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Juniors Love Sporty Kicks but Lag in Online Shopping, Says NPD

Although slower than the overall market, junior footwear purchasing in 2019 is defined by a few clear trends that both complement and deviate from the footwear industry as a whole.

There are some key differences for juniors that need to be understood by brands in order to properly engage with the age group. To start, dollar growth in footwear sales for juniors aged 14 to 22 was up 4 percent compared to the 6 percent growth claimed by the combined market. In total, footwear sales for juniors represented about 15 percent of the dollar sales accumulated in 2018—compared to the 40 percent that millennials pull in despite making up only 25 percent of the population.

In general, the younger a consumer group was, the less growth there was in the dollar amount spent on footwear in the past year. The dollar growth for footwear sales among children aged 13 and younger was only up 1 percent last year, compared to 7 percent for all ages older than 22.

As adults have begun to spend more money on footwear like luxury sneakers and comfort silhouettes, it is possible that children’s wear lags behind due to the simple reality that when kids get older, they usually get bigger too. Whereas adults can rationalize spending money on footwear that provides a good value proposition, no manner of value can outweigh the inevitable fact that children will always outgrow their shoe size.

Yet, when it comes to what styles and brands drive what growth there is in junior footwear, some familiar names begin to pop up.

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“This group is so focused on athletic and nothing else is really working as well,” Beth Goldstein, NPD executive director and industry analyst for accessories and footwear, told Sourcing Journal. “Whereas in the total market, you see some other demographics, older consumers, going back to fashion a little bit, going back to comfort.”

Within athletic styles, there were only a few big winners, according to Goldstein. Juniors, like their older counterparts, prefer Nike, Adidas and Vans when it comes to athletic silhouettes. In fact, according to NPD tracking data, growth among juniors was driven “almost mainly” by athleisure footwear in 2018—and that trend shows no sign of slowing down.

Junior footwear spending data paints a very similar picture to what the most recent data available for men’s footwear purchasing revealed. When it comes to what consumers love most, despite gains by fashion and comfort silhouettes, it is still the athletic styles that drive customers in-store and online. And, as it turns out, juniors are also more likely to prefer an in-store purchase to an online purchase.

NPD says that the junior age group was actually underrepresented in online sales over the past year. Juniors shopped online for footwear about 27 percent of the time, compared to 32 percent for all ages above. In fact, the top two channels of footwear distribution for juniors were branded shoe stores and athletic footwear specialty retailers like Foot Locker. Additionally, Journeys saw strong sales from juniors in 2018 and branded stores like those from Vans and Adidas were popular with the demographic, as well.

Goldstein told Sourcing Journal that this younger age group’s affinity for purchasing in physical stores could possibly explain why the juniors market slower growth, in turn. Adults may be able to shop online comfortably, seeing as their foot size typically doesn’t change much and they command their own credit cards; all of this leads adults driving repeat footwear purchases online over time. Though NPD’s juniors age range spans 14 to 22, many in that group are young enough to have to rely on parental guardians to purchase shoes for them, and with growing feet and bodies, those purchases are best accommodated in the brick-and-mortar environment. These factors would explain why footwear sales for juniors lag the overall market and may never quite catch up.

However, despite the clear preference for athletic footwear among juniors, there has been movement in other areas, namely comfort. Goldstein said that brands with a decent following among adults tend to have fans in the juniors segment, as well—an aspect of the business she termed the “mini-me effect.” As a result, brands like Birkenstock and Steve Madden have been able to carve out a nice business with juniors while continuing to perform well with adults.