By Matt Powell
Over the nearly 20 years I have been doing research on the athletic footwear industry, the back-to-school season has changed significantly. The season lasts longer, extending well after Labor Day. I think kids are waiting to see what the others are wearing and parents believe if they wait, they will get a better price. Back-to-school, while still an important shopping period, does not peak as it used to. Consumers are spending money when they need to – not based on a retail calendar.
The 13-week season is about halfway over. Looking at NPD’s U.S. retail sales data for the 7 weeks from July 7 to August 24, 2019, we can get a good picture of how the season is shaping up.
Athletic footwear sales* for the period increased slightly in dollars, but declined in units, which resulted in a low single-digit increase in average selling price.
The sport lifestyle segment—which represented 57% of sales—grew in the mid-singles, well off its previous pace. Last year’s top selling shoe has not been replaced, but its sales are in sharp decline. The lack of a true “hot item” is hurting this critical category. If the trend continues to plateau, overall sales will suffer. Skate shoes grew in the mid-teens, again, off of its previous pace.
Performance basketball shoes—now less than 5% of total athletic footwear sales—declined in the high singles, as did performance running. Training shoes were down in the low teens. There is no evidence that any performance segment will be back in fashion anytime soon. Brands that focus on performance will find growth challenging.
The Nike brand grew in the low singles, while Brand Jordan was down in the mid-singles. Converse declined in the mid-teens. Nike Inc. was down slightly and ceded share for the period.
Adidas sales declined in the low singles, but were helped by an additional Yeezy release. Vans sales grew by nearly 25%. Skechers declined in the mid-singles, while Under Armour footwear was down in the mid-teens. Fila grew by more than a third, and Puma was up in the high singles. Brooks grew in the mid-singles, while most of the large performance running brands declined.
The U.S. athletic footwear market is still very promotional, primarily driven by the brands’ own direct business. This promotional environment, coupled with the lack of a hot item or a hot brand of scale, does not bode well for the rest of back-to-school and the upcoming holiday season.
*Athletic footwear defined as the aggregate of Sport Leisure, Performance, Outdoor, and Work/Occupational/Safety categories
Matt Powell is VP, senior industry adviser, sports of The NPD Group