce the number of clicks it takes to get to our products. 

Using consumer behavior data to better understand shopper intent, we completely overhauled the navigation bar to give users quicker access to our products and get them what they want faster. If I know I want a water bottle pocket on my backpack, I don’t have to go to “All Backpacks” and then apply a filter. There’s already a page for me and I know I’m going to find something in there that I like. Since introducing it, we’ve seen our CTR and conversions skyrocket. 


What consumer pain points are you trying to solve this holiday season? 

Because of COVID-19, life has changed and people’s worlds have been turned upside down financially. As a result, we’ve introduced flexible financing by adding Klarna to both of our websites and some of the other VF brands have picked it up as well. It’s taken off. I think it’s a really great option to provide users and adoption continues to increase. Say I’m a college student and I really want a new backpack, paying it off in smaller installments better fits into my budget and I can buy the product. 


How are you approaching gift guides this year?

Gift guides are huge for our brands, especially Eagle Creek. It’s important to be conscientious of pricing and what people are buying. Don’t try to give them something just because it has a higher price or you’re sitting on more inventory. Give them suggestions based on what customers are actually purchasing.

Don’t try to give them something just because it has a higher price or you’re sitting on more inventory. Give them suggestions based on what customers are actually purchasing.

For Eagle Creek, we saw a super interesting shift in buyer behavior. Our duffel bags are selling like hotcakes. People are going on more local adventures and there’s a newfound explosion of camping, glamping, and overlanding. Duffle bags are easier to pack and throw in small spaces than hard-sided luggage, so we’ve seen a huge uptick in sales there. Our gift guides this year will feature them more prominently because you need to shape your gift guides what your users want. 

It’s so easy to regurgitate marketing messages or gift guides and just say, “This is the newest version of that product this year.” My suggestion is to use your gift guide as a way to remind your customers of your great products but to cater it to what they want to see. Things have changed so much this year that we have had to adapt to show up for our customers. Your gift guides should reflect those changes, as well. 


I’ve found that there is far less brand loyalty out there. The JanSport brand is pretty well-known, but it was fascinating to see the competition and diluted marketplace during this year’s Back to School season. It’s been interesting to see how this shift in brand loyalty has been exacerbated by COVID-19 too. People had to seek out brands that could satisfy their new needs. Customers are no longer loyal to one brand and willing to make just any product work for them. They want a specific product that suits them and they don’t care as much about who makes it.


This interview is an excerpt from Contentsquare’s ongoing Fall Semester webinar series. In addition to VF Corporation, we’ll be sitting down with digital experts from other leading brands like Orvis, e.l.f. Cosmetics, Nespresso, and more.

Click here to register for the next Fall Semester session or watch previous sessions, like “The Holiday Shopper Psyche in 2020” with VF Corporation.