In the spirit of back-to-school, the recent footwear data release essentially captured the halfway point for the 2021 season and it reveals some interesting trends in U.S. athletic footwear sales. The Weekly Retail Tracking Service from NPD is an excellent “early warning system” that can quickly surface challenges and opportunities for brands and retailers. Here’s a look at back-to-school athletic footwear sales through this weekly lens.

Overall athletic footwear sales in the first six weeks of the back-to-school season (i.e., the six weeks ending August 14, 2021) grew by 20% versus 2020 and in the high single-digits versus 2019. In my opinion, there is no doubt that the Child Tax Credit checks and a meaningful growth in wages contributed to strong sales.

Kids’ footwear sales improved by almost 40% during this time, as the delayed and often virtual 2020 school year altered consumption patterns. Women’s athletic footwear continued its strong trend, up almost 30% versus 2020 (and increasing 21% over 2019). Nike and Adidas continued to cede share in women’s athletic footwear. The men’s market was the laggard, with sales rising versus 2020. The men’s athletic footwear category is struggling to offset the flooding of last year’s limited-edition shoes.

The ongoing comeback of performance running shoes continued during the first half of the back-to-school season, with sales growing by about one-third versus last year. The corollary category, walking shoes, grew almost 60%. Growth in hiking shoes was softer, up in the high single-digits compared to last year, but it’s important to remember that hiking was one of the few categories that grew in 2020.

Sales of basketball shoes increased this year but declined by nearly 20% compared to 2019, which is hardly a sign of strength. On the other hand, the sport lifestyle category—or casual, athletic-inspired sneakers—increased in the mid-teens versus 2020, and skate footwear grew by more than 45%.

By footwear brand, Nike grew though it underperformed the market. Jordan sales were negative during the first half of the back-to-school season. Converse sales nearly doubled due to strong women’s results (perhaps we have Vice President Kamala Harris to thank for some of that). Nike ceded more than 500 basis points in share, for the first half of the back-to-school season, versus 2020, and its share was flat over 2019. Adidas sales grew in the high teens, Skechers sales were up about 50%, and Vans sales nearly doubled.

Under Armour, Brooks, and ASICS each rose by more than one-third. Puma improved by nearly 75% and Reebok sales grew more than 50%. On passed Hoka One One in sales, as its business grew fourfold.

I expect the second half of this year’s back-to-school season 2021 will be positive – though more challenged than in the first half. Last year’s strong September results will temper growth.


Source: The NPD Group / Weekly Retail Tracking Service/ six weeks ending August 14, 2021. Does not include brand direct-to-consumer.


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Description: Welcome to the Future of Style, an in-depth exploration of the global fashion industries encompassing beauty, accessories, apparel, footwear, and sports..