The U.S. athletic footwear industry grew its dollar sales a healthy 4 percent in the third quarter of 2018, which I am pleased to report was better than I had anticipated. The sport lifestyle segment contributed the most dollars gained, while performance footwear continued to struggle.
Women’s athletic footwear outperformed the rest of the market, with sales up in the high single-digits, and this was driven by stellar Vans sales. Men’s sales grew in the low single-digits, as the performance categories were all soft, while kids’ sales were up slightly for the quarter.
The athletic specialty/sporting goods channel experienced a low single-digit gain, but was dramatically outpaced by the other channels. Premium department stores grew in the high singles, while mid-tier department stores improved in the mid-single digits. Shoe chains grew in the mid-single digits as well.
In terms of categories, performance footwear continued its negative trend, which has now entered its fourth year. With declines seen in key segments including basketball, training, running, and hiking, there is no evidence that performance-as-fashion will make a comeback any time soon.
Sport lifestyle, the largest athletic footwear category, grew its sales by 8 percent. Cold/all weather boots had a solid beginning to the fall/winter season, with sales up 16 percent, driven by brands including Koolaburra, UGG, and Sorel. Skate shoe sales increased by 45 percent, driven by Vans, and sports slides were up 12 percent.
Looking at brand highlights, Nike, Adidas, and Skechers grew their sales for the quarter, as did Brooks, Vans, and Timberland. Nike, Inc. sales were flat on account of declines from Brand Jordan and Converse, and Under Armour also experienced a decline. The Q3 top-selling athletic footwear styles, based on dollar sales were: Nike Tanjun, Nike Air Max 270, Converse Chuck Taylor Low, Vans Ward, Nike Revolution 4, Nike Air Huarache, Nike Flex Contact, Jordan X, Adidas NMD R1, and Nike Flex Experience RN 7.
September, in particular, showed some surprises, especially as we step into the holiday season. With September sales decelerating for big brands including Nike, Adidas, and Skechers, I expect this will pose some weakness to holiday sales for the athletic footwear industry. In addition, the top-selling shoe for the last two years, Nike Tanjun, saw a sales decline in September, with no replacement in sight. Vans’ growth, while still robust, slowed in the last month. Echoing my sentiment that ‘small is the new big,’ I expect this theme to continue to hold true during the holiday season, which I believe will be an interesting one this year.
As I expected, activewear sales were up slightly for Q3. Weather was a factor as the warm and dry conditions slowed cold weather gains. This early trend does not bode well for holiday, as brands are already being quite promotional.
Contrary to footwear, women’s activewear sales were quite soft, while men’s and kids showed solid growth.
Looking at channel performance, both premium and mid-tier department stores saw mid-single digit growth, and athletic specialty/sporting goods had a low single-digit decline.
One encouraging note was the early strength in outerwear, driven by retro track jackets and wind shirts. Cold weather outerwear categories are clean and fresh, which provided a nice lift to the market. Other segments that grew were sweatshirts, also fueled by the retro trend, and active bottoms. Sports bras declined in the mid-single digits, as the verticals took share from the core brands. Socks and swimwear were both negative as well.
In terms of brands, “Private Label” was the largest brand and one of the fastest growing. Both Adidas and Nike grew, largely on the retro trend, as did Patagonia, The North Face, Columbia, and PrAna. Under Armour, which has no retro product, experienced a sales decline. In addition, Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, and Champion saw growth as well.