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Footwear Market Research & Business Solutions

The NPD Group is the industry authority for the footwear market. Leading brands, specialty retailers, Wall Street analysts, and the media rely on our data of record and unique perspective.

Our comprehensive information and analysis about consumer spending and shopping behavior, analytics and modeling capabilities, Checkout receipt-harvesting, and other solutions drive better business decisions.

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Footwear
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Retail Tracking

The NPD Group has the largest POS footprint in the industry. We collect weekly and monthly sales data from over 30,000 doors globally, spanning all industry channels of distribution, including independent specialty stores, sport specialty stores, sporting goods, department stores, mass merchants, and e-commerce. This allows you to continuously monitor sales of men’s, women’s, and children’s sports apparel, footwear, equipment, and accessories.

The Retail Tracking Service delivers the most detailed point-of-sale information available to guide your critical business decisions. Standard measures available at the category, brand, and item levels include unit sales/share, dollar sales/share, and average selling price. Advanced measures available for specialty channels include inventory, margins, and GMROI.


Consumer Tracking

Stay on top of shifting preferences and trends with insights from consumer panelists who have agreed to provide information about their purchasing habits, usage, and attitudes.  You can use this information to analyze consumer behavior, preferences, and purchase drivers as input for product development, brand management, and marketing strategies.


Athletic and Outdoor Segmentation

Identify and reach specific consumer groups so you can efficiently target and capture your most valuable consumers. Use our athletic and Outdoor Segmentation to drive more sales using targeted messaging. It also can help you refine your merchandising mix and assortment once you understand the differences among key consumer segments. Seven athletic segments and four outdoor segments are included.


Geo Level Information

Assess regional strengths and opportunities, monitor competitive performance by region, and plan and evaluate effectiveness of targeted activities. Call on our insight into retail sales in specific regions or store groupings using Geo Level information from our Retail Tracking Service.


Checkout

Checkout is the gold standard consumer receipt panel for tracking and analyzing consumer behavior across general merchandise and foodservice. We offer the most robust e-commerce data plus tailored analytics to help you keep current customers and win new ones. 


Analytic Solutions

NPD’s Analytic Solutions group includes senior leaders with extensive experience developing and delivering analytic solutions that help clients predict areas of risk and growth to improve marketing and product development. By combining NPD’s unique data assets and industry expertise with state-of-the-discipline research techniques and proprietary solutions, our Analytic Solutions team is able to answer clients’ most pressing business questions.



Footwear
Reports



Footwear
Press Releases


November 21, 2018

France Sports Apparel and Athletic Footwear Industry Grows 4 Percent to 6.68 Billion Euros Over the 12 Months Ending September 2018

Market research company, The NPD Group, offers year-to-date sales insights for sports apparel and athletic footwear in France.


August 30, 2018

U.S. Footwear Industry Growth Continues to be Comfort-Driven, Reports NPD

The U.S. footwear industry grew by 7 percent in the first half of 2018. Growth was driven by gains in casual footwear and online shopping. Social responsibility and sustainability awareness is also providing additional opportunities for the industry.


June 4, 2018

Leisure Sneakers Lead U.S. Footwear Sales Gains, with Added Boost from Other Comfort-Oriented Styles

Comfort is in style year-round as leisure sneakers dominate U.S. footwear sales gains. Other growing styles include sports and fashion slides, strappy sandals and mules/clogs.


February 6, 2018

U.S. Athletic Footwear Industry Sales Grew 2 Percent to $19.6 Billion in 2017, NPD Group Reports

The U.S. athletic footwear industry grew by 2 percent in 2017, generating $19.6 billion in sales, according to global information company The NPD Group. Unit sales also grew by 2 percent and average selling price remained flat, at $58.16.


April 17, 2017

Shift in Footwear and Accessories Spending Sends Warning Signal for Retail Fashion, Reports NPD

The three key components of the $334 billion retail fashion segment, apparel, footwear, and fashion accessories, are each in different positions when it comes to the business, according to leading global information company The NPD Group. The apparel industry, which represents 65 percent of total U.S. retail fashion dollar sales and spans everything from basics to jeans, continues to enjoy the consistent growth experienced over the past few years. Conversely, the more trend-driven footwear and fashion accessories industries are now experiencing sales declines, keeping overall retail fashion sales in the 12 months ending February 2017 even with results from the prior year.


Footwear
Insights


January 15, 2019

The Preowned Luxury Consumer

Consumers are starting to realize not everything needs to be new, and it’s impacting retail. Get a fresh look at the preowned luxury market dynamics in watches and handbags.


January 2, 2019

Advice for Retailers in 2019

Today’s marketplace is moving faster than ever before and keeping pace with this change can help you grow your business. Learn what industry experts Beth Goldstein and Reginald Brack think will be important in retail in the year ahead.


December 11, 2018

E-commerce and Direct to Consumer Dynamics

E-commerce is new to the luxury watch industry, while it’s a more mature industry in footwear, accounting for 30% of footwear sales. Learn how retailers are responding as consumers become more accustomed to buying almost everything online.


November 29, 2018

Sustainability in Retail, Fashion, and Watches

Industry analysts Beth Goldstein and Reginald Brack explore sustainability in fashion footwear, accessories and watches. Learn about the latest insights and trends related to sustainable fashion.


October 5, 2018

Five Themes Defining Footwear and Beyond

U.S. footwear sales improved during the first half of 2018. With many brands and retailers in transition, market share is up for grabs. Here’s a look at what’s driving the turnaround and the trends leading growth.


September 21, 2018

Online Migration: Athletic Footwear and Apparel in Japan

Online shopping for athletic footwear and apparel continues to grow in Japan. However, not all online retail categories are on the same growth path.


September 19, 2018

The Rise of Travel Retail

Travel retail is booming. Airport traffic grew 8% globally over the last year, and that growth is predicted to continue, averaging +8% annually through 2026.


August 3, 2018

3 Ways to Foster a Seamless Consumer Experience in the Future

In the future, brands and retailers will adapt to increased consumer demand for more seamless experiences. See how this will impact every aspect of their lives—from the kitchen to the gym.


July 13, 2018

5 Fashion Trends Worth Watching

The U.S. fashion industry is rapidly changing. At the same time, a flurry of factors – including shifts in consumer shopping behavior, retail closures, new celebrity influencers, and today’s macro trends – are having an impact on consumer spending. Here’s a look at 5 fashion trends we’re watching right now.


July 11, 2018

How to Capture Market Share in This Volatile Retail Environment

Many footwear brands are struggling in today’s changing retail environment, offering others a chance to capture market share. Are you taking advantage?



Footwear
Insights and Opinions from our Analysts and Experts


January 18, 2019

Fashion Footwear & Accessories: Keeping Up the Momentum in 2019

2018 was an impressive year for the U.S. fashion footwear market, and most accessories categories saw improved sales results. Fashion footwear’s strongest performance in recent years – dollar sales peaked at over $60 billion, with growth in the high single-digits – was driven not only by strength in the sport leisure category, but also by a rebound in sandals and boots, as comfort became almost synonymous with fashion.  Luggage, sunglasses, and small personal accessories were the highlights in accessories, with sales moving into the positive. Consumers’ desire for function and versatility, especially as it relates to travel, helped to propel these businesses in 2018. 

Fashion footwear’s momentum will likely continue, but at a slower pace than 2018, and the accessories market will continue to level out, but persistent challenges will hamper vast improvements. The most significant trends to watch across both of these industries will be somewhat familiar, further solidifying changes that are taking effect.

Athleisure Will Remain Dominant, but Fashion Will Regain Some Share
Slowing growth doesn’t mean a shrinking market. Sport leisure footwear sales will continue to climb, but as the pace of the increase slows, fashion footwear brands have the opportunity to take back some share by incorporating the comfort and style elements that drove consumers to love their athleisure.  This is what drove the fashion space to turn around in 2018.   

Function and Comfort Will Become the Standard
When it comes to their footwear and accessories, consumers have become accustomed to asking, “What have you done for me lately?” Brands that carefully consider their product’s end use and tailor to comfort, versatility, and accessibility will succeed. This may seem extreme, especially for fashion categories, but consumers are placing value on these features and benefits.  

Stores Show Some Promise, but Online Growth Will Continue
While online sales continue to generate most of the dollar growth in fashion footwear, the proportion of growth coming from stores increased throughout 2018. Millennials drove much of this momentum, but it was mostly isolated to branded retailers such as vertical shoe stores and factory outlets, rather than department stores. In accessories, store sales declined in almost every category, while website sales increased just slightly. All of this inconsistency suggests that there is still room for improvement, both online and off, and consumers will be expecting more interaction between the two.

Social and Environmental Consciousness Will Take Center Stage
Forty-one percent of consumers surveyed indicated that eco-friendly/sustainable materials are important when considering their footwear purchases*, and their top social concern is human welfare**. They’ve shown that they will support organizations that take a stand on these types of issues, such as Nike and Patagonia. The success of newer brands such as Allbirds and Rothy’s demonstrates that innovative, sustainable materials and brands with compelling stories are resonating with consumers. These issues will only grow in importance, so footwear and accessories players need to figure out how to participate here, in order to remain relevant to a new generation of consumers.

The new year began with some political and economic uncertainty, which could temper spending across categories. However, brands and retailers that focus their product and marketing strategies around making consumers’ lives better will propel these industries forward in 2019.

 

Source: The NPD Group/ Consumer Tracking Service, January-November 2018
*Source: CivicScience/ June 2018
**Source: The NPD Group/ May 2018 Omnibus



January 7, 2019

Sneakernomics: Nobody Wins a Race to the Bottom

The U.S. sports retail business used to be aspirational and inspirational. Consumers used to believe that these products would help them perform better, which would often lead to being inspired to take up new activities. And if the products didn’t help their performance, most consumers were happy with how they looked wearing them.

Now, we have a race to the bottom; and that’s a race nobody wins.

Holiday 2017 was the most promotional on record – that is, until Holiday 2018. This season’s promotional activity was driven by the brands, which are making it ever more apparent that their growth comes at any expense, including that of their wholesale partners.

Most brands kicked off their holiday promotions before Black Friday, setting the tone for the season. One brand took 40 percent of its outlet pricing, signaling both a sales and inventory problem. Another was deeply discounting every week during the season.

The retailers were not immune to the promotions, with one taking 25 percent off the whole store (which is the surest way to sell all the good stuff at a discount and be left with the rest in need of further reductions).

We’ve trained our customers to wait for the deal. The products selling quickly are those that consumers think they can flip in resale marketplaces. And even that model is starting to show flaws. In an unprecedented event, one reseller took 15 percent off a popular “designer’s” shoe before the holidays. Resale multiples continue to sag.

What caused this to happen? Weak product lines, failed business models, and too much reliance on old thinking is my opinion.

It’s not too late to change the course here. But brands will have to be disciplined (and do less business, in the short term). Retailers will have to be restrained from chasing the last (and least profitable) sale.

It’s going to be hard to put that genie back in the bottle, but it is possible. We need to return the industry to one of aspiration and inspiration or we run the risk of just being another teen retailer, with massive discounts needed to populate the stores. This new year brings with it new opportunity for the industry to change course.



November 27, 2018

Sneakernomics: Hot Topics at the Outdoor Retailer Show

At Outdoor Retailer’s first ever November show earlier this month, I put a different spin on the format of my industry trend breakfast and focused on a Q&A, taking questions from the audience. Here are some the questions and common themes I’ve identified as being top of mind for folks in the industry.  

We are seeing more subscription boxes at our doorstep, Millennial-friendly catalogs in our mailbox, and pop-up stores around our cities. What do you see as the future of these retail trends for the apparel and general soft goods markets?

While there’s a lot of hype around subscriptions, we are seeing a high level of subscription abandonment. If subscription services are to succeed, they need to develop products that are more personalized. They also must leverage their best customers, as they represent the majority of the sales. Catalogs present another way for brands and retailers to be omnipresent – available to the consumer whenever, wherever, and however they want to shop. Pop-ups are fun and a great brand builder, but I don’t expect them to be commercially profitable in the long run. However, with the amount of retail vacancies, there may be an opportunity to exploit the lower rents.

What are some of the major generational trends? What other cohorts should the outdoor industry focus on bringing in? 

Boomers are no longer acquiring many things. Instead, they are spending their money on experiences, such as travel. The outdoor industry has so far failed to fully leverage this interest in travel. Millennials remain cash strapped, so they are looking for value and versatility. The outdoor industry remains too focused on pinnacle products and is leaving money on the table. The secondary market (rent, buy used, Uber-like services) is ideal for the Millennial as it is less expensive for each use and much more convenient. Both Millennials and Gen Z consumers are supporters of sustainability, and the outdoor industry must raise the bar on speaking forcefully to these issues. In terms of other groups that should be emphasized, the outdoor industry continues to underserve the female consumer. The women’s market is our greatest failure, yet our great opportunity. In addition, in presentations I have highlighted a study done by the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) on the opportunity to leverage the interests of the Hispanic consumer in the outdoor industry. So far, this suggestion has been largely ignored, but I believe there’s opportunity with this consumer segment.

As more brands focus on sustainability, do you see economies of scale helping to drive down cost, so the consumer does not necessarily have to pay more for these products?

I do think we will see some cost relief due to scale, but sustainable products are always going to be more expensive. However, a recent NPD study showed that one-third of Millennial women are willing to spend more on sustainable products. The study also showed that many consumers have no idea whether they are buying a sustainable product or not. The industry can do much more to educate consumers and tell their sustainability story.

How important are collaborations within the outdoor industry? Who is doing it well, and why?

The outdoor industry is far too focused on pinnacle athletes; the emphasis must shift to the everyday user. The beauty market is a great industry to learn from in this regard. When we look at the beauty business, which remains one of the hottest industries that NPD tracks, there are some important lessons. Beauty is moving away from celebrity influencers to micro-influencers who have a small, but loyal following. These micro-influencers are honest, open and relatable.

How do you see e-commerce and brick-and-mortar blending together? In today’s retail environment, what do you see as the most effective avenues for marketing to consumers?

The internet will continue to be the primary sales driver for the outdoor industry. However, lines are blurring; is “buy online, pick up in store” a store purchase or an internet one? We are seeing more stores serving as warehouses for internet sales. At some point, we may no longer be making the distinction, but e-commerce will remain the dominant growth story. Digital remains the easiest and most cost-effective way for brands and retailers to tell their stories. The platforms may change, but the web will remain the best marketing tool.

How can small specialty retailers successfully compete with the bigger players? Is there an advantage to building a local presence, or must they set their sights on geographically broader markets?  

Hyper-local is a key differentiator between the smaller and bigger players in the market. Specialty retailers must be immersed in the community they serve, but broaden their consumer reach within these communities. Specialty retail has a reputation for focusing on the pinnacle user, but there is also opportunity among the everyday user. In addition, specialty retail must have an internet presence, even if it means using a third-party provider.


November 14, 2018

A Fashionable and Functional Holiday for Footwear

Fashion footwear gained momentum heading into Q4, which leaves me with a positive outlook for the holiday season. The U.S. market grew six percent in Q3, driven mainly by the sport leisure category, but there has also been a turnaround in categories including sandals and, more recently, cold/all weather boots. Tied to my expectation that these styles will perform well, I believe that the brands and retailers that speak to the consumer priorities below will be successful this holiday. 

 

Active and Comfort

Fashion sneakers have driven half of the fashion footwear market’s growth so far this year, and I expect this category to remain very important through holiday. But, its growth rate slowed in Q3, and heading into holiday boots seem primed to regain some share. In addition, while consumers will look to get dressed up for holiday festivities, comfort is the key word. Brands that are incorporating fashion along with athletic and comfort elements will win. 

 

Coziness

The Danish concept of hygge has fully taken hold in the U.S. Slipper sales were up double digits in Q3*, and I expect similar results for holiday as retailers promote loungewear and family pajamas. Cold weather and winter/snow boots will also benefit from this trend, even if the winter isn’t quite as cold and snowy as we’d like. And, even fashion items with a bit of fluffy detail will evoke those same feelings of comfort and coziness. 

 

Versatility and Travel

Consumer confidence is at an 18-year high, which bodes well for retailers this holiday season. But, consumers are still making very deliberate decisions when it comes to spending their money. According to NPD’s annual Holiday Purchase Intentions Survey, around one-third of consumers plan to utilize consumer reviews to learn more about products this holiday season and/or plan to rely on recommendations from friends/family/co-workers. The value equation is top of mind, and retailers and brands that offer functional and versatile options such as waterproofing, indoor/outdoor wear, and/or multi-season use will be tapping into this need. Products marketed specifically to improve the travel experience (lightweight, multi-occasion wear) will stand out as well. Digitally native brands with strong social media presence are uniquely poised to attract consumer attention to these elements.


Convenience

Year-to-date through September, 29 percent of fashion footwear sales have been generated online. I expect this penetration to increase by three to five percentage points during holiday as retailers such as Target and Amazon are upping their free shipping game, and others will likely follow-suit. Gifting programs such as GiftNow are rolling out and will make it easier to gift a specific footwear item by eliminating the risk of sending an unwanted item or wrong size. In addition, according to our Holiday Purchase Intentions Survey, almost one-in-four Millennials reported that they plan to use their smartphone most often to do their holiday shopping. This is convenience at its best, and will surely drive the online business this season.   

 

Source: The NPD Group/Consumer Tracking Service

*Source: The NPD Group/Retail Tracking Service


November 13, 2018

Sneakernomics: U.S. Team Sports Equipment Q3 Recap

After what was a solid first half of 2018 for the U.S. team sports equipment market, sales slowed in the third quarter. This does not portend well for holiday season sales.

Baseball was one of the hottest stories to open the year, as new youth baseball bat regulations forced families to buy new bats for their children. Sales of composite bats grew by more than half in the first six months. In the third quarter, however, that demand fell off and baseball sales went flat. We can expect to give back those first half gains next year.

Golf was another strong story in the first half; however, sales for Q3 were essentially flat. This was fueled by a decline in golf club sales, and flat performance for golf balls. The excitement over new releases has worn off. Callaway and Titleist sales grew nicely for Q3, but most of the other brands did not.

Soccer equipment sales rose during the World Cup, but fell off again immediately after it ended. This has been a very typical pattern during World Cup years. Soccer sales grew in the mid-single digits for Q3. Again, the industry will return those gains next year.

Sales of basketballs and backboards slowed even further in Q3 than in the first half, with sales down in the low teens. Basketball participation continues to decline as do sales of performance basketball shoes.

Participation was also likely a factor in the weak football numbers; Q3 sales were down in the mid-single digits for football equipment.

Universal protective gear experienced low single-digit growth for the quarter. I believe retailers are missing a great opportunity to leverage parents’ concerns over injuries. Protective gear should be part of every sports equipment purchase.

In terms of how major brands fared in Q3, Wilson equipment sales declined in the low singles. Spalding sales were down in the mid-teens on account of the weak basketball results. Nike equipment declined in the mid-teens and Under Armour in the high teens, while Adidas grew by more than 20 percent. Adidas showed particular strength in soccer, due to the World Cup. Rawlings and Franklin both grew by about 10 percent, and Shock Doctor improved in the low singles.

These mixed results signal a challenged fourth quarter. Brands and retailers must be creative to capture some wins for Holiday 2018.


November 7, 2018

Sneakernomics: Holiday 2018 Predictions for Sports Retail

Sneakernomics: Holiday 2018 Predictions for Sports Retail

This holiday season will see some challenges for the overall U.S. sports retail environment. But, there are still some bright spots that I anticipate will be areas of growth for the market this season.   

Starting with the not-so-great news, athletic footwear sales in the U.S. were down for August and September compared to these same months last year. At the moment, I see no catalyst to drive overall sales back into the positive column for holiday. Performance footwear continues to struggle, now into its fourth year, and I do not expect this to change during the holiday period. Brands continue to push performance shoes on consumers who have clearly said they are not interested. The sport leisure category was soft in September, on account of a sales decline for sport lifestyle footwear; gains in the running inspired and casual athletic segments could not quite offset the decline in basketball inspired products.

Adidas sales went negative for September and I anticipate this will remain so for the balance of the year. Nike, Brand Jordan, and Converse sales were down for the month as well. Without growth from these major brands, the athletic footwear market cannot grow.

The top-selling shoe for the last two years, Nike Tanjun, also posted a decline for September. At this point, I do not believe there is a replacement for this shoe and the industry is lacking a hot item that can lift it. This void will put pressure on the entire market.

On the other hand, there are some bright spots for the athletic footwear industry, one of which has been the success of smaller brands. Vans, Puma, Reebok, Fila, and Brooks are all outperforming the market. Small is the new big, and I expect these brands will be popular and perform well this holiday. Another bright spot is the women’s business. As the industry has vastly underserved women, the women’s footwear market remains our greatest failure, but it is also our greatest opportunity.  

In terms of activewear, or athletic apparel, sales were up slightly for Q3 and flat for August and September. I expect we will see a similar outcome for the holiday period.

Cold weather products sold well in Q3 as the inventories are very clean and fresh. However, the long range weather forecast is for a period of warm and dry weather, which will hold back any real gains for the category during Q4.

Just as in athletic footwear, smaller brands are succeeding in the activewear market. These are the ones we should look out for this season. 

I expect the sports marketplace across both footwear and apparel to remain very promotional for Holiday 2018, as it has been for most of 2018 and last holiday season. If brands and retailers want to win with consumers this holiday, they must be careful to not sacrifice quality. Now more than ever, the sports industry needs a hot item.

Source: The NPD Group/ Retail Tracking Service


October 29, 2018

Sneakernomics: Athletic Footwear and Activewear Q3 Results

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.


September 17, 2018

Sneakernomics: Purpose-Driven Brands

There are plenty of examples of people talking at length about how today’s young consumer demands that brands take visible stands on social issues. Renowned author Simon Sinek said it best: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

But how does a brand decide which causes to support and what position to take? I believe that brands (and retailers) must look inside themselves and discover what their purpose is; they need to answer the “why they do it” question.

There is a relatively new movement afoot called “purpose-driven brands,” when brands and retailers connect their purpose with the purpose of their consumers. A purpose-driven brand consciously conducts its business according to its purpose.

Customers want to know what a brand stands for and what motivates their decisions. Consumers want brands to align with their values.

Of all the industries that adopted this common sense approach to marketing, the Sports and Recreation industry was arguably one of the first to target the purpose-driven consumer.

So many examples come to mind. Some companies appeal to a larger consumer market simply by focusing on their core customer; Carhartt’s hardworking apparel for hardworking men and women, and Yeti’s outdoor coolers for serious outdoor enthusiasts come to mind. Other companies market themselves as environmentally-friendly, charitable, or take an all-encompassing approach. Patagonia has been a purpose-driven company since the beginning; its stated mission: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

Merrell has two sections on its website pertaining to purpose. One is “What Matters Most,” and the other is, “Causes We Support.”

VF Corporation (owners of Vans, The North Face, and Timberland) positions itself as a “Purpose-led, performance-driven and value-creating organization,” striving to “improve people’s lives and make the world a better place.” From its corporate website: “We don’t just make the world’s best apparel and footwear; we power movements of sustainable and active lifestyles for the betterment of people and our planet. This is our Purpose. It’s why we come to work every day.”

These types of purpose statements inform every company’s decision and initiative. Consumers have a clear view of what drives these brands.

Once a brand or retailer has created their purpose, they then need to communicate that purpose clearly and consistently both inside and outside the company. And, more importantly, they need to act on these principles every day. Brands can use their purpose in marketing to communicate to the public. A brand’s purpose builds a relationship with the community.

Brands and retailers must look beyond their basic functions to discover their true purpose – they should look inside to discover “The right thing to do.” The products that are made and sold must reflect the purpose of the company. In short, brands must walk the walk. It’s not enough to just say that a brand supports a cause; every company action must reflect their purpose.

Consumers’ purchases will continue to be driven by their values. Successful purpose-driven brands will reflect and act on those values.


August 29, 2018

Sneakernomics: Sports and Sustainability

The Millennial and Gen Z consumers have been quite clear. They want to know where their brands and retailers stand on important social issues, and are willing to take their business elsewhere if those positions do not align with their own.

One of the most important causes for today’s younger generations is stopping climate change through sustainable consumption. A recent NPD study found that young U.S. consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products. But are sports brands doing enough here?

The outdoor industry has always been at the forefront of protecting and preserving the environment. But, I think the outdoor industry has taken this position for granted. I believe the industry needs to tell the consumer all the things they do on a daily basis to end climate change, as well as the work that must continue.

I believe one of the many reasons for Patagonia’s current success is the very vocal and powerful stand they have taken on environmental issues. Other brands in the space can follow this lead. The stories are there. We just need to do a better job of telling those stories.

One area where the outdoor industry has fallen short is in diversity and inclusiveness. Outdoor brands and retailers are leaving business on the table by underserving minority groups and the everyday consumer. A big part of the current industry malaise is this inability to move away from only addressing the core.

The athletic side of the sports business has quietly been doing very good work on sustainability, but they have been far too quiet.

Brands have focused on new manufacturing techniques that create less waste and use less harmful bonding materials. Adidas’s Parley collection, which uses recycled plastic ocean waste, is a great example of the kind of work that is being done. But as we saw in the outdoor industry, brands are not telling the story well enough. Athletic retailers have virtually been left out of the conversation.

Diversity remains another opportunity for the athletic industry. All workers in the sports industry product chain must be paid a fair wage and work in safe conditions. Doing something this obvious will result in a significant upside for manufacturers and retailers that honor the quality of the work environment for female employees.

Much good work has been done in the sports retail business, but there is so much more to do. And as an industry, we can do a better job of telling these stories.



August 23, 2018

Sneakernomics: Back to School 2018 at the Halfway Point

Back-to-School 2018 is a little more than half over and the results thus far, as I anticipated, have been rather disappointing. Looking at weekly sales data from June 3 through July 28, 2018 compared to the same period a year ago, athletic footwear dollar sales in the U.S. were essentially flat.  

The sport lifestyle category has slowed given some weakness in retro basketball, but sales nonetheless grew in the mid-single digits.

The performance shoe categories all continued to struggle. Performance running (even with all the new initiatives) was down in the mid-single digits. Performance basketball sales declined as did training and hiking footwear. There does not appear to be a turn for ‘performance as fashion’ in the near term.

Sport slides have been a popular seller and were up in the low teens. Skate shoes grew by nearly half, driven by robust demand for Vans. What I have expected to be a hot brand this back-to-school season, Vans overall sales grew by more than three quarters during these weeks. NPD’s Checkout, a receipt mining service, has uncovered some interesting findings around the brand. In the last 12 months, the size of Vans’ in-store customer base has held relatively steady versus last year, but their customers are making more purchases; the proportion of in-store Vans buyers who have purchased two or more pairs has increased by almost 20 percent versus a year ago.

Looking at other brand highlights, Nike brand grew in the low single digits, though it was not enough to offset Nike Inc. declines. Adidas’s mid-teens gains were well off its previous torrid pace, though the brand continues to take share in the U.S. Brooks improved by a third. Skechers athletic shoes posted a slight decline, while ASICS saw sales fall in the high teens. Timberland and Columbia grew in sales, while Merrell and Keen declined.

Fila and Puma both had nice increases for the period. “Small as the new big” is an important theme for Back-to-School 2018.

Given these results, I expect this back-to-school season to be as promotional as last year, if not more so, putting pressure on margins. I also expect e-commerce to outpace sales growth in physical stores, as online becomes more and more important to the total.

Looking ahead, I expect these modest results to continue for the balance of the year. Whatever energy we see in athletic footwear will come from the smaller brands.

Source: The NPD Group/ Retail Tracking Service, 8 weeks ending July 28, 2018



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