Over the last year, the sports industry has exceled in using unrequited demand to drive consumer interest. The exceptionally high growth and demand for outdoor as well as cycling, fitness, and other sporting goods products has put these businesses in a unique position compared to most other industries. This engagement has not only translated into sales, but into the formation of an entirely new and expanded customer base. As an industry, our community is expanding, and brands and retailers must have a complete view of the market to meet consumers’ needs and wants, as well as understand which outlets they are flocking to, to profitably grow business and maintain health for our industry.

At a high level, NPD collects point-of-sale data from over 600,000 retail locations, which includes more than 1,450 sports specialty doors, plus e-commerce and mobile platforms. We report both aggregated data and separate views for outdoor brick-and-mortar and e-commerce sales to help our clients better understand and thrive in today’s changing retail landscape.

Within the outdoor industry, the disparity between brick-and-mortar and online sales has been especially critical to understand for strategy development in today’s COVID-19-impacted world. Pre-pandemic, outdoor specialty brick-and-mortar sales—spanning the core outdoor categories of apparel, footwear, equipment, and accessories*—grew for both the 2018 and 2019 calendar years, but declined double digits in 2020 as in-store sales were negatively impacted by temporary store closures due to COVID-19 lockdowns. This brick-and-mortar decline, in turn, did benefit and accelerate the specialty e-commerce business – which grew sales by 21% in 2020. Sales within the mass channel declined at a much softer rate last year compared to specialty as more of these stores remained open during lockdown. Having insight into these channel dynamics is critical to see the bigger picture and understand the competition.

During the pandemic we have also seen a greater emphasis placed on the “outside” lifestyle, as consumers seeking refuge and socially distant-friendly activity began investing more in outdoor products such as grills, coolers, recreation tents, hammocks, and paddle boards. In 2020 the fastest growing outdoor category in the outdoor specialty channel was water sports, +21%, while the fastest growing outdoor category in the sport specialty e-commerce channel was camping, +50%.

It is undeniable that consumers have found refuge in the industry during the pandemic, the outdoor consumer base is growing, and this engagement will endure for the long haul. I truly believe that the pandemic has spurred a renewed interest in and commitment to health and fitness, and this will play a role in continuing the positive momentum for outdoor products.

*Data for categories such as bikes, bike accessories, and health and fitness products are reported separately to their respective industries