By Matt Powell
U.S. athletic footwear sales grew in the mid-single digits for the year, exceeding my expectations due to strong Q4 results. Many of the factors for growth were one-offs and unlikely to be replicable in 2019, so fresh opportunities must be sought after for growth in this new year. The 53rd week in the 2018 retail calendar, which was accounted for in January 2018, produced about one-third of the market’s growth.
Here are some of the major highlights:
Boots, Yeezys rack up sales
Fourth quarter sales gains for cold/all weather boots helped to drive sales gains for the year; the weather was a big factor in its success.
The “democratization” of Adidas’s Yeezy franchise led to unexpected gains, with sales up more than six times. Whether Yeezy can withstand the pressure of the expanded allocation remains to be seen.
Performance footwear categories were all negative for the third year running, as the athleisure trend has fully taken over athletic footwear. Running, training, and basketball all experienced sales declines. Basketball, in particular, shrunk to one of its smallest sales numbers in years.
However, while performance struggles the opportunity lies in athletic inspired sneakers with a performance-based heritage, as they are reaping the benefits of this shift.
Skate shoes, sport slides have solid year
Sport lifestyle footwear, designed for style and every day wear and not for engaging in sport activity, continues to drive the broader footwear market and now represents nearly half of all athletic shoes sold in the U.S. Also included in this segment are skate shoes and sport slides, which both also had a solid year with sales growing by more than 40% and over 20%, respectively.
Among the more sport-specific footwear, soccer boots grew in the low singles, which I’ve observed is typical during a World Cup year. Those gains are often given back the following year. Baseball and football cleats both declined.
Nike dominates top selling styles
Looking at retail channel performance, premium department stores had the greatest increase, as they fully exploited the athleisure trend. The athletic specialty/sporting goods channel grew in the low single digits for the year, with particular strength during Q4. Shoe chains improved their sales in the high singles, while mid-tier department stores were up in the mid-singles.
By brand, Adidas sales grew in the high teens in 2018 and took over 100 basis points in share. Adidas now has the highest share I’ve ever recorded. Nike brand had a mid-single increase, showing renewed interest in and growth for the brand. Nike Inc. grew in the low singles, with growth in the Nike brand partially offset by declines in Brand Jordan and Converse. It is still newsworthy that the largest athletic footwear brand is growing again.
The top selling athletic footwear styles for 2018, in dollar rank order, were dominated by Nike. These styles were: Nike Tanjun, Nike Air Max 270, Converse Chuck Taylor Ox Low, Jordan XI, Nike Air Huarache, Vans Ward, Nike Revolution 4, Nike Flex Contact, Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 v2, and Nike Air Force 1 Low.
Vans had a banner year as sales increased by nearly 60 percent, and Brooks grew by nearly 30 percent. New Balance, Reebok, and Skechers all grew, while Under Armour, ASICS, Saucony, and Mizuno posted declines.
Men’s, kids activewear show growth
In 2018, activewear sales increased in the low single-digits, also boosted primarily by the 53rd week mentioned above. The men’s and kids markets both grew, while women’s declined.
Premium outerwear, sweatshirts, and activewear bottoms were the stand-out categories. Bras and socks continued to decline.
By channel, premium department stores grew the fastest, with sales up nearly 10 percent, but mid-tier department stores and athletic specialty/sporting goods outlets also saw gains.
The aggregation of all the retailers’ private brands was again the largest “brand” and growth driver. Adidas apparel grew by more than a third, and Nike improved in the high single-digits, while Under Armour sales declined. The North Face, Columbia, and Patagonia all experienced gains.
Matt Powell is VP, senior industry advisor; sports